Blueprint to Enhanced Public Transport

Published on 9th March 2009

A Case for Improved Urban Communication

In most urban areas in Kenya, particularly Nairobi and Mombasa, most of the traffic jams could be mitigated, not by building brand new roads throughout the city, but by modifying existing road networks to accommodate rapid privileged public transit. This will slowly create a mode shift away from the dominance and inefficient use of single occupancy vehicles (SOV) on roads.

Specialised lanes
The key Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategy here is the creation of managed lanes in order to promote the efficient use of existing infrastructure through a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. A BRT is a transit system, often with right of way for mass transit vehicles which may include a regular bus or a guided way vehicle. Growth of a BRT can benefit from the adoption of a host of strategies including; exclusive High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, introducing value priced lanes, separating of exclusive lanes, building separation or bypasses, creating dual facilities and having time managed lane restrictions.

These strategies are people centered because they are intended to improve the people moving capacity rather than the vehicle moving capacity of selected congested highway corridors. The goals of these strategies are to:

1) Increase the average number of persons per vehicle,
2) Enhance the people moving capacity of a congested highway,
3) Improve public transport efficiencies,
4) Enhance mobility options for travelers.

It is typically intended that travel time savings, and improved trip reliability of BRT and HOV facilities provide incentives for individuals to switch from driving alone to using public transport. Some of the current practices include: 1) Various HOV type lanes, 2) Value Priced Lanes, 3) Exclusive Lanes, 4) Bypass or Separation Lanes, and 5) Dual Facilities.

However, between 1982-2002, Africa’s urban population grew at the rate of 4.7 percent compared to 0.8-4.0% in other developing regions and 2.4% world wide.  The number of urban dwellers in Africa was expected to increase from 210 million in 2000 to 533 million by 2025 (UN Population Division, 2002).  As a result, today 33% of Africa’s population is urbanized and poor. By 2025, 52% of Africa’s population will be urban residents (Basti, 2002), a majority of whom will depend on public transport. Today, urbanization rate in Kenya has exceeded that of Africa, at 6.3%. This is more than double Kenya’s annual national population growth rate of 2.8%.  The majority of this growth is within Nairobi whose “Old City” boundary is 90 square kilometers with a metropolitan area of 690 square kilometers, only.

 Public transport is the number one mode of transport in Kenya, yet its growth capacity has been unable to keep pace with rapid urbanization in major cities like Nairobi and Mombasa. The  liberalization policy of the 1960’s, the Michuki service improvement of the 21st century and the massive individual investment in the transport industry recently has been unable to soak up the high demand for transport and has only created more transport inefficiencies.  On a positive note, the industry has experienced rapid growth as a primary network serving the transport needs of landlocked countries in Eastern Africa.   It includes different types; bus, train, air, water, and a jitney service locally known as “Matatu”.

Kenya’s first mass transit mode-The Kenya Bus Service (KBS) was established in February 1934, when Overseas Transport Company (OTC) of London started a bus service using 13 buses on 12 routes with a population of 50,000 people.  But 40 years later, it faced competition.   A presidential decree, in 1973 allowed ‘matatus’ ferrying up to 25 passengers to operate without license. In 1986, the government launched its own “Nyayo Bus Services”. By 1973 Matatus carried 16% of passengers in Nairobi compared with 84% by KBS.  By 1990 their share was 52%, and KBS had 42%, while NBS carried 6%. In 1991, Stagecoach bought shares in KBS, in October 1998, a consortium of investors acquired KBS and in 2006, KBS collapsed due to unserviced debts. Today KBS still operates through a franchise arrangement.

Nairobi, as the business and political capital of Kenya is not short of transport vehicles. What Nairobi needs today is better time management of its transport capacities through an efficient and effective people centered public transit planning system that caters for the transport needs of its population, economically and socially. Its transport system also needs to reflect its status as the major economic powerhouse in Eastern and Central Africa. Currently, Nairobi’s population is estimated at 3.2 million, within an area of 685 square kilometres. Due to a growing middle class, ownership of single occupancy vehicles is significantly increasing and seriously choking the road network system. Heavy traffic jams daily lead to numerous accidents especially by Matatus which typically attempt to avoid delay by driving on sidewalks, jumping opposite lanes and driving directly onto on-coming traffic. They are the number one cause of the most fatal accidents (Obudho and Aduwo, 1992), and they are identified with over-speeding, overloading, noise pollution, chaotic parking, abuse and harassment of passengers and general disregard for normal traffic rules.

One area that needs attention is the development of framework for mitigating traffic jams by modifying existing networks to support a BRT concept as a concomitant strategy to shift travel mode away from SOVs towards transit rather than simply building more roads.  Key questions of concern would include:

1) What is the current state of BRT & HOV practice including critical features to implement and operate such a facility?

2) What is the current state of traffic on roads in Kenyan urbanized areas?

3) How can BRT and managed lane strategies be effectively implemented in Kenya?

These issues are important since the BRT concept and managed lane strategies have been part of the urban transportation landscape for almost 40 years.  In the USA, this started with the opening of a bus-only lane on Shirley Highway (I-395) in Northern Virginia outside Washington D.C., in 1969, followed by a contra-flow bus lane on the approach to New York – New Jersey’s Lincoln Tunnel in 1970, and by 2004, there were over 96 HOV projects on freeways in 30 cities accounting for approximately 2000 centerline miles. In Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania, they are experimenting with the creation of a bus lane within the city centre.

It is anticipated that with a growing urban population, BRT and managed lanes will significantly reduce traffic jams by diverting more commuters from SOVs into HOVs, reduce environmental pollution, reduce the cost of new road construction, divert savings into road maintenance and lane expansion, saving car owners both vehicle maintenance, fuel costs and lost productive man hours, less traffic congestion would lead to less hazardous implulsive driving and therefore fewer road accidents. Well maintained roads would reduce the rate of accidents.

By Dr. Francis Wambalaba , PhD., AICP, and Ms. Akosa Wambalaba, MAT.

Dr. Francis Wambalaba is an Associate Professor of Economics at United States International University, Africa; Ms. Wambalaba is Professional Research Associate

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