The Government of Kenya recently announced plans to have a car free day in Nairobi Central Business District. The announcement led to a huge public outcry and its eventual  postponement.

 The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) also went  ahead to sue the Transport ministry, the Nairobi County government and the Attorney-General. The LSK argued that the decision was taken before viable alternatives to public transport were put in place, noting that the much hyped bus rapid transit system is far from being adopted. In the case documents, the argue that because the central business district is home to private and government offices, learning institutions and hospitals, making the accessibility of these places difficult would result in a violation of the freedom of movement. (Source Nairobi News, 8th February 2019)

Car free days are held in many cities to promote the use of non motorized transit and public mass transit.  The most popular car free days in Africa are held in Kigali, Rwanda and Cape Town, South Africa. They focus on health awareness and social interaction.

Given the advantages of car free days, why is Nairobi struggling to accomplish this initiative? Nairobi is a very car-centric city. The strained public transport system has led to many citizens travelling using personal cars. Coupled with poor traffic management, the result is perpetual traffic jams. The cost of wasted time, wasted fuel, air pollution and stress levels is difficult to quantify.

In contrast, studies show that majority of road users are pedestrians, cyclists and matatu/bus riders. The inequality in infrastructure is evident to the naked eye. The minority personal vehicle users congest the roads at the expense of the public transport users. They also get better infrastructure than the majority pedestrians and good number cyclists.  Given the current crisis in the transport sector, the car free day debate is timely.

The best practices in sustainable transport always begin with the provision of alternative means over  personal vehicles in the city. Mass transport that is convenient, reliable and accessible to all commuters is paramount. Innovations in transport such as ride hailing and ride sharing Apps are a welcome solution and should be embraced by all stakeholders.

The reduction of personal vehicles will free the limited infrastructure to pave way for wider pedestrian walkways, cycling lanes, dedicated bus lanes and even light rail transportation.

Who knows? For some, everyday can be a car free day.

By: Sellina Omollo (PhD)
Founder, Ubabi Vanpooling Society

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