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Published:September 4th, 2006 06:43 EST
Transport crisis coincides with back-to-school week in Nairobi

Transport crisis coincides with back-to-school week in Nairobi

By Juliet Maruru

A crackdown on matatus [public taxis] in Nairobi has come at a time when school children and their parents are frantic trying to get shopping and other important back-to-school errands done before school begins this week.

Nairobi Traffic Police alongside the Traffic Licensing Board [TLB is the body that regulated that matatus industry since matatus are generally privately owned] have been working to implement road laws that demand for conductor and driver licenses, speed governors and seat belts in all public transport vehicles. The laws also call for elimination of decorative art, graffiti and music equipment on all public service vehicles. On an average 75% of all public service vehicles have been violating these laws, which were passed in late 2003.

The crack down has resulted in hundreds of matatus being impounded. The owners of matatus that violate the traffic rules but haven’t yet been impounded choose to keep their matatus off the road to avoid having to pay the fines and redemption fees once the matatus have been impounded. The result is that very few matatus are on the road and those that are available have hiked transport fares by up to 200%

Typically the back to school week involves parents buying school uniforms, shopping for items needed by students who go to boarding schools, escorting the kids to their various schools and attending first week of school parent-teacher conferences. Since most Kenyans don’t have private vehicles and rely on public transport, the transport crisis has affected everyone from the regular commuter to the mum trying to get her teenage girl back to a boarding school 80 kilometers from Nairobi City.

More than eight million pupils are returning to school for the final term that will see Standard Eight candidates write primary-leaving examinations under a revised curriculum.  Form Four candidates will also sit for their exams under the new curriculum, which reduced examinable subjects from 32 to 22. There are about 7.6 million pupils in primary and close to one million secondary students.

On Saturday, police commissioner Major-General Hussein Ali said that the swoop would continue. "Police shall not be blackmailed by Public Service Vehicle operators who are withholding transport to seek sympathy from the public. They will face the full force of the law," he warned.

Citizen observers and other public officials are however protesting such operations, demanding that the Traffic Police and Transport Board should conduct continual inspections rather than restrict them to a short interlude then neglect them until a crucial time period.