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The start of operations of the multi-billion shilling Nairobi expressway may delay over a dispute on the proposed toll charges.
The Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) on Friday filed an urgent suit at the High Court to stop the opening or any operations on the expressway until their case challenging the base toll rates announced by the Ministry of Transport is heard and determined.
Through lawyer Mr Moses Sikuta, the lobby group accused Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and Moja Expressway Company that manages the road, of making decisions without considering Kenyans’ economic plight.
“The gazetted base toll rates for the Nairobi Expressway pose huge economic implications to Kenyans, given that the charges were introduced without public participation. The charges are likely to curtail Kenyans’ rights and privilege of using the road,” said Mr Sikuta.
The government had in December last year issued a gazette notice of the proposed charges for using the expressway, which links Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Westlands, but revised the charges upwards on April 22 through another gazette notice.
The 29-kilometer road was opened to the public on Saturday for test drives as it awaits the official launch by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Cofek argued that the expressway is creating a class conflict between the poor and rich, and that it will be unlawful for the Ministry of Transport to implement the toll fees as proposed without allowing the citizens to give views.
“It creates a caste system of inferior and superior citizens, pegged on affordability and wealth in a common country where we share citizenship and common heritage. It is akin to saying that the poor should not be treated in the same hospital as the rich,” said Mr Sikuta.
He said the base toll fees announced by the ministry do not indicate how the proceeds will be shared by the public-private partnership operator, who will be manning the road, and the government, meaning the public will not gain from the proceeds.
Cofek also argued that the expressway had caused more problems to motorists using the original Mombasa road and the ecosystem along it, such as trees cut, and birds whose habitats were destroyed.
According to Cofek, the Transport ministry failed to address several concerns raised by the road users, like the poor drainage system, lack of lane markings and pedestrian crossing points.
“They have ignored and failed to properly communicate to consumers and other road users on how they will interact with the changes occasioned by the expressway. We are likely to witness several accidents along Mombasa road, unless the concerns are addressed,” said Mr Sikuta.
The lobby wants the court to suspend the road’s launch and in the event that it starts operations before the case is determined, Cofek wants the court to stop application of the toll fees to allow all road users to drive through without any charges.
Justice Anthony Mrima certified the suit as urgent and directed the ministry and the Attorney General to respond within three days. He scheduled the hearing on May 19.