I spent a significant part of 2019 doing field studies in European and North American cities; part of it entailed infrastructure planning. The availability of a wide variety of mass transit options and the convenience caught my attention all the time. This heightened my desire to see the operationalization of the Nairobi Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), which was in paper and boardrooms for almost 5 years.
Mass transit refers to transportation of large numbers of people through Bus Rapid Transit System, Light Rail System and Metro train systems.
This week got me smiling as the Kenyan Government confirmed the award of a Kes. 5.6 Billion Contract to a Chinese firm to roll out phase one of the Nairobi Bus Rapid Transit route and the related infrastructure.
If everything goes as planned, Nairobi will become the eighth African city to implement Bus Rapid Transit System after Lagos, Johannesburg, Cape Town, George, Dar es Salaam, Marrakech and Accra.
Nairobi has a population of 4.4 Million and the numbers will increase to 7 Million in the next 10 years. Currently, 12 percent of Nairobians use private vehicles while the rest rely on 14-32 seater public transport vehicles (Matatu) and walking for their daily commute.
The Nairobi Bus Rapid Transit system will offer great relief to city residents and visitors who spend an average of one hour in traffic on a single commute resulting to a loss in daily productivity estimated at Kes. 58 Million.
The current plan is to allow private companies to run the Bus Rapid Transit system on an initial roll out of 100 buses with a passenger capacity of 160. The BRT operationalization budget of Kes. 100 Billion was too high for the Government of Kenya to raise noting the competing needs in other sectors as is typical of any developing country.
The decision to allow private sector to run the system will guarantee job retention and job creation since Matatu operators and their Saccos can join hands to invest in the system. It will also enhance a sense of ownership and BRT acceptance by Matatu stakeholders.
Being the first city to roll out BRT in Kenya, Nairobi has an opportunity to set high standards on inclusivity, sustainability and innovation. The mention of green electric buses and digital payment systems in the current plan is worth applause.