The National Transport and Safety Authority recently introduced new rules that included a ban on night travel by Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) in the country.
Let me start by saying that if you haven’t used a matatu for a couple of years, please try it! And carry your kids along. That is how the majority of Kenyans live, but once we have been “blessed with a car” and start using it to get around, we forget very, very quickly. Personally, I fear that this ban has been effected by elitists who haven’t used public transport in the last decade. Perhaps these policymakers can’t remember when they last went to “Shagz” by bus. Perhaps their children are dropped off at school by drivers. Perhaps they buy their veggies at Galleria as opposed to Marigiti. There is nothing wrong with living like that at all, but that is not how the majority of Kenyans live, and policy should be made with the interests of the majority in mind (the greatest good).
Now I’m certainly not condoning loss of life. We should protect every Kenyan’s life (from Westgate to Ntulele to Moyale), for every Kenyan’s life is invaluable. Undeniably, the directive has reduced road carnage, and another very good outcome is that the bus companies are feeling the pinch and beginning to understand the importance of safety. But to punish travellers for the sins of operators doesn’t really make sense.
Take for example the case of the trader who travels to Uganda by night, buys goods during the day (kitenge material I hear), and travels back with them the following night. He/she now has to spend two nights in Uganda, on top of the transport cost. That extra cost will be shared with his/her customer, or at worst just loaded onto them.
Rather than pulverizing mosquitos with hammers, let us start from the point that matatus have been forced to operate within savings and credit cooperatives (saccos). The Government should stipulate that any bus company/matatu sacco/PSV marque whose vehicle is involved in a road accident with a fatality/serious injury should be banned from having ANY of their vehicles on the road for a month. Further, if a company has three fatal accidents within a specified period (say 2 years) then the Directors of that company (or the owners of matatus in that Sacco) should be permanently banned from operating PSVs (to prevent the Directors from just starting new companies).
These two measures may not be entirely fool-proof, but:
- They’re simple,
- They can be implemented immediately,
- They allow night travel to continue,
- They’re a little easier to implement than ensuring there are working speed governors in every vehicle, or giving the police handheld speed cameras (these sorts of measures merely become a personal source of revenue for police),
- Most importantly, they shift the responsibility for road safety away from the travellers, away from the (massively corrupt) traffic police, and onto the vehicle owners, where it belongs.
Finally, at the root of the carnage in the transport sector is the corrupt nature of the traffic police. Inevitably, buses like the one that crashed at Ntulele have passed numerous road-blocks before their doom. We should remember that any lasting solutions to our troubles should involve as little human intervention as possible; more detailed and rigid solutions, especially involving GPS trackers, can be implemented.
But we can start with those two simple directives.