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Backlash over city car-free days

Daily Nation logo Daily Nation 29/01/2019 BERNARDINE MUTANU

A cross-section of Kenyans and civil society organisations have faulted Transport ministry’s directive introducing car-free days in Nairobi, terming it ill-thought-out and impractical.

On Tuesday, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said Nairobi residents will be expected to use public service vehicles every Wednesday and Saturday, starting on Friday, February 1.

Mr Macharia told the Nation that there will be no exception to the directive meant to ease congestion in the city. 

Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) expressed their disappointment after the directive was announced. 

'Impractical'

Many of those who criticised the move said they did not see the logic of locking cars out of the city centre while allowing hawkers to trade their wars on the streets and parking lots. 

File photo- Kenyan Transport and Infrastructure Minister, James Macharia © Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images File photo- Kenyan Transport and Infrastructure Minister, James Macharia The legality of the pronouncement has also been questioned with the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE).

FKE executive director Jacqueline Mugo, speaking to Business Daily on Tuesday, said stakeholders in the transport sector were not consulted before issuance of the directive. 

Ms Mugo said the order is ambiguous since a total ban is not practical.

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“The idea is good. However, Nairobi does not have a workable public transport system. Workers can’t cycle in the city. We don’t have that culture,” Ms Mugo said. 

LSK President Allen Gichuhi was also in agreement with Ms Mugo, saying that the state should have consulted all stakeholders before effective the directive, which he said is bound to be contested in court by aggrieved parties. 

Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) also faulted the move, saying in a tweet that the “decision by the @TransportKE to set aside car-free days in Nairobi CBD from February 1 requires public participation and its unnecessary given that the move doesn't amount to decongestion of traffic. @JamesMacharia and @MikeSonko should be more innovative.”

Vision 2030

Others wanted the government to explain how progressive the move is given that the country is moving towards attainment of Vision 2030.

Wambui‏ @Waambui in a tweet said: “So basically, what the Transport CS James Macharia announced to Kenyans is that Nairobi CBD will be a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Hehehe! Vision 20Backwards!”

Former Nairobi Deputy Governor Jonathan Mueke said the move needed to be thought out a little bit more.

“Sixty-four buses can’t serve the nine road corridors in Nairobi. There will be a transport crisis on Friday,” said Mr Mueke on Twitter.

Member of Parliament for Ainabkoi Constituency William Chepkut said “car-free days are effected in cities that have subway, metro lines, bike lanes and bike parks, mass bus transport systems and some have waterways serving their CBDs...”.

On his part, human rights lawyer Paul Muite said the measure is ill-thought-out and impractical.

“Closing two or three roads, say Koinange and Moi adequate,” he tweeted.

Another user Frank Ganda‏ @FrankGanda said: “so basically, what Transport ministry is telling Kenyans is not to carry your phones and or any valuables to Nairobi CBD on Wednesday and Saturday.”

An earlier attempt to bar public service vehicles at the CBD by City Hall failed after residents protested. 

The government is in the process of implementing the bus rapid transport (BRT) system to decongest the City.

Benchmarks

Should the car-free days be implemented, Nairobi will join other cities that have closed down streets to drivers. 

In Denmark, half of its capital Copenhagen’s population cycles to work every day.

The city boasts of 322km of bicycle lanes and has the lowest percentage of car ownership in Europe. 

In East Africa, Rwanda introduced a monthly car-free day in 2016. Every first Sunday, Kigali residents leave their cars at home to walk, jog or ride bicycles to the city centre.

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