Simon Kimutai, Chairman of Matatu Owners Association (MOA) speaks about the ongoing transport crackdown, dirty seat belts, corrupt traffic cops, extortion cartels, and more.
Is the crackdown to restore Michuki Rules a worthy cause?
CS Fred Matiang’i is fixing the mess after realising most matatus have failed to comply as a result of laxity by enforcers. Ultimately, gains will be made, but the operation has occasioned the loss of income and jobs.
All over the world, if the rule of law is ignored then things go haywire. Unfortunately, those mandated to enforce the rules think it is an opportunity to make money, they (police) are even victimising those who have fully complied.
But why are most matatu operators opposed to the operation?
Members are not opposed to the crackdown, but the manner in which it is being carried out. Police are not keen on compliance; instead, they are looking for minor defaults like a scratch on the windscreen.
Drivers and conductors are arrested without verifying their documents. Imagine if your vehicle is found without a single seat belt you are taken to court and slapped with a Sh100, 000 fine, yet the sub-standard gadgets are scarce in the market. We are beginning to believe there is a conspiracy between police and the courts.
Is the operation a knee-jerk reaction to a recent spate of fatal accidents?
Of course, it is a result of the Fort Ternan crash (in October).
How comes seat belts in most matatus are usually dirty and some lack buckles?
One seat belt is handled by more than 50 people who make them dirty and damage them. Secondly, the seat belts wear out quickly as they’re sub-standard. We have registered this concern with KEBs (Kenya Bureau of Standards), which has done nothing.
Why must matatu operators be compelled to obey the law?
This is a societal problem internalised in our learning institutions where we have prefects who assist in instilling discipline. We accepted the culture of impunity; people break the law without caring about consequences.
Like in our case, we are left helpless when drivers flout rules. They tamper with speed governors then bribe the police. It is the government that is responsible for training drivers. Our role is to employ them but not to change their behaviour.
The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) should be subjecting them to tests. Just like in the maritime, aviation and railway sub-sectors where they have well-established training institutions, road transport needs similar attention.
As we prepare for holidays, can you guarantee an accident-free festive season?
I will be lying, but we shall do our best to ensure unnecessary accidents don’t occur. Let this burden not lay on our shoulders alone, passengers have a role to play, once you pay fare, you have a contractual obligation to demand better service.
Do not allow to be driven over beyond stipulated speed limit. Do not allow reckless driving. Drivers must not be on the steering wheel while fatigued. Vehicle owners should employ more than one driver to operate in shifts.
Matatu saccos were meant to bring sanity on the roads. Sadly, it’s not the case…
Saccos have not been allowed to regulate themselves. Authorities are concerned with licensing and collecting revenue at the expense of reforms. At the moment, the power to discipline or expel errant matatu owners is bestowed on the safety agency, sacco officials are toothless.
I have on several occasions advised NTSA to allow our inspectors on the roads. The inspectors can help in checking the condition of vehicles as well as monitor drivers and conductors. That said, however, 50 percent of the Saccos like 2NTE, 2NK and Prestige Shuttle play are properly managed.
Do you believe the government is serious this time round?
I think it is serious since the operation is in its third week. Most matatu owners approve of the crackdown; we are against the manner and approach. Police officers should be trained on public relations to learn how to handle situations.
They are manhandling our crew and demanding money. The government should also induct Sacco officials and empower them on internal and self-compliance.
Is there hope of sanity eventually prevailing on our roads?
We shall reach there. Even in developed countries, they were where we are today. This can be possible if we have good laws and do away with outdated ones like having seat belts for Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) that should ideally have standing passengers.
NTSA keeps licensing new saccos without bothering whether there is demand for more vehicles. We have ended up in fierce competition over passengers. We need an organized transport system mirroring on collapsed Stagecoach transport model that had no room for ambiguity since routes were well mapped out.
For instance, if you were heading to Kawangware and live in Dandora, there was a specific express bus on that route, no alighting in town and boarding again as is the current scenario.
Why do matatus always bear the brunt of blame?
This is a question I keep asking myself. Nobody respects us, we are viewed as thugs. Historically, our industry has had a bad name.
Matatu people are labelled yet most of the accidents are caused by small cars, buses and lorries, which are rarely targeted in subsequent crackdowns.
Extortion cartels are known to collude with your crews…
I will be a mad person to allow someone to get a cut from my hard-earned money. If you go to the Bus Station, the gangs decide the fare, route and ticketing from us and charge a minimum of Sh100 per trip.
They collect so much money and compromise police. Some enjoy political patronage and have even registered Saccos yet they have no vehicles. We are helpless as corruption suffocates the industry.
What should be done to avoid frequent confrontation between the police and matatu operators?
NTSA should bring on board all stakeholders who should be trained and sensitized on the traffic code and road etiquette.
Bribe-taking. Who is to blame between police and operators?
I will blame the police because they have the power to arrest but go for bribes instead. The giver, however, is to blame too for taking the short-cut in order to avoid going to court where the process is usually long and tedious, even for a minor offence.
Instant ticketing to appear in court can be a solution. Those who fail to appear can be tracked and blacklisted.