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Mechanics earn a living from new-generation motor vehicle plates

A group of four young men in Nyeri County have converted the rush by motorists to get the new-generation motor vehicle plates into a golden opportunity by making a living from it.

The four have for the last couple of months been fitting these plates for motorists once they get their new-generation plates from the National Transport and Safety Authority Regional Headquarters in Nyeri for a fee.

It is hard to miss them, as they have set up shop outside the NTSA offices at the Nyeri Huduma Centre.

Dressed in navy blue coveralls and armed with their toolboxes, they start their work as early as 8 a.m. and sometimes close at 6 p.m. in the evening, depending on the traffic flow of clients.

Titus Nderitu, 24, who was the first person to recognize the business opportunity, says that he noticed that when motorists came to collect their new plates, they often brought along a mechanic to install the plates or took their vehicles to the garage for the plates to be installed.

It was a small token of appreciation from a motorist that opened his eyes to starting what has become his latest venture.

“I more or less chanced on the opportunity three months ago. During one of my visits to the Huduma Center, I noticed one motorist struggling to remove their old plates from their vehicle. I offered to help them remove the old number plates, and he asked if I could help him fit the new ones. That day I went home with Sh500, which was the token of appreciation from the motorist, and with an idea on how to make money by rendering the same service to other motorists at a fee,” said Nderitu.

Nderitu, who is trained in car body mechanics, would then share the idea with his three other friends, who, like him, have a background in mechanical work but are yet to get employed.

He says that bringing them on board would also help them attract more customers and serve more clients faster.

“I found it better to link my friends so that they could also earn some money, and together we would work on more cars per day. I also knew we would be more efficient and attract more customers because it means they do not have to wait for long to get served,” he says.

The new generation of plates, which have been christened ‘smart plates’ use the FE-Schrift typeface, a typeface introduced in the late 1970s for use on license plates.

Its single-spaced alphabets and numbers are slightly uneven to prevent easy modification and improve machine readability.

Additionally, NTSA has also incorporated microchip technology, which bears all the information on the vehicle and the owner.

The plates also come fitted with holograms, which give the plates a three-dimensional effect. They also have unique and different serial numbers for the rear and front plates, rendering them practically impossible to imitate.

The efficiency in the central region NTSA office has also helped spur their business in the very short time they have been in operation.

According to the NTSA Mount Kenya Region Manager, Bora Guyo, his office has been serving clients from as far away as Nairobi and Meru counties.

He noted that they are currently using a short message service to alert applicants when to collect their number plates, an idea he says has helped curb a possible backlog at the regional office.

“We have an open-door policy for transparency purposes. We also notify car owners when their smart car registration plates are ready through text message, and this not only saves them the trouble of having to come and check physically in our offices, but we do not have a backlog of uncollected plates,” said Guyo.

On any given day, each of the four men, who are all below the age of 30, takes home an average of Sh2500. On average, each of them serves at least five people a day.

John Kamande, who is part of Nderitu’s team, says that they initially set a fixed price of Sh500 per car, regardless of the model of the vehicle.

However, they have realized that they could earn more by purchasing number plate frames and charging a higher price for installing both the new plate and the frame.

“Many of the motorists are now preferring to have their new plates framed, and we decided to include this new service,” says Kamande.

“We normally buy the frames at Sh 800 and sell them at Sh 1,000. This new addition has also increased our earnings because the charges for installing the frame vary depending on how fancy the frame is. At times, you can make up to Sh 1200 on one car, which is a better income,” he added.

The replacement of current plates costs up to Sh3,000, and motorists have to wait seven days for their plates to be processed. Much as the government initially gave motorists 18 months to comply, the four young men say they are keen on maximizing their current opportunity as they wait for their next big break.

“So far, this current job has enabled us to cater for our expenses. We are not sure how long we are going to be stationed here, but we will continue to make good use of this opportunity as we wait for our dream jobs,” says Nderitu.

By Wangari Mwangi/Kelvin Muthukumi

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