Matatu crackdown: Fares triple as operators accuse police of demanding bribes
The crackdown on public service vehicles that have not complied with the famous ‘Michuki rules’ has been called off after a meeting between matatu operators and Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet.
This came after two days of suffering when traffic police officers in Nairobi intensified clampdown on matatus that netted close to 1,000 vehicles ahead of the November 12 deadline.
“We talked to the police chief and he agreed to suspend the crackdown. We all agreed that commuters were suffering for mistakes of others,” Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said on Monday.
STRIKE CALLED OFF
He added that a strike by matatu operators to protest the seizure of their vehicles was called off to give room for negotiations.
“We needed to engage the government to understand what the rules were all about. There was conflicting information from some arms of government, with the Interior Ministry insisting on the November 12 deadline,” Mr Kimutai said.
“We will play our role and ensure our members comply with the regulations. The indiscipline witnessed on roads is because of competition from non-compliant vehicles.”
Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua said an organisation of six associations called the Federation of Public Transport Sector held talks with Mr Boinnet to reach a compromise.
“Traffic Police had sought help from Administration Police officers, the General Service Unit and other law enforcers and they were impounding new vehicles that are road-compliant,” Mr Mbugua said.
Our attempts to reach Mr Boinnet were futile as he did not pick calls or respond to text messages.
‘ONLY A REHEARSAL’
And on Monday, Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru said the clampdown “is only a rehearsal”.
“Those who have not complied with the requirements had better do so or keep their vehicles at home,” Mr Kimaru said on Citizen TV.
For his part, National Transport and Safety Authority chief Francis Meja said the crackdown was meant “to prepare PSV operators on what to come before the expiry of the notice”.
“Let them start fitting their vehicles with speed limiters, seat belts and other requirements,” Mr Meja said.
“The ‘Michuki rules’ were never suspended and it would be better if we began the crackdown earlier.”
The rules were named after Mr John Njoroge Michuki, who was the first Transport Minister in the National Rainbow Coalition government.
Many Nairobians walked to their places of work or worship on Sunday and Monday since most matatus were grounded.
“Those who got into the few available matatus parted with up to three times the ordinary fare.
One paid Sh200 instead of Sh100 from Thika to Nairobi while, commuters from Ongata Rongai paid Sh150.
Travelling from Ngong to the city centre cost Sh150 to Sh200, up from Sh100.
“I walked from Kangemi to town because I could not get a vehicle to get me to work,” Mr Gilbert Wanyonyi told the Nation.
Drivers complained of heavy traffic on major roads leading to the city centre despite the absence of matatus.
“Police are taking advantage of the situation to demand huge bribes. They have been using unmarked vehicles to block matatus and even escorting them to police stations without informing drivers and conductors of their mistakes,” Mr Richard Kanoru, the Matatu Transport Vehicles Association secretary general, said.
He added that when drivers are freed on bail, the vehicles are not released.
Tens of vehicles belonging to several saccos were parked at Kasarani police station yesterday.
Mr Kanoru said rogue operators were behind the increase in fares.
The rules require PSVs to have seat belts, speed governors and a yellow line on the body.
Drivers and conductors are required to be in uniform and their pictures prominently displayed in the vehicles.
Mr Kanoru blamed “cartels” for allowing drivers and conductors to get on the road without uniforms and using vehicles with faulty speed limiters.
“It is the fault of law enforcers. Outside Nairobi, they let saloons operate as PSVs. These vehicles are to blame for the increasing accidents, not matatus,” he told the Nation.
Meanwhile, garages in the city were jammed with matatus.
The Ministries of Transport and Interior released a joint notice on October 26 giving matatu operators till November 12 to comply with the ‘Michuki rules’ or face the law.
Spare part dealers blame the short notice given by the government for the implementation of the rules for the impasse.
They say the gadgets are out of stock and importation takes time.
A 14-seater matatu owner would require up to Sh20,000 to have seat belts fitted in his or her vehicle.
“They are limited and that is why they cost that much,” Mr Peter Muigai, a spare parts dealer on Kirinyaga Road, said.
“A complete seat belt goes for Sh1,200 to Sh1,400 or sometimes even more.”
Mr Moses Sifa, who runs a spare parts shop in the same area said there are cheaper versions of seat belts which go for between Sh700 and Sh1,000.
“It boils down to the vehicle owner’s preference. The durability will depend on what they pay,” he said.
The fitting price is negotiable, he added.
“Fitting one belt costs between Sh250 and Sh400. The total is roughly between Sh3,500 and Sh6,000,” Mr Kepha Mulabu, a mechanic, said.
The suppliers added that the total cost for a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit and a lifesaver sign is Sh1,500 though it also depends on where one gets them from.
They said business has been on the rise since yesterday, after the Sunday crackdown.
“By mid-morning, ten individuals had made inquiries about seat belts, fire extinguishers, lifesavers and first aid boxes,” Mr Mungai said.