City transport and the debate on who should walk to the CBD

This past week has been really interesting for me. I mean it is the week that had the Made in Rwanda Expo where you always get to discover cool new stuff being made in the country.

It was also the week of the Kigali Job Fair that is organised by the City of Kigali through its employment centre and in partnership with DOT Rwanda, an organisation that equips young people with digital skills for today’s job market.

I must also admit that I was still marvelling not just at the new red stripped pedestrian crossings around Kigali but the respect that drivers seem to have for pedestrians. Of course it has a lot to do with not wanting to be in bad books with the traffic cops nearby but ultimately it can become second nature and many lives will be saved in the long run.

It is nice to see all road users being accorded respect especially because the taxes that pay for the roads come from all of us.

Still on the issue of people walking in Nairobi did wake up to a shock when the governor of the city, Mike Mbuvi Sonko decided to effect the ban on Matatus (passenger service vehicles) from accessing the city’s Central Business District (CBD).

Images of so many people walking and also stampeding each other on pedestrian bridges were all over the internet. Some of them were painful to look at as even people with disabilities were seen enduring this new torture.

The decision was overturned the next day but not after the Governor telling us that people should walk because many of them do not even go to the gym! Public transport is not some sort of lifestyle choice to be equated with going to the gym.

Focus should be on making it more organised and safe for people to use. It is not an alternative to working out in the gym. I am also sure the owners of gyms cannot be happy when the city council creates competition just like that.

That aside, city congestion is a real challenge for cities but banning of public service vehicles from accessing the CBD is not really a smart idea. I noticed some Kenyans on Twitter were defending the move by giving wrong examples such as Kigali. I tried to explain to some that in Kigali, public transport does actually get one to the CBD with ease.

Of course the buses don’t drop passengers in front of the central bank but one can be dropped close by. The fact that Kigali actually has a bus park in the CBD also escaped them. And this is why I always say we should all make an effort to visit other countries in the region if only to see how our brothers and sisters live.

I do not subscribe to the idea that public transport vehicles should be banned from the city centres as a move to decongest cities in East Africa. If it ever has to come to this level I suggest that cities do some of the following things. Start by replacing smaller capacity passenger vehicles with bigger ones.

Then ensure that you reduce on the amount of road surface that is dedicated to street parking. You can also hike parking fees to discourage people who don’t really need to bring their cars to town and park them on the street for a whole day.

And if our policy makers really care about walking in the CBD, then they should ensure that walking in the city is a safe and pleasant experience. Many of our cities don’t even have pedestrian walkways and people are forced to share the edge of the road with vehicular traffic or risk falling in drainage paths. And when tired, people should be able to find green parks to rest or benches to sit on.

While our city officials are still scratching their heads with how to fix public transport, Luxembourg has just announced that very soon, public transport will be free for all. Yes they are scrapping all fares on trains, trams and buses starting next summer.

Before this, they were providing free transport for people below the age of 20 and students up to the age of 30. Imagine that. Since our policy makers are always pocketing per diems and airline miles on benchmarking trips, how about a trip to Luxembourg or better still walking to the CBD just to get a feel of what are talking about when they are given the chance?

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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