NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 10 – An elderly woman who is carrying a child boards a 14-seater Public Service Vehicle at one of the bus terminus on the Thika Super Highway and heads direct to the rear seats, where I am seated together with two others.
It is full to capacity but she insists that we can still ‘squeeze’ ourselves as directed by the conductor.
But we are not willing to share the little space remaining forcing the woman, who is now visibly agitated to alight and wait for another vehicle.
“Kwani hamtashuka? …sisi huwa tumezoa kukaa wanne wanne (Are you not going to alight? We are used to sitting four each in a row), “she angrily retorts as she walks out.
A brief discourse starts inside the matatu, of how “Kenyans love to use shortcuts” and “ignore their basic rights.”
“Why should you come to squeeze yourself here and yet you are paying for the services offered? Can’t you just wait for another car…” goes the conversation among passengers.
It is an industry whose growth is evident but one whose gains are often dented by corruption and greed to make more money at the expense of the safety of road users and pedestrians.
Capital FM News has done a tour of the city using the matatus, interviewed both the crews and passengers, in a bid to understand why sanity and the industry run parallel to each other.
Sambaza is the name given to a small timber normally placed between seats mostly in a 14 seater PSVs, to enhance the capacity of the vehicle.
With Sambaza’s, the capacity can go up to 18 for a vehicle that supposed to carry 14 people.
The matatu crews who spoke to Capital FM News dampen any hope that anything will change soon, since they are determined to do anything to make that extra coin.
Road carnage has become a trend, largely due to carelessness which is coupled by corrupt traffic officers who at times turn a blind eye to overloaded speeding vehicles.
Morris Samba, a driver within Nairobi for 19 years blames the passengers for always willing to be the extra person, since no one is coerced.
“It is on a free will…in fact, most of them are the one who insist to seat on Sambaza’s,” Samba said.
He says every day, the owner has given them a fixed target say of Sh3,000 or Sh4,000, which they must deliver or risk losing the jobs or return home without pay.
The 45 year-old says for them to earn a living and meet the demands of their employer, they have to do everything including speeding and overloading.
But we have traffic officers and the National Transport and Safety Authority personnel to restore sanity on the Kenyan roads.
“If you are not willing to pay a bribe to the traffic officers, then you have to play hide and seek game with them,” Samba said.
John Mwangi shares the same sentiments saying most of the passengers are more than willing to be packed like sardines.
“They don’t have any option,” he says.
Sammy Kaskon believes that passengers should speak out every time an extra person boards the vehicle including declining to offer them some space.
“The moment we keep silent means we are okay with this,” he says. “This compromises our security.”