Storm in paradise as Madaraka Express runs into the headwind

Madaraka Express

By Jackson Kairu

Long-distance bus operators based in the busy port city of Mombasa have urged the government to reduce Covid-19 curfew hours to allow them to operate at night as their absence on the roads has seen the economy of trading centres on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway collapse.

Bus operators and trader representatives spoke to The Weekly Vision after interior cabinet secretary Fred Mataingi extended a nationwide curfew from 10 pm to 4 am for a further 60 days. Families in both old town and upper sections of the coastal city’s world-famous for its 5 star luxury holiday hotels have taken issue with the SGR train service saying the government appears to favour them.

We appeal for a general bail out on bus operators since we have suffered losses due to COVID -19 pandemic just like all other sectors of the economy,” Mohamed Ajaz Mirza of Coast Bus had said

 Mr Mohamed Ajaz Mirza, chairman of Kenya’s oldest long-distance bus company, Coast Bus told The Weekly Vision that business is slow owing to stiff competition from SGR. ”Our main clientele remains the middle class and business people who demand safe, efficient and comfortable travel” something SGR appears to be offering because ‘it is favoured by the state.”

”We appeal for a general bail out on bus operators since we have suffered losses due to COVID -19 pandemic just like all other sectors of the economy,” Mohamed Ajaz Mirza of Coast Bus had said as he lamented the loss of business due to the curfew. He said since buses are only allowed on the road during the daytime, he pleaded with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Transport Cabinet Secretary, Mr James Macharia to allow an extra hour out of the start of the night curfew time for the long-distance bus drivers to operate.

Mombasa Raha crew have adhered to the new Health Ministry requirements. We shall be charging sh 2000 one way Mombasa- Nairobi and vice versa,” Mr Khamis Said, the Fleet manager said

”All our buses are fitted with speed governors and it will be impossible to reach some destinations in time with the speed restrictions before curfew time,” he said. Also up in arms are traders along the Mombasa highway whose economic lifeline has for decades depended on stop-overs from buses and trailers in transit to neighbouring countries.

While coastal have no problem competing with the Chinese built SGR, they feel the government keeps using Covid -19 restrictions to “frustrate their business” while SGR continues undisturbed!  

Early this year while lifting lockdown and reducing curfew hours, President Uhuru Kenyatta had allowed public service bus only to operate, after being cleared by the ministry of health, and transport. The raft of requirements did not touch on the SGR, which traders on the busy Mombasa highway blame for the loss of business.

The operator however did not give the new rates adding that they were still working on the new ticket prices which should be out before Thursday. At the Mombasa Raha Bus yard in Leisure village, Nyali constituency, workers were busy putting final touches on buses that were to be deployed to travel to Nairobi and Lamu respectively.

”Mombasa Raha crew have adhered to the new Health Ministry requirements. We shall be charging sh 2000 one way Mombasa- Nairobi and vice versa,” Mr Khamis Said, the Fleet manager said. He said that they have opened their booking offices and are already selling tickets ahead of the start of operations.

”It has been a long and tiresome wait. Our people remained without jobs since the government announced total lockdown in Mombasa and Nairobi to curb the spread of coronavirus,” he added.

The Kenya Railways on Monday hinted at resuming Madaraka train services soon. Kenya Railways Managing Director Philip Mainga said the Ministry of Transport in conjunction with SGR Operator, Africa Star Railway Operation Limited will be releasing the operation schedule in due course.

“We urge members of the public to remain patient as we put all the mechanisms in place to serve you better,” he said however not revealing much on the effects of the new rules on the ticket price.

The extension of curfew continues to be the major stumbling block to the night economy, a thriving sector that was putting bread on the tables of many homes. A cross-section of wananchi wants the government to lift the curfew and allow a 24-hour economy as before since it is achieving little.

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