It is a classic case of survival for the fittest: you blink, you die.
The crews of public service vehicles on the busy Thika Road are increasingly endangering lives as they refuse to use service lanes to safely disgorge passengers from their vehicles.
While service lanes have speed bumps and spacious bus stops, the operators usually avoid them, preferring to slow down on the highway itself and let commuters alight and jump onto the kerb.
This not only inconveniences other motorists behind such PSVs by creating logjams but it also risks the lives of passengers, who must negotiate a service lane to get to the other side.
As a result, an unknown number of travellers have been knocked down on the highway with deadly results.
On the city-bound carriageway, the most notorious spot is the Mathari Hospital footbridge, where dozens of passengers are dangerously left to disembark right on the highway.
Ironically, it is just next to a police station. On the outbound lanes, PSVs also leave their passengers on the highway at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies footbridge, and the footbridge at Garden City and TRM.
Oftentimes, there are traffic police officers a stone’s throw away. But who is to blame for the mess?
Reached for comment, both the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) absolved themselves of any blame, instead pointing accusing fingers at the traffic police department.
“What is the work of traffic police? We provide and maintain the infrastructure but another body is in charge of what you are asking for. We are equally frustrated. Take your question to the right person,” Kenha Director-General Peter Mundinia said.
Kenha assistant director of corporate communication Charles Njogu was even blunter, describing the situation as dangerous.
“We construct and provide where the PSVs stages will be, which are all specifically located along the service lane,” he reasoned.
Mr Njogu added that it is the mandate of the traffic police to enforce the law, “but we have noticed it and we will soon start running advisories to warn them as that is also our mandate.”
NTSA, for its part, said it does not enforce rules on roads. An NTSA public relations officer told Nation.Africa: “NTSA doesn't do enforcement on the road.”
That is true. In 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the agency to withdraw all its officers from roads, saying all traffic work should be left to police officers.
“I agree that road accidents have been on the rise and the government will work to ensure we minimise the accidents,” he said.
“We have decided that all NTSA officers withdraw from the roads and leave traffic work to the police. We want to see if we can restore order on the roads.”
In 2017, there were 3,150 fatalities on the roads; 3,004 fatalities in 2018, 3,572 fatalities in 2019 and 3,572 fatalities last year.
Nation.Africa tried in vain to reach Nairobi Traffic Police Commander Joshua Omukata for comment but for more than a week, he did not return our calls or respond to our messages.
But as the blame game continues, commuters continue to suffer and stakeholders continue to be frustrated.
Peter Murima, the chairman of the Motorist Association of Kenya, blamed the design of the highway. Matatu and other pick-and-drop vehicles, he said, were to strictly use service roads, as the name implies.
“Dropping off commuters on the main carriageway, which is supposed to be express, is dangerously homicidal considering the highway speeds of a restricted-access road,” he said.
“Imagine how rear-ending a matatu would harm those in the back seat, considering the manner Kenya para matatu bodies are made. Fares seat right next to the back window, which is supposed to be emergency exit.”
Mr Murima predicts that the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that is envisioned to transform mass transportation in the city, and which is starting to take shape with the remodelling of Thika Road, will turn out to be a big, costly mistake too.
For his part, the chairman of the Matatu Owners Association, Simon Kimutai, blamed matatu saccos, passengers and the police.
“Imagine if we had a suggestion box where people would report what had happened. The same way that some truck transporters have a telephone number to report that the truck was dangerously driven. We would have an organised transport system,” he opined.
He also blamed passengers for enabling the breaking of laws by matatu crews.
“A majority of passengers are also lazy. They want to be dropped off and picked up a few metres from their houses, and they do not want to walk to the designated bus stage,” he said.
“And because the matatu crew have a set budget, they will be forced to break the rules in order to meet their bosses’ target by the end of the day.”
Mr Kimutai said police and matatu crews are bedfellows in breaking road rules.
“I have been in the matatu industry for the past 30 years. I can tell you, despite my experience I have given up on the industry. We have no ability to monitor what is on the ground. This industry is like a carcass everyone wants to eat,” he said.