How Kenya’s BRT system flopped – World Bank Report

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Kenya has been planning to roll out the bus rapid transit (BRT) system for years, but poor system policies have prevented the government from attracting potential investors to the Ksh 100 billion project.

In February of this year, the government assured TBEN that the BRT would roll out by June of the same year, but nothing has happened since.

According to a report published by the World Bank on Monday, August 1, poor institutional policies are part of the reasons why the BRT system has failed to take off.

“Unregulated competition from paratransit operators (informal buses, minibuses and taxis, etc.), difficulties in completing compensation agreements, and acrimonious relations between paratransit operators and the government in SSA affect system revenues,” reads part of the report from the World Bank.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with World Bank Vice President Hafez Ghanem at a meeting at the State House, Nairobi in March 2020.

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The lack of dedicated and well-equipped transport authorities, poor coordination between institutions and lack of political support have also made it almost impossible to take a consistent long-term approach to the financial management of BRT systems.

Delayed resettlement and land acquisition processes dramatically increased the risks and costs associated with building new BRT corridors, deterring private investors.

One of the main reasons for the slowdown is frequent cash leakage, sub-optimal, politically driven rate-setting and adjustment regimes that affect the financial performance of the transportation sector.

Acting Director General of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (NAMATA), Francis Gitau, had noted in February that BRT buses would be deployed on the Nairobi causeway, Ksh88 billion, connecting Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with the Nairobi-Nakuru highway in Westlands.

The setting of transport costs was also a contentious area where the potential operators wanted to set the fares themselves.

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“The rates charged by the buses are Ksh150 along the Kasarani – Kenyatta National Hospital line, which we hope will be operational in June on a pilot basis,” Gitau said in February.

He went on to note that the priority corridors designed for BRT are JKIA to Likoni, James Gichuru – Rironi and Bomas of Kenya to Ruiru roads.

However, the World Bank says that the lack of a supportive legal and regulatory framework and ineffective coordination with existing public transport companies are undermining the commercial viability of the project.

Despite the underlying challenges, the multilateral lender also shared important reforms that the state must implement for the system to come to light.

These include the policy and political will combined with strong and ongoing political support to help investors get the program going.

Kenya has also been advised to establish institutional capacity to be tasked with overseeing the budget, planning, construction and operation of BRT systems.

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The lender also advised Kenya to develop a participation model for risk-sharing and benefit-sharing between public and private stakeholders.

If not, the bank warns that the willingness to participate from the private sector will be low, which will weaken the price discovery effect of the PPP model and increase the risk of rent-seeking and contract breach due to a lack effective competition between qualified private participants.

The Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) estimates Kenya will need Ksh 100 billion to implement the BRT system to ease traffic congestion in Nairobi.

However, with just a week left until the August 9 general election, it remains to be seen whether President Uhuru Kenyatta’s brainchild will take steps before he leaves the State House.

An artistic rendering of a BRT pick-up point on Thika Superhighway

An artistic rendering of a BRT pick-up point on Thika Superhighway

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