Lewis Njoka @LewisNjoka
Expect to pay well beyond your usual bus fare if you are travelling this festive season.
Most public service vehicles have increased their charges significantly as they seek to cash in on travellers going home for Christmas and New Year festivities.
Meanwhile, Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger train service from Nairobi to Mombasa is fully booked until December 27 as travellers flock the coastal city to enjoy the festivities.
On public service vehicles, a spotcheck by Business Hub revealed that demand for seats has soared with virtually all upcountry bus termini in Nairobi witnessing heightened activity characterised by huge crowds of travellers.
Public service vehicles have taken advantage of the increased demand to make a kill as well as compensate for reduced business brought about by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
This is double pain to ordinary Kenyans, many of whom have lost jobs or sustained pay cuts due to the effects of the pandemic on the economy.
As of yesterday buses heading to Busia from Nairobi were charging Sh1,700 up from the usual Sh1,200.
Travellers heading to Meru were parting with between Sh1,200 and Sh1,500 for a distance that usually costs them Sh800.
Secure a seat
“I have been here since 5am but have not been able to secure a seat yet to Bungoma. They are charging Sh2,000. Usually, bus fare never goes beyond Sh1,500,” lamented Jackline Nanjala, a traveller.
Nanjala’s predicament was shared by James Wamalwa, a traveller to Busia, who too was unable to secure a seat.
“The queues are long, fare charges are high so we are just waiting. As you can see, there so many travellers here who are yet to secure seats,” Wamalwa said.
Ordinarily, over 90 per cent of urban dwellers travel upcountry at this time of the year with a majority using public transport.
The night time curfew introduced as part of the Covid-19 containment measures issued by the Ministry of Health means that most matatus can only make one trip per day.
This has seen public service vehicles compensate for reduced income by hiking fares.
The high number of travellers thronging bus termini as they head upcountry has raised fears that Covid-19 cases could surge as a result.
Business Hub noted that a majority of travellers did not observe the one and a half metre social distance prescribed by the health officials while queuing to book vehicles.
Worse still, many matatus could be seen operating without providing hand sanitizers to passengers or designating and hand washing points contrary to the Covid-19 containment guidelines issued by Ministry of Health.
Passengers interviewed said they hoped their trip home will not endanger their loved ones, especially the vulnerable ones such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
“Each one of us will have to take measures not to get infected or infect others. If you suspect yourself, just isolate yourself,” said Mike Mutua, a traveller at the Machakos Country bus station.
Many leaders including Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe and Government Spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, have requested Kenyans to avoid unnecessary travel upcountry to minimise the spread of Covid-19 during this festive season.
Kagwe urged Kenyans to continue observing Covid-19 preventive measures during Christmas season.
“Kenyans should continue wearing masks, washing hands regularly and avoiding crowded places to be safe. Covid-19 is a dangerous disease and is not sparing even the mighty,” he said.
He said the disease is spreading fast in all the counties across the country.
“We don’t want to continue losing lives to this disease, I therefore urge all Kenyans to adhere to control measures put in place by the government,” he said.
A recent report by Geopoll shows that 80 per cent of Kenyans plan to decrease their holiday spending this year due to the effect of Covid-19 on the economy.
Those in Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa report the largest decreases in holiday spending this year; 68 per cent in Mozambique and South Africa will spend either much less or a little less.
Results are similar across age groups and genders, indicating that the downturn in spending will cut across goods aimed at multiple demographic groups.