Review of public-sector transport in Nairobi

Having taken a few days off and with a car in for repairs, I am getting a new perspective on the Nairobi transport system and here are my findings (ranking by *stars *)

Car ****

Despite the high fuel and running costs (licensing, finance, insurance, maintenance), having one’s own car is still the best way of travelling around Nairobi despite. A personal car gives one the freedom to stay out late at night, and visit parts of town not served by public transport.

Pro: Go wherever, whenever you want – if you have a reliable car, and a model not desired by thieves

Con: Very frustrating driving during rush hour, with some people spending two hours PER DAY in traffic.

Verdict: Nairobi is too congested, with few roads added in 20+ years – so pick your driving times, office and house location, carefully to beat traffic jams.

Metro Shuttle ****

A novel concept that has revived the larger matatu sector that had almost been finished off by Nissans. Staff and service are still very good though some vehicle starting to age.

Pro: comfort and service still the best in public sector

Con: High-ticket prices and too few routes served

Verdict: need more routes – in fact all Bustrack (KBS) should convert to metro shuttles

Nissan matatu’s (14 seats) ***

Appears to be the second most common vehicle in Nairobi, after the Toyota Corolla and responsible for about 90% of the bad image in the matatu sector.

Pro: they will come to your doorstep when they are looking for passengers in the morning.

Con: change fares and routes according to traffic patterns, uncomfortable as they drive up on pavements, footpaths or the wrong side of the road to jump traffic queues.

Verdict: Quickest way around town, ferrying passengers who sit like innocent sheep as their driver break every known traffic law.

Big matatu’s (25 seats) ***

Pro: generally more comfortable than Nissans – bigger seats, more cargo and legroom

Con: take longer to fill than smaller Nissan, and also drive slower

Verdict: Expect to see more of them, as they are more profitable to operate than Nissan’s. General Motors Kenya has had record sales of Isuzu matatu’s since the Michuki rules were introduced.

City Hoppa **

New kid on the block, whose mandate seems to be to frustrate KBS

Pro: access to city centre (Kencom and Ambassador)

Con: Greed – they installed school-bus size seats in a 3 X 2 formation and with little leg-room (it’s impossible to stand upright between rows)

Verdict: They seem to shadow KBS buses, arriving at bus stops simultaneously – and passengers usually prefer to board City Hoppa

Taxi **

Transport model favoured late at night and by short-term visitors (tourists) who think and dollar terms and proclaim how cheap taxi’s are in Nairobi

Pro: they are so many of them – choking prime parking spots in town

Con: inconsistent pricing, some are really old vehicles

Verdict: needs some Michuki rules to regulate prices and ensure that all taxis are roadworthy

Bustrack (Kenya Bus)*

Old faithful is getting really long in the tooth – I am yet to see a new bus model in the last five years (even thought they have KAP plates)

Pro: serve the city centre; Nairobian’s are still loyal

Con: old rickety, noisy buses, you’re afraid they won’t climb some hills

Verdict: they also responded to Michuki rules by squeezing in an extra column of uncomfortable seats thereby making the ride even worse. They will launch some new double decker buses soon, but they should scrap this old fleet and re-discover

Tuk tuk (three wheel scooters) —

This concept imported from India by Klubhouse and some taxi companies

Pro: cheaper than a taxi?

Con: slow, smoky dangerous

Verdict: Overtaken by ten drivers a minute five of who almost run you over. Washindwe!

Passenger trains (Kenya Railways) —

Pro: not enough known

Con: sitting on a roof or hanging on doors can lead to injury

Verdict: passengers seem to only remember them whenever matatu’s go on strike

Other modes of transport are walking or cycling.

Walking: Is mostly and good for your heart, but not your health – because you need an MJ like mask to filter the smoke and dust, and also you’re very likely to be mugged or worse

Cycling: Would be the best option for majority of Nairobians if (i) special bicycle paths/pavements were set-up alongside major roads (ii) more bicycles with gears were made available cheaply – except in Western Kenya, the typical bicycle rider is not able to climb a hill with the typical black mamba bike that is common to Nairobi (iii) dedicate police to reduce mugging and prevent matatu’s from using bicycle paths

4 thoughts on “Review of public-sector transport in Nairobi

  1. Mshairi

    I remember getting into a taxi once near the Yaya Centre where the handle came off my hand as I tried to close the door and where I could see the road through the car’s floorboard as we drove along 🙂 I like the idea of people in Nairobi using bicycles. This would reduce congestion and make the city a far healthier place.

  2. bankelele

    something has to be done. but there’s no planning in this city – no new roads, markets, public schools – bicyles yes, but motorcycles no – i’d hate to see us go the way of India. however this may happen if fewel and car costs remain out of reach of majority of the city

  3. Yannvolt

    Great info in the article. Do you know any owner of Citi Hoppa? Please send me an answer yannvolt (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!!!

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