Thoughts on the Night Travel Ban

07 Jan
Gateway to Auckland

Photo credit: Man’s Pic / / CC BY-NC-ND

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:

  1. They’re simple,
  2. They can be implemented immediately,
  3. They allow night travel to continue,
  4. 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),
  5. 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.


Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Economics, Life in Kenya, Politics


4 responses to “Thoughts on the Night Travel Ban

  1. Chelimo Mibei

    January 7, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Fatality on the roads need to be criminalised, I suspect it is but it is not enforced forcefully.If drivers know that if they are responsible for causing accidents either by speeding or reckless or drink driving, it is the equivalent of murder/manslaughter. Part of the recklessness comes from the lack of accountability. Saying sorry is not enough and shouldn’t be. This of course takes us back to how committed to this the police force is. I like the responsibility you place on the vehicle owners, coz ultimately they get to choose the drivers and the conditions under which the drivers work. Road fatalities are seemingly the highest in the developing nations which corresponds to how we view/enforce road regulations.

  2. Lirungu

    January 7, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    I feel that, in order to address road carnage, we need to start at the heart of the matter – attitude. Most accidents are a result of careless driving/speeding/etc, and this all comes down to I am in a hurry, I need to make just one more trip, these other drivers don’t really know what they’re doing on the roads, etc. Roads are public goods, the property of everyone, not just drivers. Drivers need to take responsibility, but so do pedestrians (who jaywalk across the streets while fixated on their phones) and passengers (who will not utter a sound of protest while their driver charges down the road at a killer speed). I have, many times, witnessed or been subject to criticism from other passengers because I would not agree to loud music or overloading or excessive speed. The usual comeback is – if you don’t like it, buy a car. Well, I do have a car, but that doesn’t mean I should not enjoy public transport every once in a while.

    This road carnage is always going to be just another story in the news until we take it to heart. No amount of legislation can force people to do what they don’t see the point of doing, and you know Kenyans have very creative ways of circumventing the law. Unfortunately, we may be forced to take it to heart when we or people very close to us lose lives or are injured on our roads. Unless, we, you and I, take it upon ourselves to change our attitudes about road usage.

  3. Michael Wesaala

    January 8, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Vehicular homicide is a crime. Accidents are caused. Its not fate.There are no fatalities; just victims.

  4. Paul

    January 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Hey Chrenyan, and Happy New Year! Thanks all, for weighing in on this issue.

    There is a case in court today challenging the night ban, and I suppose comments on the night ban would be sub judice. However, I can comment on the proposed alternatives.

    To begin with, shutting down a bus operator AFTER fatalities, is a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, and its been tried with City to City and Umoinner, to no real effect in respect of other bus companies such as Horizon. In other words, closing down one company does not in the short term stop the other companies killing off a few people as well. We should not experiment with Kenyan lives.

    I appreciate the huge economic losses being incurred all around, but am sure if one were to know beforehand that they would die on the road to Kampala to buy goods for sale in Kenya, they might think twice about making the extra buck.

    I think that piecemeal directives may be of some value in the short-term, but a systemic deep dive into why we have an atrocious safety record should be undertaken, to stop us treating the symptoms and get to the root cause.

    For instance, is it lost on anyone that most fatal crashes involves commercial vehicles as a whole, and not just buses?. In other words, these accidents involve principally, people at WORK. Shouldn’t, in the circumstances, these accidents be reviewed in terms of the wider Occupational Health and Safety systems, law, and standards?

    It is true that the police enforcement failure is a big contributor to the problem, but I would hazard that the best thing would be to get them off the road and use NTSA and Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services operatives who would be better paid and trained to ensure that commercial vehicles are following safety regulations.

    Finally, as long as we do not address occupational safety issues that beset drivers – fatigue, pressure from owners, safety culture, personal driver responsibility, health checks, driver competence, pure avarice, risky attitudes, vehicle soundness – we shall continue to have accidents, day or night.


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