Public Transportation

I have rarely taken public transportation.  The only time I did while living in the Twin Cities was the free park and ride to the Great Minnesota Get Together – the State Fair (I love that place, too bad I missed the run away bull this year).

I do not have a vehicle here in Nairobi and it is unlikely that I will get one.  I am therefore at the mercy of others for free rides or taking public transit. 

What is public transit in Kenya?  It takes a variety of forms.

  1. taxi – This can either be one just for you or one that you share with strangers along the way.  I have taken a private taxi a couple of times.  This is the best bet after dark.
  2. bus – The buses are sorta like what you would find anywhere in North America.  You don’t pay as you get on or off though.  You get on and then the conductor, who is different from the driver, will come around eventually to get your fee.  You pay the same amount regardless of where you get off typically.  My bus rides have typically cost about 20 shillings or 50 cents or so. 
  3. bicycle taxi, aka boda boda – These are more commonly found in smaller towns where taxis are harder to find.  The driver has a flat rack on the back of his bike where he may carry cargo or people.  Some that I have seen have added a bit of padding to their rack but many do not and you best hope that you have enough of your own ‘padding’ for the journey.
  4. matatu – Ah, last but certainly not least is the matatu, a van with a bright yellow stripe down the side.  The route number is clearly marked a couple of different places along with the name of the matatu.  Some names that I’ve seen are Web Site, Bad Boy, Mercy, Safety and God’s Bus.  The matatu work along the same lines as a bus as far as cost, money gathering and driver/conductor partnership.

These are some of my observations of my week of matatu safaris*.  If you’d like to see another write up about this topic, I encourage you to swing over to my friend Alida’s blog.  She’s here in Kenya for a couple of years doing community health with CRWRC in Eldoret (northwest of the Nairobi).

Matatus have changed drastically in the last several years.  They used to be brightly colored and had no limit on how many people could be riding in or on the matatu.  However, a few years ago the government passed a law changing the physical appearance of the matatu and now there is a limit of 13 passengers, they must each have access to a seatbelt (although I’ve never seen anyone put one on) and everyone must be riding inside the vehicle. 

There are some things that come to mind from my last couple of bus and matatu rides. 

  • There are a variety of smells that are sometimes overwhelming in such confined spaces.
  • The temperature can rise quickly when no one opens a window.
  • The seats and aisles are VERY small, particularly the aisles.
  • The drivers seem to take road rules as mere suggestions such as lanes, speed and road space in general.
  • The music is almost always loud, VERY LOUD.

I’ve decided today that I want as many of my volunteers and visitors to ride a matatu as possible.  It’s a great cultural experience for people to have while they are in Kenya.  So, let me know when you’re coming and I’ll make sure we fit in a trip downtown on a matatu.  You’re going to love it.

*Swahili lesson:

Safari – travels or journeys

Safari – the actual trip; this could be any trip, not just one looking at wild animals in the African savannahs.