PSV operators profits dwindle as travel ban bites

Monday, April 20th, 2020 00:00 | By
Guardian company matatus grounded at their offices in Kisumu after the government banned travelling to and from Nairobi to tame the spread of coronavirus. Photo/PD/VIOLA KOSOME

Two weeks after the 21-day lockdown in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kilifi took effect, Public Service Vehicles (PSV) operators are counting losses running into millions of shillings while some have been forced to send employees home.

 A spot-check in different counties revealed the anguish of PSV operators who have been forced to ground their vehicles following the government directive to stop the spread of Covid-19.

In Nairobi, Dennis Ng’ang’a, the operations manager of Climax Bus Company operating in Western and Nyanza regions said they had been experiencing losses, prompting them to send some of their staff on mandatory leave.

“On a normal day, we have over 20 buses operating in different routes, but since the restriction order we have been forced to ground our vehicles,” he said.

According to Ng’ang’a, the company makes close to Sh200, 000 a day but since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, they are making less than Sh50,000 from the few vehicles operating upcountry.

“Our plea is to President Uhuru Kenyatta to at least allow us to resume our business as soon as possible. We are ready to follow all protocols set out by the government,” he said.

Contain virus

Early this month, Uhuru said movement by rail, road or air in and out of Nairobi would remain suspended as the county battles to contain coronavirus. 

However, he pointed out that movement of food supplies and other cargo would continue as usual on condition cargo trucks were assigned a single driver and designated assistants.

Matatu drivers remove sign boards from matatus at a Nakuru terminus following President Uhuru Kenyatta directive banning  movement in and out of Nairobi. 

In Nakuru, public transport players are also feeling the pinch of the lockdown, which is expected to end before the end of this month. At Prestige Shuttle, which has over 200 employees, the company has sent 60 per cent of its workforce on leave. 

Steve Wambua, a supervisor at the company said they were not intending to lay off workers with the hopes that things will soon return to normal, adding that the ones on duty were working in shifts. 

“We have recorded losses amounting to over Sh2 million and we are not sure for how long this pandemic will be with us, but we hope for the best. Most of our customers travel to Nairobi,” said Wambua.

On his part  4NTE chairman Wilfred Kimotho said they had reduced workforce for those working in Nairobi and Thika routes after the enactment of travel restrictions noting that so far, they have recorded losses of up to 70 per cent of their revenues. He said the fate of over 3,000 workers hangs in the balance.

 But in Eldoret more than 200 employees in the transportation sector in North Rift region have been rendered jobless. A stakeholder in the transport sector says the effect of the Covid-19 had drastically affected their business.

Harsh conditions

Speaking to the People Daily in his Eldoret office, Ibrahim Abdi, the chairman of transporters in the region said the prevailing harsh economic times had forced them to send home hundreds of their workers to cut down on salaries and other allowances.

Abdi, who transports animal feed from Uganda into the country says it had become hard to sustain the high number of employees in his company. 

“We have been grounded by some of the measures that have been taken by the national and county governments to contain the spread of Covid-19 across the country,” said.

John Kimeli, another transporter says the curfew resulted in grounding of his 12 trucks. The move has also forced him to declare more than 30 permanent and casual workers redundant.

Kimeli said he took the move because he was not certain when things would return to normal. 

“I have lost business worth Sh50 million since the outbreak of coronavirus was announced in the country and I am finding it difficult to cope with the current situation,” said Kimeli.

 In Nyanza region, a number of companies have tried to adapt to the situation by going  into courier operations without much success. 

A spot check around Western and Nyanza counties showed buses parked in garages, fuel stations and yards.

Famous names on the road such as Otange, Guardian, Mash, Eldoret Express, Nyamira Express and Modern Coast have disappeared from the roads and taken space in parking lots.

In Kakamega, Western Cross Express bus company, Modern Coast, Easy Coach, Climax Coaches, Nairobi Bus company Mash bus company, Eldoret Express and Blue Line and Pride executive shuttle that operate 14-seater matatu shuttle services to Nairobi have ceased operations.

The proprietor of Western Cross Express Cleophas Shimanyula confided to People Daily he was losing an average of Sh200,000 daily. 

“I have 25 buses, which used to fetch Sh10,000 daily and collectively giving Sh250,000. Now the few that are on the road bring in Sh3,000. It is worse than people think.

I have drivers and other employees just sleeping at home because there is no work,” said the businessman.

The Guardian Bus Company, Coast Bus Company and Crown bus are the only transport firms whose offices in Kakamega town remains open but still have limited their business to courier services.

Guardian Bus Company manager Benjamin Barasa said the company was losing Sh250,000 daily as a result of grounding just four buses that operated daily to and from Nairobi. Each bus carrying 49 passengers with Sh1,400 fetched Sh68,000.

Buses grounded

Owners of bus companies plying between Kisii-Nairobi and Mombasa have resorted to ferrying goods after the government locked down Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties.

In Siaya, Overseas Buses are grounded at the booking office and a petrol station. A clerk, Thomas Omondi, said the firm,s 15 employees have been asked to go home.

In Mombasa, the situation has been worsened by the national dusk-to-dawn curfew with buses that ply the Mombasa-Nairobi-route sending all their employees on forced unpaid leave.

A spot-check by People Daily at Mwembe Tayari in Mombasa established that all the Nairobi bound buses had closed their offices and sent home employees on unpaid leave.

Operators said the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were worst felt by owners of buses and employees who depend on transport sector for their livelihood. 

Twaha Juma, a manager of Naekena Sacco, whose vehicles ply the Mombasa-Taveta-Loitoktok and Nairobi-Mombasa route, says he had opted to scale down all operations in Mombasa. The company has a fleet of about 14 vehicles.

“We have sent on unpaid leave some of our staff because we can’t sustain them without business.

We have only been left with three out of about 20 staff and the situation is bad because business can’t sustain itself,” he added.

The company has now shifted to courier service to transport parcels as part of the essential services. He says from a fleet of four vehicles which offered courier service, only one is left as cargo transport business has also sharply declined.

“We have shifted gears to courier service business. Initially, we used to make about Sh12,000 per trip, but now we are getting Sh4,000 from courier service and the vehicles have also been reduced from four to one. The situation is bad,” said Juma.

He says if the situation worsens, he would be forced to completely close shop because the courier service business could not sustain the Sh120,000 monthly office rent.

Omar Bakari, a manager at the Spanish bus company says the company had sent drivers and conductors on unpaid leave until normalcy resumes.

Some of the buses, which were en-route to Busia when the lockdown was imposed in Nairobi are still in Busia.

“Some of my our employees are now at home. Some have families to feed but we have no option. It is neither our fault nor the company’s,” said Bakari. 

Coast Bus, Mash East Africa, Tahmeed, Chania, Mombasa Raha, Tahmeed, Modern Coast, are among bus companies, which have closed their offices and sent staff home.

Kevin Omondi, an employee of Tahmeed Bus Company says he feels lucky as he is among few staff still working at the firm.  

“I work as a security guard for the offices but I am worried because if this situation continues, I don’t know how I will feed my five children if I lose this job,” he said.

Tahmeed has a large fleet of buses that ply the Mombasa-Dar es Salaam route as well as Mombasa-Nairobi. “Our fellow employees have been sent packing, the company just decided to scale down operations because business is down,” said Omondi.

(Stories by Alvin Mwangi, Roy Lumbe, Douglas Dindi, Eric Juma, Robert Ochoro, Harrison Kivisu)

More on News