Motorists, matatu crews and passengers could from next week face stiff penalties as the Governmen implements the ‘Michuki rules’. The traffic laws, introduced by then Transport minister John Michuki in 2004, brought sweeping changes to the country’s highway code and transformed how public service vehicles (PSVs) operated. Aside from insisting on a uniform colour scheme for matatus and limiting the number of passengers, the laws carried new implications for every road user and were credited for a 76 per cent reduction in road accidents during the first six months of their implementation.
Starting Monday, traffic officers will be on the lookout for violators of the strict laws that are largely forgotten by many road users almost 15 years after they were introduced. Owners of PSVs (excluding taxis and car hire vehicles) as well as commercial vehicles with tare weights exceeding one tonne, for example, are required to fit their vehicles with speed governors and not exceed 80kph. At the same time, all vehicles should be fitted with seat belts and passengers who don’t belt up will find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Matatus and taxis are to be painted with a consistent yellow band that is 15 centimetres wide and easily identifiable from 275 metres away. They must also prominently display notices informing passengers of route details and pricing during rush hour and off-peak times.
Prison term The owners of matatus found to be in violation of the regulations will be liable for a Sh500 fine for each seat belt not fitted or not meeting the required specifications. Passengers will be liable for a maximum fine of Sh600 or a prison term not exceeding two months, or both, for boarding overloaded matatus or not wearing a seat belt. Drivers and conductors are supposed to be employed on a permanent basis, with the matatu personnel earning a permanent salary and issued with badges provided by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles identifying them as PSV operators.
Matatu crews are also expected to wear uniform identifying them as public sector operatives and each matatu and taxi should prominently display a postcard-size photograph of the driver capturing the head and shoulders and taken without a hat. Drivers are expected to be re-tested every two years. To underline the seriousness of the matter, top police commanders have been summoned to Nairobi for the launch of the crackdown starting November 12. The officers have been instructed to assemble at the Kenya School of Government in Nairobi on Friday for a briefing on how the operation will be launched and sustained. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i is expected to address the gathering of the commanders. His Transport colleague, James Macharia, is also expected at the event.
Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said officers were set for the exercise and asked for cooperation from all stakeholders. Mr Boinnet described the impounding of vehicles, which started during the weekend, as a ‘rehearsal’. Matatu Owners Association boss Simon Kimutai has opposed the crackdown that entered its third day yesterday. Mr Kimutai argued that the Michuki rules were suspended by Justice George Odunga and the State had not appealed against the ruling. He said the crackdown in Nairobi had prompted many matatu operators to keep their vehicles off the road for fear of arrest. The matatus boss called for dialogue to resolve issues. “If there is a problem, which I cannot deny, the traffic department should be sensitive on how to address it.” Traffic Commandant Samuel Kimaru, however, insisted that the exercise was nothing unusual, saying the Michuki rules were binding and were not different from regulations stipulated in the National Transport and Safety Authority and Traffic Acts.
Matatu owners keen not to be caught on the wrong side of the law were taking steps to ensure their vehicles were road-legal. At a garage in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, Mohamed Kartachand, the owner of a garage called Moha Grafix, described the process of complying with the rules as tedious. For instance, he said, safety belts can only be installed after removing the seats. When The Standard team visited the premises, more than 20 men in black and navy blue overalls were sweating under the midday sun as they worked on matatus parked in the garage. While some of the matatus still had banned features such as tinted windows and graffiti, others had been completely stripped.
Mr Kartachand said most matatu owners were still waiting to see whether the Government would change its mind on the banned add-ons. “Sprucing up a matatu costs more than Sh100,000. That is an investment. Then the Government suddenly tells you to remove everything, which is another cost.” He added: “The rules regarding safety belts and speed governors are sensible but I have a problem with the ban on graffiti and colours. What is the connection between graffiti and road safety?”