For many years, Kenya’s public transport sector has been characterised by flagrant breaches of the Highway Code, overlapping, obstruction of other road users, double parking and outright impunity.
Add to that corruption.
The matatus have distinguished themselves as a messy, uncontrolled operation by cartels whose by-word is jungle law. At the centre of the current crackdown is how to regain control of the public transport sector from the jaws of threatening cartels and secure the multi-billion-shilling industry for both the investor and the commuting public at its mercy.
With rising insecurity, compounded by the lawlessness of mushrooming boda-bodas, the government was duty-bound to step in. And when it did, it was met with the expected resistance, protests and boycotts.
Yet neither side is clean. Schemes by operators to bend the stiff conditions are always met with extortion by law enforcers in an uncanny relationship that has fostered corruption and left dead in its wake.
After months of stakeholder consultations, the government finally set the deadline for compliance. It was predictably ignored by most operators who pulled their vehicles off the road in what the government interpreted as blackmail. Yesterday, was the day for testing each side’s resolve — to comply or continue to defy.
Matatu operators have raised concerns over what they consider to be extreme measures. Why, for instance, should vehicle owners or the sacco be culpable for offences committed by a driver or conductor?
They have also sought clarity on the nature of the yellow line — should it be broken or continuous? Should large saccos and bus companies too use the yellow line or retain their identify and brand colours?
Saccos also want to be allowed to have their unique uniforms for their drivers and conductors instead of the mandatory navy blue pair of trousers or skirts and blue shirts for drivers and maroon for conductors.
Equally contentious is the directive to replace the current manual speed governors with digital ones. Matatu owners insist the current speed governors and limiters are still serviceable and installation of the new ones will delay their operations as well as cost them unnecessarily.
Appealing to their fans, the matatu operators have also opposed the ban on graffiti on their vehicles. In an apparent variation, the ministry yesterday seemed to suggest it has not outlawed the graffiti, but it should not cover the yellow line.