A story is told of a man who was commuting to work in Nairobi but was caught up in traffic around Ngara so he decided to send his boss an SMS to inform him that he would be late for work. While he was doing so a mugger made off with his phone through the window. Instead of the man raising an alarm and calling out mwizi! mwizi! mwizi! (Thief! Thief!) he shouted after the thief to just press the send button. Well, some people have lost their jobs as a result of being late for work so you can’t blame the poor guy for wanting keep on the right side of his boss.
The victim’s reaction portrayed the desperation of Kenyans caught up in the much dreaded traffic snarl-ups which have become the order of the day in Nairobi and its environs.
SH50 MILLION LOST EVERY DAY
According to a recent study by IBM Corporation, a multinational technology and consulting company, Kenya loses close to Sh50 million a day due to traffic congestion in the city of Nairobi and its environs. A lot of time which could be spent on productive activities is wasted on the roads and the cost of fuel among other challenges also contributes to the waste of time and money.
The construction of the multi-billion Thika Superhighway that is in the final stages of completion has eased traffic congestion but according to experts highway expansion must not be seen as the only solution for Nairobi’s infuriating traffic congestion because it is only a short-term panacea.
“Increased highway capacity makes longer commutes less irritable, and as a result, more people are willing to live farther from their workplace. As more people make similar decisions, the once pleasurable long commute gets crowded and the clamor for additional lanes starts again”, says Dr Awiti, an ecosystems ecologist at the Aga Khan University.
This Kenya Forum correspondent can attest to the knock-on effect of increased demand for housing that traffic to residential houses in estates bordering the superhighway is having, something that has definitely seen landlords increase rents. In Zimmerman estate for instance, one could easily get a nice one bedroom house for as little as Ksh6500 but currently the same are going for at least KSH8,500k and even getting one is no longer a piece of cake.
WHAT’S THE WAY FORWARD? CONGESTION PRICING?
Experts say that if the government wants to control Nairobi traffic it must think beyond expensive highway expansion. Among the various recommendations is a broad and comprehensive land use, proper urban planning, investment in public transportation and the general transport master planning process, and congestion pricing.
Congestion pricing is a way of using the power of the market to reduce demand through price increment during peak usage (i.e., the busier the time of day traffic-wise, the more you pay to use the road) and economist believe it’s the single most viable and sustainable approach to reducing traffic congestion. The application has been effectively used in London, Singapore and Milan among other cities.
But congestion pricing work in Nairobi? Can you see Nairobians paying to drive on the road? Or given the Kenyan attitude to driving, would it cause even more chaos?
IBM Corporation global technology services Vice President Keith Angell, urged the government to use available technologies, and integrate data from multiple sources, including mobile phone signals generated from citizens stuck in traffic jams, to pin-point traffic hot-spots.
The government has also come up with a decision to phase out 14 sitter matatus as another remedy to ease congestion in the cities, especially in the Central Business District (CBD) a move that has been strongly opposed by stakeholders in the Matatu industry but the motion is still in parliament.
With Kenya’s ever-growing population, the continuing movement into the cities, and increased affluence leading to greater car ownership, answers must be found to particularly Nairobi’s increasing traffic congestion problems. Just laying down more asphalt won’t do it.