The biggest obstacle affecting Matatu business venture today is routes and vehicles management. This involves the regulators i.e NTSA & traffic police, Sacco’s / transport management companies and individual vehicle owners. The reason why Matatu business has become one of the most risky investments so far has everything to do with the three regulators for failing to come up with sustainable ways of Addressing comprehensively’ issues affecting the industry.
The government institutions (NTSA and the police) must first of all take it as a crucial responsibility to protect citizens from unnecessary deaths and injuries caused by road accidents. One way of doing this is by ensuring that only qualified and competent drivers are allowed on the roads. The failure by this two main regulators has trickles down to Sacco managements especially town service routes, where we have seen companies operating without ‘ Codes of conducts thus, no internal mechanism for disciplining employees (drivers and conductors).
This has greatly affected routes management, forcing individual vehicles owners to incur extra costs by hiring workers privately( at their own term) and additional managers to monitor their fleet. Most of the current Existing saccos are just but cartels only being useful when renewing Road Service license (RSL) or paying parking fee. Vehicle owners have been left to deal with the police, pay court fines or bailout drivers even when they are caught breaking traffic rules, abide by the terms set by stage managers and even allow his/her vehicle to be driven by “others” and still paying compulsory daily Management fee and other hidden charges to Sacco’s where they are members.
But this is not to mean that there are no solutions: viable solutions based on facts that have been tested and proven.
For the last 3 years, I’ve been working with a team of economics researchers from a US universities who have been in the country researching on public transport and road safety in Kenya. “I’m only allowed to share what is in the public domain, so probably the ministry can somehow get access to the full report”.During the said period, the team conducted intensive research ‘using various modern technology, gadgets and scientific investigations’ and the findings might perhaps set the basis to finding a lasting solution to reducing road carnage especially in the Matatu sector.
Accidents and the aftermath, has left many investors, drivers, passengers and other motorists counting losses, handicapped, indebted, hospitalised and others doing time in jail. None of the said misfortunes can be said to be of lesser consequences, for at the end of the day, it affects all of us but in different ways.
During our research that covered over 250 town service vehicles operating in Thika, kiambu, kajiado, kibra , south B, Banana and Dandora, the team was able to track all movements, speed, off-road and off-route driving, acceleration rate, vehicle location at all times and ignition details, driving behaviours among others.
For three years, the team monitored and relayed the findings of the investigations/research to participating owners and drivers alike and what came forth could be the breakthrough in creating a sustainable management structure that can be adopted by Matatu saccos to improve safety and proper fleet management.
For many would-be investors, the transport industry appears to present a business mode that has guaranteed returns judging by the demand for this services across the country. But for the insiders (those already in the business), this is not the case. Majority are suffering in silence, straggling to pay back loans to lenders, keeping the vehicle on the road, borrowing to a point where they are forced to source financing from other ventures to pay instalments or risk loosing their vehicles to auctioneers. This can be attributed to hidden pitfalls and lack of reliable guidelines in the management of matatu saccos.
Lack of credible data/information concerning the day to day running of Matatu business is one of the reasons we see many failing to get good returns from the transport market. By credible data, I want to emphasise on the five areas that are most important in ensuring smooth running of this entities.
1- The condition of the vehicles
2- Maintenance record
3- Driving pattern or behaviours
4- Accounting and
Poorly maintained and un-roadworthy vehicles are a major contributor to road accidents and low returns in Matatu business. Brake failures, tire burst, poor suspension, poor vision (lights,mirrors and screens) and other factors that are considered lesser and are mostly overlooked contribute to most of the road clashes. A stalled motor vehicle on the middle of a busy road is a danger to other road users and this is mostly a result of poor maintainance. Although some of the accidents might not be fatal or injury causing, they still require money and time if repairs are needed.
One thing I noted from the research is that: most of the vehicles that were not in very good condition during the installation of the tracking devices had the most breakdowns and we’re spending more time at the garage especially during the normal working hours and recorded very low income to both the crew and the owner and replaced drivers very often compared to those which were in good condition at installation despite belonging /operating on the same route.
A well maintained vehicle is not determined by passing the mandatory government inspection test conducted by NTSA. ..A very big NOT.. This could be, and is supposed to be the case, but corruption by officers in this institution has seen many unroadworthy vehicles getting legal NB. legal not illegal licenses to operate. On the contrary a vehicle in good condition has to have the following–
A- Good working brake system
B- Good suspension that ensures stability of the vehicle
C- Well treaded tyres / not worn- out
D- functioning speed regulator/ governor
E- Recommended seats, windows and mirrors
F- Properly insured.
It is the duty of any willing investor who is determined to succeed in public transport to make sure that the vehicle they are bringing on the road meets the above.
Once the vehicle is in good condition, the next step is to start keeping a record for any expenses that goes toward maintaining the vehicle in that condition. Income and expenses
This must include parts replacement, dates and mileage for normal servicing ( oil change, brake pads/ linings, greasing, transmission fluids etc). To enable you to get factual/ credible figures on wear and tear, you’ll be required to find a way of calculating distance covered in a specific period. You can do this manually by noting down the odometer readings before the start of every working day and deducting the kilometers covered from the reading at the close of business: This will enable the owner monitor expenses and can easily tell if the business is making profit or loses. Alternatively, you can install a tracking device and get all this information on your Android phone or a computer.
Matatu owners must fill the void created by the regulators by ensuring proper and documented management of their vehicles and the behaviours of their employees on the roads to avoid making heavy losses. Also, they must be in touch with the day to day running of their business and not leave everything to Sacco’s and or management companies. At the end, it is the owner who suffers the most since most of this Sacco’s don’t own any of the fleet they manage.