Why Nairobians stick to their cars despite costly traffic gridlocks

Most Nairobi motorists still opt to drive to work alone, a global survey shows, worsening traffic gridlocks and environmental pollution in the city.

Global data research firm, Kantar ranked Nairobi bottom of the 31 key global cities surveyed—pointing to the capital’s limited and frustrating chaotic public transport system infrastructure. Nairobi ranked closely to Sao Paulo (30), Johannesburg (29) and Jakarta at position 28.

“Although people appreciate the environmental need to limit the use of cars for personal transport, they still feel there are reasons that justify using them such as convenience, safety and accessibility,” the Mobility Report reads.

Apart from escaping the inconvenience of chaotic public transport, the survey reveals that commuters in emerging cities such as Nairobi still view cars as a status symbol.

“Particularly in the emerging cities, there is a strong emotional connection with the car as a symbol of status and success” Kantar said.

Berlin emerged as the leading city in terms of the affordability and availability of transport choices, followed by Auckland and Moscow.

“So, it falls to the cities themselves to design, implement and promote genuine alternatives. They need to create the environment and the positive conditions that motivate the population to change its behaviour,” the survey report recommended adding that this would enable start-ups to offer new services and products.

“It also demonstrates how industry players can stay relevant by developing new products, offers and services,” it added.

The Asian cities of Tokyo, Beijing and Singapore were ranked the most environmentally friendly, with few solo drivers and a high proportion of walkers, cyclists and public transport-users.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam have the highest numbers of commuters cycling to work at 19 percent and 17 percent respectively. London ranked as more environmentally friendly, because of its more extensive public transport network. Only 24 percent of London commuters drive their cars to work, compared with 26 percent in Copenhagen and 29 percent in Amsterdam.

“The future of mobility will be shaped in the great cities of the world. But only if it is shaped by the great cities. Their citizens will not act alone,” Katar said.

“To achieve meaningful behavioural change, strong, sustainable initiatives must be established. They must also be integrated across the entire mobility ecosystem, with public/private collaboration to find the best solutions and alternatives to the car,” it further urged.

The chaotic public transport system in Nairobi remains a big economic concern with millions of commuters forced to walk long distances each day.

With one of the fastest growing middle-class in Africa, Nairobi has over the past few years witnessed a sharp transformation into a city of booming retail malls, real estate projects and alongside these developments, a rising number of private cars.

But with the glamour came mounting traffic woes that have now left residents scrambling for long-neglected options such as walking and mass transit solutions.

A recent World Bank report showed that a massive 83 percent of all commuter trip in Nairobi involves walking as the primary or secondary mode of travel. An estimated 41 percent of all trips in the city involve walking only, and 42 percent are other modes, the vast majority of which (63 percent) involve matatus.

“Only 17 percent of all trips are made without walking, among which more than half (54 percent) are completed by passenger car and 13 percent by motorcycle” the World Bank said in a past report.

“Compared with other primary African cities, Nairobi has the largest share of walking trips.”

Most affected

Residents living in slums are most affected by the traffic congestion menace, because they don’t have the luxury of owning private cars.

But the income group with the highest car use makes the smallest number of daily trips, while the lowest income group makes the third largest number of daily trips” the World Bank further said.

A 2013 study showed that households in Nairobi county spend on average Sh250 million ($2.5m) per day in travel costs. The costs were examined by quantifying the out-of-pocket cost of travel such as fuel and transport fares as well as the value of time (VOT) spent travelling.

“Of the aggregate passenger travel cost, 75 percent was spent on matatus, 20 percent on private vehicles and the remaining five percent on walking (VOT only),” the report showed.

According to the Kantar survey, global cities with people-centered infrastructure would attract the biggest inflows in future.

“People-centric cities will be the future. The question is how fast. In order to remove single cars from city centres, we need long-term investment into public transport capacity, a vast shared mobility offering, and cities have to solve their logistical issues,” it said.

Although most world cities have moved to provide an alternative for non-motorised transport, Nairobi and urban centres in Kenya are generally planned for cars and yet the majority of residents do not own cars.

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