Green Park: The Sh250 million matatu stage no one wants

Green Park Bus Terminus

 Deserted Nairobi's Green Park Bus Terminus on March 12, 2023.  

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

When former President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned the construction of the Greenpark Terminus in 2020, he was very clear on what he wanted to see—a state-of-the-art facility that would decongest the country’s capital city. It was to host up to 300 vehicles at a time and up to 20,000 matatus per day, according to Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).

In three months, the construction of the terminus was to be completed. And Mr Kenyatta chose the right man for the job—then NMS boss Lt-Gen Mohammed Badi. He had worked in the military for close to 40 years and he was not your regular politician who promises too much and delivers little or none.

After almost three years of delays and several test runs, the Nation can now reveal that the project that cost taxpayers Sh250 million is on the verge of turning into a white elephant due to several architectural planning mistakes by the defunct NMS and unresolved disputes that have rendered the terminus unusable.

Last week, we found the facility abandoned, even after it was officially opened by Nairobi City County Governor Johnson Sakaja last year. The paintings on the walls are already losing their lustre. A few people are seated on the benches in the terminus making phone calls as several groups of street boys sleep on the nearby grass. Uniformed police officers are interrogating a team of young men on one side of the terminus. Inside the spacious waiting bay, the few black chairs have started gathering dust. If the terminus was operational, passengers would probably be seated here making phone calls as they wait for their buses.

City commuters at the Green Park Terminus on June 22, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

At the entrance, there is an automated black screen that shows the different routes that matatus in Nairobi operate. It lights up with different colours and once in a while shows random number plates. A few marabou storks have found a new home here after being displaced from the CBD and Mombasa Road. They freely perch on the screen.

Before its term came to an end, NMS made an unsuccessful last attempt to open the terminus in May 2022. It was however postponed at the eleventh hour indicating that public service vehicles operators had asked for an extension to organise themselves.

But Matatu Owners Association Chairman Simon Kimutai strongly rebukes the claims and accuses NMS of failing to involve the stakeholders in the project.

 “We did not ask for an extension. The project was a total mess from the beginning. They never involved us as stakeholders before beginning the project. When you force a project down the throats of people, you must take responsibility when it fails,” Mr Kimutai says. He however adds that all is not lost and recommends that the county government considers using the terminus for matatus operating on one route.

At the heart of the postponement of the opening of the facility is also a fierce dispute with the Kenya Railways pension scheme, which is owed a total of Sh5.8 billion by the government. The state had agreed to pay the scheme a total of Sh7.9 billion for the 18-acre piece of land. In 2021, it paid a total of Sh1.2 billion. In 2022, only Sh650 million was paid.

 “We are in a situation where we are having a high mortality rate among our members but we are struggling to reimburse them. You can imagine if we would have received the money, we would have made investments to earn the pension scheme members more, but we are now stuck,” says James Kanyeki, one of the trustees of the pension scheme.

When he opened the terminus in December last year, Mr Sakaja directed long distance matatus to terminate their journeys at the facility. Little did he know that he had stirred up a hornet’s nest.

City residents walk out of the Green Park Terminus after alighting from Public Service Vehicles.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

A few days later, matatu owners filed a case to halt the directive. As the case progressed, politicians accused the governor of failing to consult before making the declaration. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said that Mr Sakaja’s move was discriminatory. He also warned the county boss against implementing radical policies that touch on businesses belonging to people from the Mt Kenya region.

Last week, the court directed that the county government should engage with the matatu owners to find an amicable solution, which is what Mr Sakaja is now doing.

Dickson Mbugua, the Secretary General of the Federation of Public Transport says NMS’s failure to carry out public participation had caused all the challenges.

Holding ground

“We did our best to seek audience with the NMS Director-General to talk over several issues concerning the terminus but we were ignored. We have created a committee from the county and from the matatu sector to negotiate over the issue and we are yet to sit down with Mr Sakaja’s team,” Mr Mbugua says. He is of the view that the terminus as it is can only be used as a holding ground for matatus.

“Instead of all matatus coming into the CBD, let us have two or three matatus from each Sacco—one that is dropping, one that is picking and one that is waiting. All the others can be at the Green Park Terminus,” he says.

The county executive Mobility and Works Patrick Mbogo, while appearing before the Transport Committee at City Hall, said they are engaging with the matatus owners.

“The terminus is one of the plans we have on decongesting the CBD. We hope to engage the matatu transport sector leaders over the standoff and we will communicate on the agreement that we will arrive at,” Mr Mbogo said.

The Greenpark terminus was only the starting point. NMS had earmarked other areas for similar projects, including the Bunyala and Workshop roads junction where matatus plying Mombasa Road (South B, South C, Industrial Area, Imara Daima, Athi River, Kitengela, and Machakos) were to terminate. Long-distance PSVs from Mt Kenya region, which terminate at Accra Road (Kenneth Matiba Road) were to be moved to Desai and Park Road termini. Those using Jogoo Road were to have their terminus at Muthurwa market.

Interestingly, Mr Mbogo last week told the county assembly that the new administration is considering going ahead with the construction of the other termini. This drew a flurry of reactions from the MCAs who wondered why the county would do this when Green Park is yet to be occupied three years later.

 A visit to the proposed termini revealed that everything is back to normal. Several traders whom we spoke to acknowledged that they had received information on the construction of the termini but they had now long forgotten about it.

Although Greenpark is not yet operational, a police post is already opened, as well as a Level Two hospital. There is little activity in these facilities.

As we walk into the healthcare facility, the clinical officer welcomes us. He however becomes apprehensive once he discovers that we are journalists. “We are not authorised to speak to reporters,” he tells us.

Planning mistakes

Experts we spoke to say the terminus is less likely to be usable due to several planning mistakes and the county government should consider clearing it and reverting to a recreational park.

 According to Town and County Planners Association of Kenya Chairperson Mairura Omwenga, there are two main mistakes that were made: poor location and lack of planning.

 “The presence of a bus terminus conflicts with the nearby spaces. It does not make any logical sense to have a bus terminus within a recreational facility. The county development plan is clear that the entire place where the terminus is located is green space for Nairobi residents. This means that there was lack of consultation before the project began,” he says. “Green spaces are very crucial for any city but that seems to have been thrown out of the window.”

The Green Park Terminus is part of efforts to decongest the city centre.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

 He also observes that the terminus is small. In its current form, it cannot accommodate the high number of matatus as claimed by NMS.

 “There was a planning mistake and failure to understand how the vehicles will be coming in and going out. It cannot accommodate a high number of vehicles, which are also growing every day. If you observe the test runs carried out, the traffic spills all the way to Haile Selassie Avenue. In its current form, it makes the traffic problem in Nairobi worse,” he adds.

 Mwamba FC Rugby Club President Alvas Nguru, whose team used to use the area for rugby games that attracted thousands of fans, also says they yearn to go back to their playing field.

 “We were hoping that we would get back to the field near the terminus but the wait is taking longer. Our rugby games attracted thousands of fans and recruited several members who would access the field easily because it was near the CBD,” Mr Nguru says.