Fresh scare of the disruptive token Matatus

4 minutes

Before I went to bed on Monday night, I quickly went through the digital versions of the local dailies. Predictably, virtually all the top stories rambled on the need for countries to act on the climate change, one of the existential threats to human existence.

But I found the chit-chat around the ongoing Africa Climate Summit between a passenger and the driver of the Matatu I got into the next morning quite refreshing. 

When I need some peace, I prefer sitting at the front of the matatu, especially if it is a manyanga with its irritatingly loud music. 

When I pulled the door open, I was hit with some nostalgic Old School Hip Hop music that wafted from the back, tempting me to change my mind about sitting in front.

Sitting on one of the passenger seats–the bigger and comfier one just next to the window–was a slightly built woman that did not deserve the tiny seat next to the driver. Surprisingly, the lady had no qualms leaving me the comfier seat.

Going by their animated conversation, with the driver even inquiring on the welfare of the woman’s son, it was clear that the two knew each other hence the decision by the woman to forgo the comfort of the seat next to the window.

Stories are more important, I guess. Didn’t historian Yuval Harari say we are made of stories? 

Matatus are not your intellectual talk-shops on such academic topics like global warming. Here, it is always small talk about real life. 

After they had talked at length about their own private lives, the driver boasting of how he was an old hand in driving matatus, the passenger wanted to know whether the roads had already been closed as had been earlier announced due to the ongoing summit. 

“Hii ya Ruto?” the driver asked about the Africa Climate Summit that was officially launched by President William Ruto on Monday. 

The woman nodded. 

The roads were yet to be closed, the driver said. But there was a lot of traffic, forcing him to use a different route in three trips. 

The conversation switched back to the woman’s son, the one who had broken his voice very early and who now only had one year to finish his high school after which the mother would always be on vacation. 

We encountered traffic around the Makadara area on Jogoo Road, so the driver turned to Jericho Estate. After covering a few metres, we came to to the junction of Maringo and Bahati. Here, the lady spotted the new electric buses that are already in a few of Nairobi’s routes. 

“Na mbona hizi Gari haziko Umo?” the woman asked pointing at the nusu-mkate-shaped electric bus. 

“Hizo Gari Ni expensive mbaya,” the driver responded as he intuitively negotiated sharp corners in Maringo Estate.

“Gari Ni 17 million, hii,” he tapped the steering wheel with his two hands, “ni 7 million.”  

I could not immediately verify his claims on the different buying prices for the Matatu (Sh7 million) and the electric bus (Sh17 million). 

Later, when I did some reading, an e-mobility start-up known as Roam that plans to launch its electric buses on the yet-to-be built Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), put the starting price for this buses at $ 245,000 (Sh35.7 million)

The upfront cost of green technology, whether it is solar or wind power, is quite prohibitive. Which is why the uptake of EV buses in developing countries like Kenya is dismally low.

But once you have the vehicle on the road, it is a different ball game, going by what the driver said.   

“Gari inatumia stima: Zero emissions. Zimaharibia ROG niaje,” said the man, driving the woman into a fit of laughter. 

The ROG matatus ply the Route 23, serving estates along Jogoo Road, Makadara, Maringo, Jericho, and Jerusalem.

“Wanalipisha 30 Na wewe unalipisha Soo moja (Ksh100). Wewe unalia juu ya diesel, Na hii nayo ni token tu.”

Unlike the expensive diesel matatus which charge high fares to be profitable, operators of these electric buses, have been able to charge lower fares.  

I have never used them, but they look cool. They are bereft of the graffiti that have come to define the flashy matatus. 

Two e-mobility start-ups, BasiGo and Roam, have promised to give matatus a run for their money. They intend to unveil more electric buses, disrupting this disruptive transport sub-sector .

It might be a win-win for Nairobians: a cleaner atmosphere and affordable transport. 

But only time will tell if global warming is real. 

Support MtaaSkika.

Fund independent journalism.