Two-wheeled motorcycle-taxis (locally referred to as boda-boda) is a source of livelihood, including employment, for many, particularly the youthful population who majorly dominate this sub-sector. Furthermore, it provides easy movement of goods and people in urban areas where there is a lot of traffic while offering relief in rural areas where there are few transport alternatives and poor road networks. It is estimated that the sub-sector creates more than one million direct jobs for riders, earning approximately Ksh 1 billion in a day. The government is also estimated to collect approximately Ksh 60 billion annually in fuel taxes from boda-boda, which consume an average of Ksh 300 in fuel per day. This amounts to a total of Ksh 300 million in fuel per day, implying that the sub- sector is significant to the social and economic development of the country.
The government has made attempts to regulate the sector through the enactment of the National Transport and Safety Authority (Operation of Motorcycles) Regulations 2015 and establishment of a boda-boda taskforce in 2019. Conversely, the efforts have not yielded much success as the sub-sector remains informal and inadequately regulated. In early March 2022, the government decided to crack down on all boda-boda operators across the country following an assault incident of a female motorist in Nairobi. This brought the sub-sector into the spotlight, generating widespread criticism. The operators were granted 60 days to obtain smart licenses and join registered savings and cooperative societies (SACCOs). However, these regulations have not adequately addressed the challenges facing this sub-sector to fully exploit its potential. The key challenges that hinder the full exploitation of this potential sector include the following.
Policy framework: The NTSA (Operation of Motorcycles) Regulations 2015 were put in place in a bid to regulate the sector. Despite these regulations, there exists no comprehensive policy framework and recognition of the sector as part of public service vehicle operator by the Transport License Board. This has informalized the sector, thus minimizing its potential.
Traffic accidents have ballooned over time: The trend in the number of motorcycles reported casualties has been on the rise across the years. The number of motorcycle rider casualties increased by 13.6 per cent from 3,818 in 2020 to 4,336 in 2021 whereas that of pillion passenger rose by 16.5 per cent from 2,332 in 2020 to 2,716 in 2021 as shown in Figure 1. The key contributing factors include recklessness, impunity, violation of traffic rules by operators, and weak enforcement by enforcement agencies.
Figure 1: Number of registered motorcycle and casualties from reported road accidents
Database: The duplication of route coverage by several riders and non-affiliation to SACCOs/associations has made it difficult to identify a legitimate rider from criminals who infiltrate the sector. The lack of identification systems and insufficient GPS locater in the sector has increased the crime rate, including robbery, stealing and assault of passengers and pedestrian. Furthermore, the exact number of boda-boda is not known because most of them are unregistered and undocumented.
Trainings: According to National Crime Research Centre 2018 report, 65.1% of boda- boda accidents are due to reckless behaviour of riders. In February 2021, the government launched a nationwide boda-boda training programme, which aimed to instill discipline to the riders and restore order in the sector. However, the high registration fee perceived by riders impedes them from attending the training. Besides the infrequent trainings, lack of coordination between riders and training agencies contributes to unruly behaviour by the riders.
Insecurity: There are several complaints of boda-boda operators gradually turning into the new face of crime in Kenya, posing a security challenge to the public. As a result, the public is skeptical about the sector due to the criminal activities conducted by the riders. The crimes committed by boda-boda operators remains on a higher trajectory with the most prevalent shown in Figure 2.
Fig 2: Prevalent crimes committed by boda-boda riders
What is to be Done?
Policy framework: Put in place a comprehensive policy, legislative and regulatory framework to help govern and develop the sector. This includes enhanced collaboration among key stakeholders, for example NTSA and dealers to ensure that all buyers of new motorcycles have PSV licences and details captured in the database before releasing the motorcycle.
Traffic accidents: The law enforcement agencies should strictly enforce the law and ensure high levels of discipline on the roads. This includes wearing of helmet and reflector jackets, observing traffic rules, not carrying more than one passenger, frequent inspection and crack down of traffic rules’ violators. Furthermore, the government could consider designing special lanes exclusively for motorcycles to avoid lane splitting and install speed cameras in designated areas along special lanes accompanied by a metered system installed on motorcyclists’ phones. This is to allow streamlined cashless payment for speed violators and enhance surveillance of the sector to identify traffic violator patterns as is the case in Rwanda.
Database: Adoption of the code identification system on the number plate across the country as is the case of Thika town. A collaboration by all registered motorcycle SACCOs and telecommunications companies could propose adoption of the code system for all riders. The identification system could be linked to the database, in which the details of boda-boda motorcycles will eventually be recorded. These details include engine and chassis numbers, owner information, rider information, and his cooperative affiliation. This system will boost GPS tracking system and passengers will be able to track and rate the riders by using their mobile phones, thus enhancing effective regulation and regaining the public confidence towards the sector.
Training: Collaboration between county governments and driving schools to establish an appropriate curricular and facilitate training of boda-boda riders on road traffic discipline and behaviour change. To achieve this intervention, county governments need to ensure they mobilize riders through their SACCOs to attend trainings and testing regularly. Participants could be incentivized through county parking fees waiver for one year and free registration to National Health Insurance Fund.
Security: Need for increased intelligence and surveillance to beef up security through installation of CCTV cameras, streetlights, and self-regulations mechanisms by SACCOs, crackdown of boda-boda violators, and reviving nyumba kumi initiatives will help reduce the crime rate. Also, dealers of boda-boda need to ensure no release of new boda-bodas before registering with the NTSA to address the crime normally committed by unregistered boda-bodas. The key stakeholders could consider conducting frequent public awareness and sensitization on crime prevention and road safety.
The number of boda-bodas in Kenya is projected to rise owing to its popularity. However, this sector continues to operate with weak policy framework leading to increased related cases of crime and accidents, thus posing major risks and costs to the public safety. This therefore calls for a comprehensive policy and legislative framework, and self-regulating mechanisms to ensure effective registration, regulation, monitoring and governing of the sector to facilitate unlocking its full potential in Kenya.
Authors: Josephine Cherotich, Young Professional, Office of the Executive Director
Omar Maamun, Young Professional, Strategy and Planning Department