When they were allowed into the market in 2009, motorcycles revolutionised the public transport sector, offering cheaper and faster alternatives to matatus and cars.
They could weave through maddening city traffic and access often-impassable routes in remote places.
They are so popular, that now there are apps to call presumably trained and insured riders
Yet the two-wheel contraptions considered a necessity havealso have turned out to be a curse.
In September last year it was reported boda bodas claimed more than 1,500 lives between 2016 and 2018, according to government statistics.
The statistics by a taskforce on Motorcycle Transport Reforms commissioned by the Transport ministry reported 1,428 fatal boda boda accidents involving 1,523 people in three years.
In September 2019, the NTSA said deaths caused by boda bodas rose by nearly a third in the past year.
The National Transport and Safety Authority estimated that at least 3,627 people on 3,376 motorcycles were involved in accidents.
Out of that number, 1,620 people on 1,493 motorcycles sustained serious injuries while 484 people on 455 were slightly injured in accidents involving boda bodas.
Most accidents occur while riders are carrying passengers.
Bodaboda riders who do not own their motorcycle they operate are more likely to be careless and fail to observe safety and traffic regulations.
The report attributed this to the mandatory fixed daily remittances; the hired riders have to pay between Sh300 to Sh500 to the owner daily, and also fuel the motorcycle at the end of each day.
“They must make sure they meet their targets; failure to which they may be jobless the next day. This may cause them to disregard the rules and regulations and only focus on making money,” reads the report.
Ninty-seven per cent of boda boda riders are men aged 18 to 57 years. the majority of 68 per cent are between 18 and 33 years.
Some 43.7 per cent have completed primary education while 42.5 per cent completed secondary level. While 1.7 per cent have a university-level education, 5.7 per cent have middle-level college education and 6.3 per cent, no education at all.
The Julius Mathenge-led team was tasked with analysing industry polices and make recommendations.
It called boda bodas “a ticking time bomb” that has strained health, security and environmental sectors.
Most public health facilities, for instance, have dedicated a ward exclusively for victims of boda boda accidents.
At Naivasha Hospital, 36 per cent of patients presented to the emergency department because of a road traffic crash were motorcyclists.
Out of that number, 75 per cent admitted to not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, despite being more at risk of extreme injuries.
Only three per cent of patients were confirmed to have been wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
The team report reckless riding by untrained or drunken boda boda operators as the two major causes of accidents, usually involving a car and the motorbike.
The sector employs at least 700,000 people, earning more than Sh500 million per day, making it attractive to criminals.
The vast majority of boda boda riders do not have comprehensive insurance cover and a significant number also lack PSV insurance cover as required by the NTSA Operation of Motorcycles Regulations, 2015.
For example, between 2016 and 2018, police arrested and charged 18,509 boda boda operators for operating uninsured motorcycles.
Between 2016 and 2018, 70,447 boda boda riders were arrested and charged with various offences.
The most common offences were causing death by dangerous riding (79.5 per cent), stealing (76.7 per cent) and breach of public order and creating a disturbance (66.2 per cent).
Assault, robbery and robbery with violence, handling and drugs trafficking, defilement, rape and kidnappings are also high.
On the other hand, prevalent crimes committed against boda boda motorcycle riders were predominantly theft of motorcycle and parts, robbery and robbery with violence.
The taskforce said the root cause of causes of boda boda-related crimes are pervasive unemployment and idleness (48.3 per cent); poverty (24.9 per cent) and drug and substance abuse (17.5 per cent).
The challenges faced in addressing boda boda crimes, the report said, are principally weak law enforcement and regulation of the boda boda subsector.
It also cited corruption among sections of the police and other law enforcement agencies, a culture of impunity among boda boda operators and anonymity of the boda boda industry, making it difficult to trace criminals.
In Nairobi for example, about 700 traffic police officers enforce the law on all forms of traffic, though there are approximately 300,000 boda bodas. The ratio of police officers to boda bodas 1:430.
The measures put in place to reduce boda boda-related crimes included regulation by Saccos and associations, police roadblocks, checks, patrols, community policing and nyumba kumi initiatives.
However, the report warned that lack of a database of all boda boda operators is a major policy gap and a serious threat to national security.
The task force does not advocate banning or taking punitive approaches of arresting and prosecuting operators, unless the offences are serious.
Such an approach is not sustainable in a developing economy like Kenya.
The sector, the report said, has therefore increased per capita income and improved quality of life. Aggregate earnings for riders in the sector are estimated at Sh219billion.
The NTSA, police, and boda boda rider associations estimate the sector employs about one million riders, each earning between Sh500 and sh5,000 per day.
Motorcycle dealers sold 105,000 units between January and July in 2018, an 11 per cent dip compared to 118,000 units over a similar period in 2017, according to KNBS.
Though sales have moved up and down over the last five years, there was a sharp rise in 2017. The number of units registered in 2017, according to KNBS, increased by 55 per cent and reached 191,601, compared to 123,539 in 2016.
According to data by the Motorcycle Assemblers Association of Kenya (MAAK), there are about 800,000 motorbikes, of which 100,000 are used by courier companies and another 100,000 used by individals as personal transport. The balance of about 600,000 is used in public transport as boda bodas.
MAAK estimates that in a day, the boda bodas can make 22 million rides and generate Sh900 million, with each rider making an average Sh1,500.
The task force, therefore, recommended creation of a that a database with specific details of all bodaboda riders.
They urged the Kenyan government to make it mandatory before one is allowed to operate a boda boda motorcycle on Kenyan roads to meet certain minimum conditions.
They include formal motorcycle rider training, a riders/driving licence, certificate of good conduct, helmet and reflector jackets — and have the same kit for their passengers.
The team said strategies should also be put in place for re-testing and validating competencies of operators who currently hold valid riding/driving licences.
“Authorization to operate a boda boda motorcycle as public service vehicle/motorcycle should be granted by the NTSA/TLB only after the operator has joined a SACCO or a boda boda association,” it said.
“Formal rider training is important in reducing motorcycle-related accidents,” reads the report.