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Motorcycles, arguably the fastest mode of transport in both rural and urban Kenya, have found themselves victims of one of the most unforgiving regulation regime.
Motorcycles, arguably the fastest mode of transport in both rural and urban Kenya, have found themselves victims of one of the most unforgiving regulation regime.

The government issued a new set of rules late last year that will certainly hurt motorcycle operators and dealers. The Traffic (Amendment) Rules 2009, contained in the Gazette Notice of December 2, 2009, signed by Transport minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere, aim to streamline operations of motorcycles, or boda boda as they are popularly known.

“Our aim is to regulate and streamline the sector to ensure that the public has a safe, reliable and well managed transport system,” says Dr Cyrus Njiru, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport.

According to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Mr Simeon ole Kirgotty, there are currently 300,000 motorcycles operating in the country.

“We are registering an average of 6,000 motorcycles a month,” he says. “Since we launched our special KMC motorcycle number plates in May last year, we have issued about 120,000 of them.”

There has been a boom in motorcycle business since the government lifted import duty on them two years ago.

Youthful men without jobs but armed with little education have taken up loans and acquired the two-wheelers to make a living by ferrying commuters in a new mode of transport that has been praised as revolutionary and described by critics as a time bomb given that it was introduced without a legal framework.

So much was the boom that the government introduced new numbering system different from motor vehicles. The new regulation comes amid hue and cry over increasing cases of accidents involving motorcyclists.

Given the negative reputation of PSV crew – strikes like the recent one that paralysed the country’s public transport for about three days and emergence of lethal gangs – there is fear that a new form of “madness” is in the making.

“Unless we are careful, we are slowly creating a monster while watching just like we did when matatus were allowed to start operating in the country in 1973,” said Kenya Bus Service Managing Director Edwins Mukabana.

He says motorcycles should not be used for commercial purposes, noting that in Asian countries, such as India and Malaysia, tricycles are used for transport.

“But since we have allowed them, then we must subject them to regulation such as observing the Transport Licensing Board (TLB) regulations,” he said.

The first in the line of fire is the boda boda operator who has literally enjoyed a comfortable ride since former Finance minister and current Trade minister Amos Kimunya zero-rated motorcycles of up to 250cc in 2008 in an effort to create jobs. Now the honeymoon is over for motorbike owners and operators – they must now invest heavily to ply Kenyan roads.

“It is true that there are genuine concerns against the sector but, as a government, we also realise that it has fulfilled a need as a mode of transport. That is why came up with the regulations” said Dr Njiru.

The PS says the move is part of the government’s strategy of promoting an integrated transport system where commuters are free to use a mode of transport that suits them.

With most of the accidents attributed to lack of proper training for the riders, the regulations make now require them to have a valid driving licence.

The Motorcycle Association of Kenya (MAK), an industry lobby registered mid-last year, says they are already observing the provision.

“According to Traffic Act, no one should ride a motor cycle on public road without a learner’s licence and displaying of L plates or class F licence for motor cycle below 50cc engine capacity or class “G” for motor cycles above 50cc and over,” said Mr Ben Gachoka, the MAK technical director.

Besides, the rules even passengers to wear a helmet and a jacket that has reflectors. Although most of the operators have had a free hand in procuring the helmets, the new rules gives the minister powers to prescribe the shape, construction and quality of the helmets through a gazette notice.

With reports indicating that hospitals in areas with a high number of boda bodas like Western and Nyanza have special wards motorbike accident victims, mostly as a result of poor riding skills and overloading, now it is a crime to carry more than one passenger at ago.

“Motorbikes are convenient, especially in areas where the conventional modes of transport are unreliable like rural areas, during traffic jams and even in narrow roads in slum areas,” says Prof Evaristus Irandu, an expert in geography of infrastructure at the University of Nairobi’s department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

Insurance is key

What is more, every motorcycle is now required to be insured against third-party risks in accordance with the Insurance (Motor Vehicles Third Part Risks) Act Cap. 105.

“The policy is not only available in the market, but is also necessary to the operators because they are open to third liabilities in form of injuries to their passengers, third parties like pedestrians and property,” said Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) Executive Director Tom Gichuhi.

While any person contravening the provisions of the regulations will be punished under the Traffic Act Cap 403 – a fine of Sh5,000 or imprisonment for not more than three months – failure to take third party risk insurance will be handled under the Insurance (Motor Vehicles Third Part Risks) Act Cap.105.

“Any person who contravenes shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding ten thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both,” says the Act.

But a repeat of such offence will lead to disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence for twelve months. The motorcycle association says it is lobbying the government and the insurance industry for the cover.

“We know this cover is critical if we have to legalise motorcycles so that our members can use them for public transport services,” says Mr Gachoka.

Pain with gain

As is the case in public transport, the operators are likely to pass some of the costs to commuters which may see fares going up and reduced demand for this mode of transport, thus affecting even sales.

“In the long-term, regulation will benefit both the commuters and operators in terms of their safety and comfort,” said Prof Irandu.

Dealers of motorcycles who have been doing booming business since Mr Kimunya’s tax measures of 2008 are also likely to bear the brunt of the new regulations since some of their potential clients may be scared away by the costs of implementing the regulations.

The greatest beneficiaries are likely to be insurers who now have a ready market to sell policies to.

“The operators (of boda bodas) must address the safety issues. Otherwise, just like matatus, few insurers will want anything to do with them,” says Mr Leo Matundura, the managing director of Lema Insurance Brokers.

While apportioning some of the blame to motorists who do not appreciate the motorcyclists right to use the roads, Mr Gachoka admits some accidents may be due lack of proper training.

In this regard, they have prepared a training curriculum of motor cycle riders, for which they are seeking approval of the Traffic Commandant to retain commercial and corporate motorcycle riders.

This means the proprietors and managers of driving schools are in for a windfall too. If the cost of implementing the regulations will knock off a few potential motorcycle operators, PSVs stand to benefit because under the current regime they are definitely giving the matatus and bus company a run for their money.

“If we do not regulate the motorcycles who are doing a commercial business like boda bodas it means we are subsidising their operations. For instance, PSV vehicles pay about Sh720 per seat per year in advance tax, which the boda bodas may not be paying,” said Mr Mukabana of KBS.

Motorcyclists say they are not opposed to regulation including TLB rules, such as crews being in uniform and their machines being fitted with speed governors.

“We want to lobby the government and municipal and country councils to dedicate special lanes and create specific parking spaces for boda boda taxis in their areas,” said Mr Gachoka.