Last year, Kenya’s government moved to solve the transportation crisis in Nairobi by deploying special buses and slashing the fare to Ksh 20 but that plan is beginning to seem like a gaffe.
It was last year when Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta stepped in to alleviate the plight of commuters in Nairobi. The transportation system in Kenya’s upwardly-mobile capital city was in the middle of a “commuter chaos” as ordinary citizens who could not afford private cabs were suffering due to the shortage of cheap public transport options.
President Kenyatta intervened — much to the relief of commuters — and his well-meaning plan didn’t only provide more public service buses for commuters but also slashed the fare to as low as KSh 20.00 (USD 0.20). And everyone loved it. But there was a problem with that plan, and now it is backfiring.
President Kenyatta didn’t exactly purchase new buses to cater for commuters, he just instructed Kenya’s National Youth Service to use their luxurious Yutong buses in ferrying commuters within the capital city. And they were to charge commuters a flat bus fare of KSh 20.00.
Actually, the plan came with the best of intentions, but the best of intentions don’t always agree with what’s best for business. And that’s because, in just a little over a year, the country is on the verge of running into losses amounting to hundreds of thousands of shillings all because of a measly KSh 20.00.
The 27 Yutong buses that were put to use in the initiative christened Operation Okao Abiria actually belonged to the National Youth Service (NYS); an annual national programme through which some 30,000 Kenyan youths are recruited annually and trained in various skills (paramilitary, engineering, fashion and design, business management, catering, agriculture, secretarial, plant operation, construction, driving), and prepared for other national matters such as service in the armed forces, national reconstruction, and disaster response.
In total, the NYS had 29 buses and those were acquired for the sole purpose of transporting its recruits to their respective places of assignment, initially.
That changed when the government of Kenya directed that 27 of those buses should also be used to ferry commuters on a daily, and for next to nothing. The noble intentions of the President were lauded by commuters but odd things are beginning to unravel.
For starters, two-thirds of the buses have broken down and there are no funds to fix them. And that’s because even though it seemed a thoughtful idea on the surface, the plan had a bloated underbelly from the off and it was always going to be just a matter of time before it burst.
The 27 NYS buses, covering nine routes, were each tasked with at least four round-trips daily – the first two between 5 am and 9 am, and the last two between 5 pm and 9 pm – from Kencom and OTC bus stages.
Even though it seemed fair enough at the time, some city residents always had their reservations about how long the buses would remain in operation and how effective the service was in solving the chaotic public transport sector. Many thought it was a temporary fix, but now it’s more like a temporary fix that needs fixing.
Actually, the buses served their purpose as much as possible but the problem started and ended with money. No funds were received from the government by the bus operators for the subsidised service and the project never had an actual budget allocation for maintenance and operation costs of the buses. At least, that’s according to Kenya’s Auditor-General, Edward Ouko, who made this known in an audit report, while also stating that the programme is unsustainable.
The Auditor-General also revealed that only nine of the 27 buses — each costing around KSh 6 Mn — are still operational while 18 had broken down entirely and were now grounded, mostly because there are no funds to fix them — there never was.
It’s painful to imagine how the remaining buses will now manage to serve millions of Nairobians while still serving thousands of National Youth service recruits.
Featured Image Courtesy: ebru.co.ke