A few months ago the Inspector General (IG) of Police announced that police roadblocks across Kenya would be removed, and this was applauded, although many doubted it would be implemented. I can confirm that on my many trips to the north, I have actually observed absence of roadblocks on the Nairobi-Nyeri highway. And in Nairobi, traffic police along Limuru and Kiambu roads are now visibly busy “assisting” traffic flow not “blocking” it.
Efficient road transportation is when vehicles, passengers and cargo transit on our roads within the shortest time possible while ensuring safety and due consideration for all road users. The tens of police roadblocks on our roads were not only wasting travel-time, but were also not truly effective in safety enforcement. And I doubt if overall road safety is now any worse than it was when we had the barriers.
When Rwanda transferred much of their transit business from Mombasa to Dar Es Salaam, they complained of high transit costs through Kenya; much time lost at countless roadblocks; and bribes extracted at roadblocks by the police and other enforcement agencies. Roadblocks had become a real barrier to doing business in Kenya.
It is also important to note that occasional “surprise” roadblocks are necessary for traffic discipline and enforcement, but these have to be centrally controlled and authorised from higher up the police hierarchy. Further, mobile police patrols and checks can also add effectiveness to traffic rules enforcement. Enforcing safety among the generally rogue transport sub-sectors (including “boda boda”, “matatus” and “miraa’ couriers) requires more of punitive enforcement of existing rules and fines to tame behavioural impunity.
Further, unfitness to drive (drunken driving, fatigue and sleep) can be addressed more effectively through sustained education and awareness media campaigns. And this is the work and responsibility for the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). Roadblocks cannot sufficiently deal with this problem.
Moving on to road transportation efficiency, the other prime agents for ensuring smooth traffic flow with minimum hold-ups are the road authorities. Both the Kibaki and Jubilee governments have definitely achieved much in expanding road capacity to ensure efficient and ample traffic holding capacity to cope with increased economic needs. However, this is very much work in progress as traffic hold-ups are still very evident on urban roads and highways.
Specifically, the road by-passes and link-roads around the urban parts of Kenya have mostly decongested traffic while unlocking unrealised economic potential of hitherto idle real estate in the outer parts of cities and towns.
The negative socio-economic impacts associated with traffic holdups are many. Precious man-hours are wasted by people who would otherwise be doing economically gainful tasks. Every litre of fuel burned in traffic congestion is wasted foreign exchange. Additional hydrocarbons burned produce carbon dioxide which worsens global warming. Yes traffic jams are by any definition inefficient and wasteful in terms of resources.
When the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project finally stretches westwards, it will play a major role in increasing overall road transportation efficiency and safety as much cargo haulage will transfer from highways to rail. Highways and transit towns will experience less heavy-duty traffic congestion.
This is also why the recent Sh6.9 billion funding for the Naivasha Internal Container Depot (ICD) is quite welcome as it will further reduce road congestion along the Northern Corridor. It is understood that at Naivasha, cargo bound for Uganda will be lifted from SGR onto the revamped old Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) to Kampala.
Further, if effectively implemented, the proposed metropolitan bus rapid transport for Nairobi will significantly improve passenger traffic flow and efficiency. The proof of true success will be when Nairobians leave their vehicles at home and confidently use rapid public buses knowing that they are safe, in time and convenient.
Finally, thank you Bwana IG for removing “permanent” roadblocks from our roads. It is hoped that these reforms will stay. We also expect to see the traffic police effectively facilitating traffic flows.
On their part, the road authorities should continue with the ongoing focus to decongest our roads to achieve an efficient road transport system that supports smooth and safe travel. This is good for Kenya’s socio-economic progress.