Nairobi and Kampala Need Equitable and Inclusive Infrastructure

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Photos by Wasike Yusuf Arby

By Romanus Opiyo

Globally, nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector. Though Africa currently has one of the lowest motorization rates globally, it is poised to become a major new player in the transport sector. This notwithstanding, the mobility needs of most of the African city residents are still wanting, especially for vulnerable populations such as the urban poor, elderly, children, people living with disabilities, and women. The existing mobility infrastructure, such as public transport and non-motorized infrastructure and services, is either unaffordable, unreliable, or unavailable, limiting these populations’ choices and exposing them to dangerous streets.

Together with my colleagues Cassilde Muhoza; Steve Cinderby, Gary Haq, and Howard Cambridge from the University of York; and Arby Wasike, we have spent the last two years mapping the infrastructure of Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda to assess the needs of the cities’ most vulnerable residents and explore the benefits of applying a participatory framework to their mobility systems.

The provision of transportation infrastructure in Africa is often ad hoc, at times relying more on political favors than demand or evidence. The popular response to addressing urban mobility issues has been biased towards infrastructure for motorized modes, encouraging sprawl and greater car use. Unfortunately, car-oriented infrastructure does not always address the mobility needs of the vulnerable citizens who are the majority of urban residents: when transportation options for non-drivers are inadequate or missing entirely, they are exposed to dangerous roads and harmful air pollution, affecting their health and wellbeing.

There is some good progress in improving mobility in African cities with lessons learned from Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam, which launched the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) in 2016, and Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa, which invested in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in a bid to address both the mobility needs of city residents and congested roads during commute hours. Other cities in East Africa, such as Nairobi and Kampala, are still grappling with the issue of investing in high-volume public transport systems, such as BRT.

Nairobi, like many African cities, lacks an efficient public transport service. The city doesn’t have public scheduled buses, BRT, or Light Rail Transit (LRT) apart from commuter rail service, which plies along three major corridors of Nairobi. Most residents rely on privately owned paratransit, commonly known as matatus. Another public transport service that is emerging in Nairobi and other urban centers in Kenya is the motorcycle taxi (boda boda) which is increasingly playing a critical mobility role by covering first- and last-mile journeys. However, they are replacing bicycles due to their speed and comfort while contributing to traffic crashes, poor air quality, and noise pollution. Since the mid-2000s, Nairobi has been making a good attempt to provide walking facilities along major corridors, but the recent popularity of motorcycles as a means of public transport has resulted in encroachment into pedestrian space, creating conflict and displacing pedestrians. The urban poor are often reliant on walking, as they cannot afford other options of mobility such as matatus or boda bodas, and bear the brunt of this danger.

People living with a disability often have to share the motorway with motorized vehicles.

Just like in Nairobi, mass transit in Kampala, Uganda, is still limited to a passenger rail service operating below capacity. Kampala also relies heavily on paratransit, comprising largely of taxis (14-seater minibuses) and boda bodas. Boda bodas are a source of livelihood for young people, are convenient, and avoid traffic congestion. Unlike other public transport services, boda bodas allow accessibility to nearly all areas of the city. There are currently an estimated 120,000 boda bodas operating in Kampala.

Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has partnered with various partners to provide and manage Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) infrastructure to encourage safe walking and cycling in the city, but just like in Nairobi, the boda bodas tend to displace pedestrians and cyclists from using the provided walking and cycling facilities.

There tend to be similar experiences in terms of the mobility needs and challenges of vulnerable communities in Nairobi and Kampala. The mobility challenges can be grouped into the following categories:

Inadequate transportation infrastructure does not meet the demands of city residents and, where it is available, the modal integration is poor. This limits the mobility of vulnerable city residents such as people with disabilities, the elderly, children, and women, and increases their exposure to safety and pollution issues. Infrastructure prioritizes motorized vehicles to the extent of being unusable for or unused by people walking and biking, like elevated crossings over arterial roads that go ignored by people taking more direct, accessible, and dangerous at-grade routes.

Public transport services are unreliable as they are unscheduled and don’t have standard or fixed travel costs. Since they are run by private owners who have a profit-oriented mindset, they are driven by the principle of supply and demand and often don’t have options, deny, or charge more for people who require additional space, such as those in wheelchairs.

Public transportation users have limited options and often overload the few available public service vehicles, risking the lives of passengers and exposing them to dangerous traffic. The urban poor are most affected as they are unable to afford alternative means of transport such as for-hire vehicles.

Many pedestrians ignore the provided infrastructure when its design and location do not prioritize or consider their needs.

Infrastructure encroachment occurs when there is not adequate infrastructure for all modes of transportation, and two and three-wheeled motor vehicles choose to use pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, increasing their own safety while endangering those groups. This affects vulnerable users, and this may lead to conflicts between various modes. The encroachment is at times worsened by traders who display their wares on the provided NMT infrastructure, blocking the use of those facilities.

The governance and regulatory framework fails to cover all modes. There has been a good attempt to formulate transportation policies and regulatory frameworks to manage the public transport sector, but enforcement of the laws by various authorities seems to not deter the behaviour of vehicle operators. Boda bodas are especially unregulated, flouting city by-laws and regulations by carrying more than one pylon passenger, operating without helmets, and parking in undesignated areas including on NMT infrastructure.

Participatory and engagement approaches such as participatory journey mapping, digital stories, and delphi method allow the target users of transport services to engage with transport professionals, operators, investors, and policymakers and to brainstorm inclusive mobility solutions which meet their mobility needs. This was noted during a series of transport stakeholders workshops in Kampala and Lusaka to be a plausible approach in ensuring that the providers of transportation infrastructure and services are responsive and enhance and improve the mobility of vulnerable city residents. This can also increase the safety of public transit users, improve public transit operations, and reduce emissions.

Romanus Opiyo, PhD is a Research Fellow with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), with a research interest in the area of transportation and mobility, environment quality and climate change, participatory frameworks, smart cities, and urban governance. He is also a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he has over 15 years of experience in university lecturing, research, and student supervision (Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels).

The Inclusive Climate-Resilient Transport Planning in Africa project was funded as part of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s High Volume Transport (HVT) Applied Research Programme (2020–2022) and was managed DT Global UK. The Equitable Mobility for City Health and Wellbeing project is funded by the British Academy, under the Urban Infrastructures of Well-Being.

This article was originally published in Transportation Alternatives Vision Zero Cities Journal as part of the 2023 Vision Zero Cities conference.

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