Mombasa-based long haul Bus operators have welcomed the decision by the government to allow them back on the road but insist that they could be forced to hike fares between destinations.
Speaking to KNA on Wednesday, Mohamed Ajaz Mirza, Chairman of Kenya’s oldest long distance bus company, Coast Bus said their main clientele remain the middle class and business people.
“We shall have to increase the fares to help us stay afloat as we operate under the new normal environment where buses are not allowed to carry the maximum capacity ,” said Mirza.
At the firm’s Changamwe main workshops, it was a beehive of activities as mechanics and company staff made last minute checks on the fleet of buses that have not been in operation for over three months.
”While we thank the President for opening up the economy by allowing us to operate once again, we request that a general bail out on bus operators be effected since we have suffered losses due to Covid -19 pandemic just like all other sectors of the economy,” Mirza said.
He said that they have to conform to strict Ministry of Health regulations that require buses to be fully fumigated, drivers and their support crew to be medically fit and free from Covid-19 among a raft of key requirements.
”We have sent a number of our bus crew to the Miritini Covid-19 testing centre for tests before we can assign them duties to travel,” Mirza who was flanked by the firm’s Operations Manager, Izhar Mirza said.
He said that since buses shall only be allowed on the road during day time, he pleaded with President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Transport Cabinet Secretary (CS), James Macharia to allow an extra one hour out of the start of night curfew times for long distance bus drivers to operate so as to reach their destinations.
”All our buses are fitted with speed governors and it will be impossible to reach destinations in time with the speed restrictions before curfew time,” he said.
All the Coast Bus fleet of buses have special stickers depicting Covid-19 message that are placed on strategic places.
Ticket prices, Mirza said were likely to rise. He did not however give the new rates, adding that they were still working on the rates which will be out before they start operations on Thursday.
Operators in general remain apprehensive of the challenges that lay ahead as they start operations in the Covid-19 era with some pondering on how best to attract clients at a time when there is fear of travel due to the virus pandemic.
”There is not enough demand to fill up the half empty requirement as people are not travelling due to fear of the virus,” Idd Kibet , a bus operator said.
At the Mombasa Raha Bus yard in Leisure village, Nyali constituency , workers were busy putting final touches to buses that were to be deployed to travel to Nairobi and Lamu respectively.
”Mombasa Raha crew have adhered to the new Health Ministry requirements. We shall be charging Sh. 2000 one way Mombasa- Nairobi and vice versa,” Khamis Said, Fleet Manager said.
He said that they have opened their booking offices and are already selling tickets ahead of the start of operations.
”It has been long and tiresome wait. Our people remained without jobs since the government announced total lockdown in Mombasa and Nairobi to curb spread of coronavirus,” Said added.
Meanwhile, public and private beaches in Mombasa remained no go zone areas in the county even as the lockdown was eased.
A spot check at the popular Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach which was shut to public visitation in March after Kenya recorded its first Covid-19 case is now a construction site with access denied.
Mabati barriers have been erected at the entrance of the beach area and along the beach thus preventing access .There are private guards and police manning the popular site.
Another public beach area located adjacent to the Sun Africa Nyali Beach Hotel is also out of bounds for beach goers.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers frequent the beach waters on boats and patrol on foot in the area.
By Joseph Kamolo