By Andrew Walyaula
As we alight from our vehicle, we see touts at the Kitengela bus terminal on their toes try to woo people to board their matatus. There is a beehive of activities at the station, especially since President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the curfew during this year’s Mashujaa day (the curfew had been in place since March 2020).
We are taken to Naekana Sacco, which operates within Nairobi, Athi River, and Machakos. There we meet Paul Mwaura, a stage attendant who takes us through the journey of recovery of the transport sector after the lifting of the curfew.
Mwaura, who seems composed, reveals that he has been working for the Sacco for a very long time and that gives us the assurance that we will get more information from him.
The candid man says that just like the sectors of education and tourism, the transport sector was hit hardest.
‘As a result of the Covid-19 containment measures, we had to comply with the government’s directive of vehicles carrying half their capacity. We had to dig into our pockets to buy sanitizers to ensure the safety of our passengers. It should be noted that this was costly despite having less commuter on board,” the candid man vehemently laments.
He further added that the fact that people had been advised to stay at home ravaged the industry further.
‘Getting customers was a major challenge since many people stayed at home. With the imposition of cessation of movement, the number of customers drastically reduced,’ the stage attendant observed.
Mwaura attests that the lifting of the travelling restrictions was one of the main moves the government took to save public transport sector.
The discovery of vaccines also revitalized the hopes of the sector.
The lifting of the curfew enabled the resumption of night travel. Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) projected that the move would revive the economy by 6.1% this year and 5.6 percent by 2022.
Matatu owners had anticipated that they would record higher profits with the return of night travel.
Mwaura reveals that there is no significant improvement in the amount they make even after the curfew was lifted.
‘Even with the night travel on, most people are still opting to travel more during the day compared to at night,’ he said.
A study by Research Gates revealed that there are chances of many people retaining the behavior they acquired during the crisis and that reverting to old norms might take time.
This implies that the culture of rampant travelling may not be experienced in the near future hence pausing a threat to the transport sector.
One of the Rembo Shuttle Sacco drivers said he makes normal shifts just like he did when the curfew was on.
Caleb Kyalo, a resident of Kitengela told us that since the first case of Covid-19 was announced in the country, he has changed his mode of operation so much.
“The crisis has taught a lot of people about saving. The public transport sector may continue to suffer as technology is growing to simplify things,” Kyalo says.
Mwaura revealed that some of the impacts of the pandemic might last permanently.
“The emergence of Corona Virus in the country saw many individuals turning to technology. The meetings, which we used to see people travel to meet, were overtaken by zoom among other technologies. A lot of innovations have been made to enable people work at their convenience at home hence reducing travelling,” he noted.
He says that innovators are busy searching for silver linings to ensure that technology thrives.
Just like other countries developed applications to enable easy tracing of people who had contracted the virus, Kenya employed technology in their surveillance mission to ensure those suffering are isolated.
‘Working from home is another norm that will prolong. Many see it as a way to reduce numbers at the office yet it adversely affects transport service providers. It is obvious that many are happy to work from home because there is no close monitoring. This is for their benefit but what about us who depend on the travelers for income?” he regretfully asks.
According to a research conducted in 2020, the pandemic introduced employees to the telecommuting and distributed work practices.