A necessary evil. That’s how I would describe the public transport sector in Kenya. The notorious matatus are the ultimate road bullies, flouting all traffic rules in the book and treating passengers as garbage. This industry has its owners so let’s just scrap the ‘public’ part from their service. The drivers, conductors, route managers and traffic cops own this industry. We as the customers are just ingredients in this broth.
In most routes, conductors have mutated and cloned themselves. One calls, negotiates and ushers passengers into the bus while the other collects the cash who more often than not denies any prior agreement with the earlier conductor. I have had a personal experience with the cloned conductors. The guy with the cash mysteriously disappeared and left the ‘usher’ who became very abusive when we asked for our changed. “It’s not my problem,” he said. In addition to this, the way conductors refer to women whenever we go to the bus stations. “Niaje Siste, Sema Msupa panda hapa, Eeeh Baby si leo umedunga, chukua hii gari mami” Some of them smell of Miraa (khat) and smoke… others won’t even let you pass; they hurdle you and surround you.
Matatu drivers have their own traffic rules, actually just one: Get from point A to B in the shortest time possible. It doesn’t matter which route or lane you take, who you cut or overlap, or who is knocked on the way. The end justifies the means. PSV’s are weapons of mass destruction. Thousands are killed evey year because of reckless driving and over-speeding. Of course the traffic police are the third evil axis in this road menace. They conveniently turn a blind eye to traffic offences but not to bribes. They allow buses to overload, to over speed and flaunt all traffic rules. Some police officers own these matatus, so we don’t expect action to be taken any time soon.
Then there is the music which really is just one decibel below point of breaking your ear drum. Dare you complain, you are likely to be told off and rudely asked to buy your own car where you can regulate the music. Anyway, until you buy your own car, you have to do with this ‘necessary evil’ but that won’t mean you will not be harassed and intimated on the road.
Have a look at this infographic on matatu’s in Nairobi based on a research done by M-survey.