Almost 2,000 minibus taxi drivers and conductors as well as passengers were arrested in Kenya , authorities said, as police began enforcing long-ignored road safety rules.
The crackdown against the minibus taxis and buses resulted in long queues and unusually traffic-free streets as many drivers stayed at home rather than risk arrest, and owners grounded their fleets.
The road traffic regulations were published in a Kenya Gazette notice in September 2003 by the then minister of Transport, the late John Michuki.
The highlights were that every public service vehicle (PSV) must be fitted with a speed governor that capped speed at 80 kilometres per hour, have seatbelts for all passengers, and have a defined passenger capacity to prevent overloading. They also required drivers to display their photo prominently in the matatu to curb “squad” driving, and made it mandatory for PSVs to have a yellow strip on its body.
Traffic updates by Ma3Route, a mobile, web and SMS traffic information platform, said there are few matatus on Outer Ring Road and fare had been increased.
“The situation is bad people are stranded [because of] Michuki [rules]….[Vehicles dropping off passengers at Cabanas],” read another tweet on the situation on Mombasa Road.
“Close to 2,000 offenders have been arrested,” police chief Joseph Boinnet told a press conference in the capital Nairobi.
“These include matatu operators, operators of private vehicles and even users of (Public Service Vehicles) who had not fastened up,” he stated.
Mr Boinnet warned passengers against boarding vehicles that are not compliant with the country’s “Michuki rules”, dating back to 2004 and named after the then transport minister.
The rules require vehicles to be properly insured and have seatbelts for all passengers, and for drivers to be licensed and sober and obey traffic signs. There are also provisions on uniforms, paintwork and overcrowding.
It was not immediately clear how many people would be charged or detained under the crackdown. Previous government efforts to enforce road safety rules have been undermined by corruption and a lack of political will.
Kenya’s matatus are often painted in bright colours, pumping loud music and with neon lights and large television screens flashing inside. The minibuses are seen as a menace on the roads, speeding, engaging in hair-raising manoeuvres and flouting basic traffic rules.
However the cheap and fast service they provide is essential for millions of commuters.
Interior minister Fred Matiang’i said the government would implement the rules in the interests of road safety, despite the disruption.
“I have been told that some operators have decided to withdraw their vehicles. That is fine; they can keep them at home as long as they want to because we are not changing our position,” he said.
Police put up roadblocks across the country impounding vehicles. Most of the arrests were made in Nairobi and other cities and towns.
“What we are doing is a measure aimed at saving lives,” said Transport Minister James Macharia.
Official statistics show that around 3,000 people die annually in road accidents in Kenya.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the figure could be as high as 12,000 — nearly 50 percent higher than world average when calculated as a percentage of its population.
Last month at least 50 people were killed when a bus travelling from Nairobi to the western town of Kakamega overturned and its entire roof ripped off.