This Kenyan CEO has a smart plan to end Nairobi's crazy traffic

The ‘city in the sun’ as Nairobi likes to refer to itself is actually ranked as the second-worst city in the world with the most traffic congestion.

Imported second hand vehicles, frequent traffic jams due to poor roads, alongside with poor vehicle maintenance blend together to create a highly toxic and smoky pungent fume that is Nairobi’s air further exacerbating the air pollution problem in East Africa’s biggest economy.

The ‘city in the sun’ as Nairobi likes to refer to itself is actually ranked as the second-worst city in the world with the most traffic congestion.

So bad is the traffic jam that Kenyans spend 40 days in a year just sitting in traffic, the cost to the economy is enormous and according to the government, time wasted in traffic jams represents a cost of $578,000 (Sh58.4 million) a day and $210 million (Sh2.1billion) a year in lost productivity.

Past governments have tried in vain to clear up the roads, In 2017, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko together with his deputy a former Corporate CEO, Polycarp Igathe took another stab at solving the problem.

"I want to assure you of my commitment to improve the flow of traffic as pledged in my manifesto, while routing out the cartels at City Hall that have been extorting and harassing matatu owners for their selfish gains.” Sonko said during a meeting with Matatu Owners Association.

After the meeting the governor who rode to office on his hands-on approach developed what he termed as a clear plan to root out rogue matatus in the city.

Effective from Wednesday 20th September 2017, Matatus would be barred from entering the Central Business District.

The heat and backlash from commuters and interested parties was immediate and after only a few days the governor threw in the towel and suspended the law altogether.

Just how hard is Nairobi traffic to Solve? So infamous is the situation that it ranks shoulder to shoulder internationally with Kenya’s world famous runners.

Whenever one wants to travel to the 'gateway of Africa’, apart from the magical scenes at Kenya’s world famous parks such as Maasai Mara Game Reserve and white sandy beaches, traffic jams is normally the second thing that they are warned  to brace themselves for.

One of Kenya’s smart CEOs who has tried his hand in both the chaotic Matatu Industry and the orderly corporate sector of private taxis however, thinks solving Nairobi crazy traffic shouldn't be that hard and complicated.

Mwakio Ngale, Virscom Founder and ShareCAB CEO opened up to Business Insider SSA during a recent interview about his company, vision and how Nairobi’s crazy traffic can actually be solved once and for all.

#1. Make Parking in CBD expensive

“Well there are two ways to look at it and this is my personal point of view, so for me first i would opt to have vehicles pay more to park in the City and that way then it becomes expensive, and when I say expensive I mean double the digit rates if you have to park in the city pay a thousand bob ($10) right, and only then should you be allowed to enjoy the City”

“Honestly if the Governor advocated for Sh30,000  ($300) per month I would support it primarily because if you look at some of the cleanest  cities in the world you can’t afford to park, you cannot because they value the air around their cities”

Ngale quickly adds though that doing so does not mean leaving millions of car owners who can’t afford the tidy sum at their own devices but rather the county government can then invest in parking areas within the outskirts of the City.

“And if you can’t pay Sh1000 bob let us then create for you a space where you can park outside Nairobi CBD, maybe Nyayo stadium as an example so if you are coming from Ongata Rongai, Mombasa road etc. we build high rise buildings for parking vehicles or we secure a ground within that area where you can park your vehicle outside the city at a lesser fee”

“But in equal measure we also need to create the spaces where a wannabe Mwakio can actually park in the city because I want to drive my own car”

#2. Come up with a metro train system

The next step Mwakio reckons after building high rise parking spaces outside the CBD, is to come up with a metro transit system.

“And from there now you have what you call a metro transit and we have seen this work  at other places, let it start say from Nyayo stadium, Globe cinema or West lands and they just meander around the city to Kileleshwa and back to Kenyatta Hospital, you know they just meander around the City”

The smart CEO who studied in India and has braved the world’s worst city traffic at Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in India also thinks opening up railways system would be the best thing that has ever happen to Nairobi City.

“We also need to open up our small railway system because we already have an existing railway system, for example the Railway from Syokimau to town has drastically reduced traffic on Mombasa road, the only thing in my view is that maybe it is little bit expensive and the timing is off”

Mwakio suggests Kenya Railways can make a  few changes such as increasing the number of trains and adjusting the timetable among other few changes.

“If instead of starting from Syokimau let it start from Athi river and then build a parking bay where people can park their vehicles at the train station, after that make traveling to the city by train cheap  say Sh25 and Sh50 ($0.1) for a to and fro ticket and honestly I would never use my car, never! I don’t need it when I get to town there is a metro system I know I can get in here, I can drop by Cathedral, Community, Upper Hill, KNH back to town you know, if you have that kind of system in my view it works and can greatly reduce our crazy traffic”

“The city will be a very beautiful place to work, walk and to be in and it will also be cleaner much much cleaner because of the reduced number of traffic”

#3. Make Matatus thrive by aping Tanzania’s ingenious model ‘ Mwendo Kasi’

The ShareCab CEO believes matatus despite their chaotic manner is not necessarily the single culprit in causing traffic jams, they actually play a big role in decongesting the city and therefore multifaceted laws and policies should be created to tackle the menace in its entirety and not singularity.

“The other way is to build open up our roads, if you have been to Tanzania, the Mwendo Kasi  model has really helped reduce traffic jams and if we can do a mwendo kasi kind of concept here it would really help ease congestion on our roads”

“All we need to do is just take one lane and say that is for public vehicles and we partner up with the Matatu owners so that we only have big sitter vehicles like busses so that it just pulls all the way from Ongata Rongai to town, all the way to Thika, Kawangware whichever way you look at it”

#4. Promote creativity 'radical thinking' and smart businesses that seeks to solve traffic jams

Finally, the last solution to Nairobi  crazy traffic is to give incentives and room for smart ideas and businesses that seek to create more durable solutions to thrive and become a reality.

After all we do live in the 21 century where the market keeps changing every day and Mwakio reckons we need to be ahead of the game always.

Local universities should be encouraged to come up with products and ideas that can address traffic congestions in the city either through tailor made courses or even competitions where the best traffic concept can be identified, funded and turned into reality.

Kenya's traffic menace can actually be solved by an homegrown solution rather than a foreign one.

So as he awaits to see whether his ‘smart plan’ will be adopted or see the light of the day one day, Mr.Ngale is upbeat and in his own small way has created a smart business to decongest the city.

“Well if people call it a little Matatu, does it make money for the driver, does it reduce cost to the customer, is it more comfortable, well let it be the little Matatu, you see that is it and I love that.”  He beams.

ShareCab, is a taxi hailing cab which offers seamless connections and reduces traffic jams by allowing up to three commuters to share a cab at no extra cost or discomfort.

“if you take for example a nice Fielder I am betting a hundred percent that a customer would love to have their own seat probably a little WIFI access because our cars will also have WIFI, Air condition, nice little music and you are just three of you and it drops you to your house or office you know, something that a Matatu would ideally not be able to do”

“But we are not in competition with The matatu industry because they also play a big part in decongesting the City so we are actually partners, they do part of it we do part of it and we help each other and that way it becomes a better product”


Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: