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Cheap fuel chokes Nairobi as motorists bring out private cars

The recent drop in fuel prices has brought more drivers onto the roads, leading to heavy congestion and increasing the volume of fuel consumed in January, latest industry data shows.

Nairobi, which accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the national traffic, has experienced crippling traffic jams in the past two weeks, with motorists stuck on the roads for hours during peak morning and evening hours.

County traffic commander Edward Mwamburi confirmed that more vehicles had come on the roads compared to a similar period in the past. However, he did not have exact figures.

“There has been an increase in traffic virtually on all roads, which has been giving us a headache,” Mr Mwamburi said. “It has only worsened this week as we move towards the end of the month.”

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on January 14 announced a Sh9.13 per litre drop in the price of super petrol to a maximum of Sh92.80, a Sh7.5 drop for diesel to Sh83.30 and Sh5.78 for kerosene to Sh65.50 in Nairobi – the lowest prices in two years.

TRAFFIC WORSENS

Motorists said they are spending more time on the roads with public service vehicle operators saying the heavy traffic has cancelled out the benefits of the cheaper fuel.

“Traffic has become worse especially in the mornings because more people are now using private vehicles to come to the city,” said Nicholas Mugo, a Kenya Bus Service driver.

The rise in traffic volumes has also increased petroleum sales for oil marketers.

Vivo Energy managing director Polycarp Igathe said evacuation of diesel, petrol, jet fuel and kerosene for January was already four per cent higher than last year’s 410 million litres for the month.

“We have seen a big increase in uptake across the country which can be related to affordability and economic growth,” he said.

The ERC has promised further reductions in the next review due on February 14 in line with the fall in crude oil prices for the month of December. The current prices are pegged on the November crude oil prices.

The two-month lag between local and international oil prices is occasioned by the duration it takes to import fuel products. The cheaper fuel could only make a bad situation worse as more motorists take advantage of the low prices.

The fall in petroleum prices comes at a time when motor vehicle sales have peaked to record levels, raising the volume of cars on the road.

Data from the Kenya Motor Industry Association shows that new vehicle dealers sold 17,499 units in 2014 up from 14,542 units recorded in 2013, a 20.3 per cent increase.

MIDDLE CLASS EXPANDING

Sales of second-hand imports stood at 57,230 units in the nine months to September 2014 compared to 76,122 for the full year in 2013, setting the stage for a new record.

The rise in real estate developments is also being blamed for the increase in traffic as road construction fails to keep pace.

“The middle class has been expanding so much while new buildings are coming up in places like Nairobi’s Upper Hill intensifying congestion,” Mr Mwamburi said.

An inefficient public transport system has been blamed for the huge increase in the number of private vehicles on Nairobi roads where rail and rapid bus transit systems are yet to take off.

Previous attempts to introduce mass transport solutions like park-and-ride, where motorists leave their vehicles outside the city centre and use high capacity buses or trains to the central business district, have flopped.

But Duncan Kibogong from the National Transport and Safety Authority said consultations on a transport master plan policy are about to start.

“The most important thing is to improve public transport and in that case it’s going to make people leave their cars at home and use public transport to work places,” he said.