Nairobi loses an estimated billion US dollars a year to wasted gridlock hours every year, with the city playing catch-up to build enough roads for a ballooning population intent on using their cars. David Pollard reports.
Nairobi boasts some impressive figures. More than half of Kenya's economic output comes from this, east Africa's main hub. Fifty per cent of its population should own a car by 2030. There are some unimpressive ones too. The city's average driving speed is expected to halve over the same period. One billion dollars a year wasted on lost productivity and fuel consumption in a city that's a gridlock victim. Just ask a local bus driver. (SOUNDBITE) (Swahili) JAMES MWANGI, MATATU DRIVER, SAYING: "We spend so much time on the roads. Let's say you leave Komarock at 8am, you will spend one and a half hours or two hours to get to town - a distance that you can cover in 20 minutes when there's no traffic." A survey carried out in 2011 showed over a third of drivers here spending three hours at a time stuck in jams. Today, the social-media savvy among them are using an app based in this office to keep up with traffic updates - and to have their rant. Founder, Laban Okune, says he reaches 1.3 million people a day. Jams not the only thing they grouse about, he says. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LABAN OKUNE, FOUNDER OF MA3ROUTE, SAYING: "For example the traffic lights - it was a really brilliant idea, they were fixed but no one uses them you know, no one enforces them. Sometimes the traffic light is red, the cops are telling you to go. Sometimes it's green, they are telling you to stop so that creates confusion." Kenya plans to double its paved road infrastructure within five years. Nairobi will have new ring roads to bypass the city centre. Construction's already underway to keep up with a population that could nearly double to seven million by 2030. But it's slow progress - and unlikely to be enough. Something even Michael Njonge, a traffic engineer with Kenya's Urban Roads Authority, admits. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ENGINEER MICHAEL NJONGE, TRAFFIC MANAGER AT KURA, SAYING: "We have gotten to a stage where only the introduction of mass rapid transit systems will be able to address commuter transport in Nairobi and in 2005 the government did a study and identified seven corridors for mass rapid transit." Some experts suggest a 24-hour economy to help spread peak traffic hours. To help make that happen, Kenya Power says a $110 million public lighting project will be completed by next March. It's needed. Just 30 per cent of Nairobi's roads have street lights - 40 per cent of those don't work.