Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop. Lying. To. Us.

We are not idiots, are we? Deep down we know that even "the only independent candidate, the only candidate that matters, the candidate with the only qualification that matters (integrity)" will not build a light rail system or a subway for Nairobi. Not in five years. Not in ten. Not ever. It has nothing to do with the feasibility or cost of the project. Both are things that we can overcome, resistance be damned. It has everything to do with the priorities of this city, which none of the candidates for the office seem to have assessed properly.

Public transport infrastructure expansion only becomes viable if it is done in conjunction with the counties in Nairobi's metropolitan area: Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado. Otherwise, it is a foolhardy and foolish experiment at the expense of taxpayers.

Public transport reforms must accept certain unpalatable facts. The first is that it is a liberalised, free market system. If the county government wishes to enter the matatu business, it must do so knowing that it cannot re-nationalise the matatu industry. That horse is out of the barn and it is never coming back. The constitutional battles alone are not enough to justify the effort. If the county re-enters the matatu business, it will do as a competitor to, and a substitute for, the existing players in the sector. This will not be a walk in the park.

Secondly, the reforms have focussed on the stick end of the carrot-and-stick and not enough on the carrots. The stick, in the form of stiffer traffic penalties, has not worked so well. Private motorists and PSV operators now play dangerous games of hide and seek with law enforcers, placing not just their lives but those of other road users and law enforces in danger. Some of the stunts that hide-and-seek thrill-seekers engage in have led to tragic outcomes. The carrot side has not been so popular.

Simple things like road design, on-street car-parking design, road markings, traffic signs, traffic signalling systems, predictable and equitable law enforcement, among many others, have received the go bye. As a result, more road users remain at risk while the chaos on the roads gets worse. Few of the candidates or even the incumbent are capable of thinking out of the box beyond asinine suggestions about light rail and subways and context-less comparisons with first class cities such as New York, Singapore City or London.

Thirdly, given the arrogant elitism of the candidates, we all know that none of them is capable of looking at positive behavioral modification through urban planning as a solution. They want to build roads and footpaths and bike lanes, but not one of them has even cited the works or designs of a single urban planner. Urban planning has undergone a sea change since the 1980s; some modern designs have modified how humans interact with each other, reducing the potential for conflict, enhancing comfort and almost eliminating the risk of accidents or non-medical emergencies such as floods, fires or building collapses. Before you build your stupid subway, you must get the basics of urban design and planning right.

We are not idiots, dear candidates. Stop lying that you will build subways. If you're honest enough with yourself, you know we don't care about subways. Tunataka uondoe takataka mjini, uhakikishe mitaro hayajazibwa, hospitali za munispaa ziko na madaktari na madawa, na barabara hazina shimo. Ni hayo tu. Mengine mengi ni bonus.

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