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 *)
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
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