By David Onjili
In November 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Diesel Mobile Units (DMU) to help ease the dependence on vehicular transport into Nairobi. In December 2020, the Ministry of Transport launched DMUs plying the central business district to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) route.
A passenger going to the JKIA has to board at the Nairobi Central Station to Embakasi Village, a 25-minute trip and, from there, take a BRT bus to JKIA, a 10-minute journey. The introductory fare was Sh500 one way from the CBD, a figure that did not go well with many Kenyans. Many opined that a taxi would charge a similar rate, prompting the government to reduce the far ebay half.
Is this latest attempt at curbing traffic jams sustainable?
On two occasions, I used the morning rides to Embakasi Village, and must admit that the uptake was good. During one of those times, I counted close to one hundred passengers. While I never proceeded to the airport, many others did. Despite the schedule showing that we would take 25 minutes to Embakasi, we took 19 minutes. On another occasion, I took an evening ride to Embakasi. There was no one proceeding to the airport.
I think the DMUs are a great idea, but Kenya Railways must innovate, and do it fast if the government is serious about convincing people to adopt trains. Given that the fare was reduced after an online uproar, it is likely to revert to the original figure; this would be an ill-advised move. Many, particularly those not proceeding to the airport, would rather spend time in traffic than pay triple what matatus charge for the distance.
A partnership with travel agencies is one way of shoring up passenger numbers. Such agencies deal with tourists who could do without Nairobi’s traffic nightmare, and who would be a boon to Kenya Railways. In any event, KR must aggressively market its services and set a standard to win over and retain customers.
To its credit, the refurbished station does offer comfortable amenities, including clean waiting areas and large screens to display trip schedules. It also helps that the trains adhere to the schedules, which enables passengers to budget for their time with confidence. With the ongoing construction along the busy Mombasa Road, the main artery to JKIA, KR can use this window to offer a viable, lasting alternative to travellers. (