Over the course of June, the Kenya Railway Corporation has been undertaking public sensitisation and stakeholder’s meetings to deliberate on the Railways Bill 2019.
The meetings are meant to gain citizens’ views on the proposed roadmap towards the improvement of the rail operator’s obligations to see how trains can serve more commuters.
Depending on where you live and commute to, the importance of the rail system is either an issue or none.
The discussions on the future of public transport are a global topic today due to lengthy commutes, high road expansion costs, motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions as well as health and lost man-hours spent in traffic.
For the pre-independence Kenyan working and business classes, the train was a commuting preference, dissecting the country in a radial pattern through Mombasa, Kajiado, Thika, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale and Nanyuki, providing connectivity that contributed to opening up of these towns.
Its allure and lustre are now dwindling but the Railways Bill creates an opportunity to re-embed trains into Nairobi’s commuting narrative like all progressive cities.
Over the last five months, as part of the transport and health hack (TransMed), we’ve been exploring the health issues around Nairobi’s worsening commute. At the moment, vehicles account for more than 90 per cent of day logistics for urban workers.
However, road traffic occasioned by increasing personal vehicles and urban population dictates we must start thinking about alternatives to cars to alleviate the situation.
For many Nairobi passengers, the four main pain points are time, convenience, cost and safety. An analysis of these metrics shows trains consistently outperform vehicles.
A two months’ assessment of the Ruiru-CBD-Kibera lines shows consistency, reliability and safety as easy wins for trains. They are also relatively cheaper.
However, are these all that a modern day commuter needs? The bulk of urban workers are less than 45 years old. Kenya Railways needs to evolve and revamp to increase the value proposition for this group.
The wagons need new seats, for non-station stops, platforms and security lights for night arrivals and dawn departures.
The existing lines’ main handicap is route and schedule inflexibility. Data analytics on commuter preference, pick up points and times as well as feasibility assessments on route cost-efficiency and schedules to cater for the unserved market taking public transport vehicles (PSVs) are needed. To fix this, the government and private sector must see how this strategic national asset is put to maximum benefit.
Train commute in Kenya cannot exist or survive in isolation in our urban context similar to the west. Provision of a seamless transition to the final destination is the missing link. Integrative approaches that collaborate with PSVs are needed.
Could a symbiotic partnership that allows matatu owners to build and operate train coaches and routes as independents be the answer?