Have you noticed that matatus whose touts don’t reveal their prices upfront when you are boarding are ironically quick to add the amount they are charging when you give them your mobile phone set to put their telephone number for M-Pesa payment?
Those who had earlier revealed their bus fares will fill in the part on the telephone number and leave the section on the amount blank for you.
I was therefore not surprised when the tout returned my handset having keyed in a higher bus fare of Ksh100 when I boarded the Matatu from Umoja to the CBD this week.
“Boss, nilikuwa nimeongea na mwenzako huko chini na tukakubaliani nalipa 80 bob,” I whispered to his ears, not wanting to incite many other passengers who had certainly been charged Ksh100.
He reluctantly obliged.
All the matatus I had bypassed, the touts had been screaming Ksh70, but they were far from being full with passengers.
I knew that the matatu I took, the flamboyant types, charged higher bus fares than others. The fact that they had not revealed the price as they wooed passengers as they streamed was in itself a red flag.
But I also knew I could have my cake and eat – get to town early at a lower fare.
Of course, a little convincing from this matatu’s gang of manambas—including one of them addressing me in my mother tongue – also did the magic.
But I first asked the manamba how much they were charging, he told me Ksh80. I then waited until he had duly informed his colleague that he should charge Ksh80 before boarding.
Charging a high price to offset high expenses such as fuel and electricity is an inevitable survival path taken by most businesses trying to navigate the inflationary pressures.
But in an economy where consumers are price sensitive, high prices could scare away consumers. It is especially for businesses operating in an environment with cutthroat competition such as the matatu industry.
Consequently, the matatus charging relatively higher prices than their peers have mastered the art of selling without speaking.
For those who deal in formalised, sophisticated markets, every transaction has to start with an offer price. The officer price is the price at which the seller is willing to sell a good or service.
But when the offer price is high in the matatu industry, it is hidden from the passengers. The matatus are left to use other factors other than price to board a matatu.
You will neither see a tout brandishing a price placard nor hear him shout hoarse, as they do, “Tao Mia! Tao Mia”. The only thing that will be revealed, through word of mouth, is the destination.
For those who fall for this trick, and board the matatu without asking for the offer price, a shocker awaits them when making the payment.
But if you are street smart you could pay less. The secret is to ask for the price; or to bargain like your life depends on it.
And in these high inflationary times, your life really depends on it. In my case, assuming the additional Ksh30 I pay to and from work in every working day of the week, this works out to an additional Ksh1,200 for bus fare alone.
And that is transport alone. You will certainly spend more on food because you didn’t bargain…or didn’t shop wider enough–online and offline, supermarkets and general stores —for bargains.
As to who between the seller and buyer will end up with a better bargain, leave it to the market. Or should we say God?