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Kenyan motorbike taxis push for professionalism as sector booms

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Motorbike taxi rider Zachary Mutua offered his would-be female passenger a helmet and a reflector jacket.

He then put on his jacket, then helmet, mounted his bike and waited the passenger to board.

But before he started the journey, he agreed with the passenger the route to use, the money she would pay him, 1 U.S. dollar for the 5 km journey, and offered her some safety tips.

Initially, Mutua who operates in the central business district in Nairobi, would not care about his passenger wearing a reflector jacket or helmet.

However, thanks to training, he and tens of other riders in the capital are working to make the sector professional and safe.

This is by observing traffic rules, safety measures and ensuring their customers are satisfied with their services.

The motorbike taxis are one of the most critical in the transport sector in Kenya but for the past decade, the industry had been neglected.

The riders, known as boda boda and who are in their thousands, have been known for all things that are wrong in the Kenyan transport sector.

They have been the highest contributors of road accidents, according to the National Transport Safety Authority and even crime, with motorbikes being used for getaway from crime scenes.

But all these is changing, thanks to the Boda Boda Association of Kenya, which brings together all riders.

The association is training its members like Mutua as it seeks to infuse professionalism in the sector.

“We have been trained on safety, traffic rules and customer handling and even personal hygiene,” said Mutua on Wednesday.

Boda Boda Association chairman Kenneth Onyango noted that they work with various associations and authorities, including the Kenya Red Cross and the police to train members.

Some of the lessons are offered on social media, where the boda boda grouping is so active.

“As an association, we are committed to reduce road accidents involving boda boda riders by through training our members. Our duty is to streamline the industry, thus, we ask for support from government to help us change everything,” said Onyango.

The association has become the self-regulator of the industry, trying to make the key industry that is spread across Kenya serve the public better.

“This industry employs thousands of people, so it’s crucial and must be bettered for self-sustenance,” said Bernard Mwangi, a rider and a member of the association, who dropped out of college for lack of school fees.

Mwangi, who operates in Kitengela, noted that the association comes in handy in dealing with cases of indiscipline and helping members in problem.

“I got an accident and it is fellow riders who came to my rescue. They took me to hospital and even paid my first aid bill before I was transferred to another hospital,” he said.

The riders have savings societies through which they contribute money and take loans that include for buying new bikes or even paying school fees.

“We contribute money every week through the table-banking system and we are able to take loans,” said Mwangi.

The riders, through the association, have also set fares for various routes in the town to avoid unfair competition.

Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi, welcomed the professionalism being infused in the sector, noting it is critical for its long-term survival.

“This is a sector that contributes greatly to the economy but for years it has been rogue. That things are changing is something to celebrate,” he said.

With over 500,000 machines across the East African nation and over 150,000 bikes registered annually, motorcycles are deeply entrenched in the lives of Kenyans and the economy.

“We drive huge fuel sales. We are estimated to be over 500,000 boda boda operators and with each of us fueling an average of fuel worth of 5 dollars per day, we inject into the economy some 2.4 million dollars every day,” the association notes in a brief. 

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