It is a great honour and privilege to have this opportunity to make some comments and reflections on this very important paper by Ms. Tamara Kerzhner. I use the word ‘important’ because of the critical role that paratransit sector plays on the continent. If you allow me to quote researcher Jackie Klopp who during last year’s Mobilize Conference in Dar es Salaam stated that ‘Many times Africa’s mobility and urban planning is de-linked from reality for example Matatus are everywhere but in our Urban Transport Plans’

Nairobi public transport

We do not need to look far away but outside this room to see the truth of this. As a city (Nairobi) we have produced tons of transport master plans that reflect the five that have been mentioned by Ms. Kerzhner. Of interesting similarity are the development bodies (some call them partners) who are involved in the production of these plans.

Transportation on the African continent is going through an interesting phase. There is increased visibility of external influence and global capital. We see a daily increase in the number of vehicles as well as increased road space like by passes, expanded roads and highways. Once again mainly thanks to ‘development partners.’ Of more recent concern has been the influence of the Chinese who intend to export their own second-hand cars to Africa and Nairobi have offered to construct a toll-based expressway. Note that in none of these major fields have we seen or heard of plans to include paratransit workers or consider the role of their vehicles.

Additionally, as Ms. Kerzhner quotes the re known Scholars Roger Behrens and Dorothy Mcormick, there is an increased view towards a shift to BRT and erasure of the paratransit sector as the standard paradigm for transport reform in urban Africa. However, it is important to note that despite the attractiveness of the BRT system, the informal transit industry is generally hesitant to reform due to the lack of engagement and involvement by authorities who are leading the discussions concerning future transit systems. Ms. Kerzhner states quite clearly that most of the time the topic of paratransit reform is approached from a perspective of ‘restriction (as in the case of Bujumbura), elimination (as in the case of Maputo) or re-deployment (in the case of Malawi). Reform through upgrading or transforming existing system is rarely thought of and never mentioned. As I have written in the past, the only action that is regularly taken on the public transportation system tends to involve the authorities trying to ‘clamp down on the menace.’ The hallmark of these measures is the introduction of more laws, increased penalties and licensing requirements followed by short term police ‘clampdowns’. From a transportation economic perspective, these tend to target the supply factors –drivers/crew, vehicles and owners. There is little consideration made for the demand factors like routing, fares, scheduling and termini.

Nairobi - PT Not allowed

Mitulla and Onsate in their 2013 paper ‘Formalising the Matatu Industry in Kenya: Policy Twists and Turns’ express the fact that almost all policy measures taken affecting the paratransit sector have either been short lived of failures. This, they explain is an indication that both the government and stakeholders are yet to come up with approaches that adequately address the challenges facing the industry. They partly attribute this to the ad-hoc nature of policy responses, which are inadequately informed by knowledge and holistic consultation with relevant stakeholders. These factors are important for sourcing knowledge and inputs into policy formulation, planning and enforcement of regulations.

We must acknowledge, however, that there is need for reform in many African Urban Transport systems. As Klopp, Harber and Quarshie in their recent paper ‘A Review of BRT as Public Transport Reform in African Cities’ say Africa’s rapidly growing cities and metro regions will need to improve public transport in part by building mass transit systems. However, they also stress the importance of creating locally derived forms of metropolitan-scale governance and improved public regulation of transport and land-use.

Dr. Dayo Mobereola of the Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority (LAMATA), one of the initiators of the Lagos BRT, talks highly about how they involved local paratransit operators in the development of their BRT System. He states that there was an intentional and deliberate attempt to involve stakeholders from the start through study tours with minibus (paratransit) union executives, high-level meetings with union members, the involvement of senior politicians and the inauguration of BRT implementation committee. The BRT development process included the formation of a co-operative comprising paratransit union members on the BRT corridor. Further agreements were made on shareholding, financing and staff engagement. The main lesson from Lagos is the importance, necessity and possibility of institutional coordination and that of ensuring consensus among operators.

Plano, Zuitgeest and Behrens in their recent research on Incentivizing off-peak minibus-taxi feeder service: Driver perspectives on reform approaches (July 2019) recognize the diversity of the paratransit sector in Cape Town, but suggest that more involvement of the operators could also build trust between government and industry to enable larger changes to be better received later other than initially contracting newly-formed operating companies as the only way to improve service quality and reform paratransit systems.

The interest of those from the paratransit sector should also not be ruled out, Slightly over a month ago at this very University, a team from  MIT and University of Columbia spent an afternoon with matatu workers updating the ‘Digital Matatu’ Map, the first of its kind in Africa. For all of them, it was the first time that they had been invited to make comments and be practically involved in the planning of their sector. Not only did they show us over 20 new routes that have emerged over the last 5 years in different parts of the city, they also gave us suggestions and ideas on how, where and when the map can be used and be of benefit for passengers and crew. Researcher J M Klopp was to say later ‘we cannot hide the fact that they are our transport planners now.’

Paratransit names

In her paper ‘The Organization, Issues and the Future Role of the Matatu Industry in Nairobi, Kenya,’ Jennifer Graeff from Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) at Columbia University states that matatus can play an important role in the creation of a more comprehensive transit system for the entire Nairobi Metropolitan Area. A transportation vision and system that incorporates matatus and considers the networks built into the matatu industry can help facilitate a smooth reform process. She suggests that through education campaigns, increased oversight and data collection, and greater networking, the creation of a comprehensive transport system for Nairobi can come into fruition.

It would be of interest to know from development agencies why they do not engage the sector and how much they know about the sector. One wonders what fears they have with the sector or whether they have a misunderstanding of it due to external perspectives. Of further interest, as mentioned by Ms. Kerzhner is the role and the importance that other professions can play in transport and mobility planning. Sociologists, Anthropologists, Economists and others can add a lot of value as we try to improve mobility on the continent and engage the paratransit sector. Finally, we can consider enquiring what perspectives and experiences customers have had where new transport modes have been tried alongside paratransit.

This was the presentation given by Constant Cap as the discussant for the paper How Do Transportation Planners Plan for Unplanned Transport? Analysis of plans from Sub-Saharan Africa – by Tamara Kerzhner.
Tamara Kerzhner is a PhD student at the department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley

Data Linked to Sources. Images by Constant Cap and online source

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