September 8, 2012

Shared-Ride: Kenya's Matatu Buses

KENYA - The Matatu is a type of privately owned and operated shared-ride transportation found in Kenya and neighbouring countries of East Africa. The word 'Matatu' is derived from the Swahili phrase for '3 shillings', which was the original cost of using the service. They are found throughout the country and operate within urban areas on routes between terminals, as well as providing interurban service between cities and towns. In Kenya the industry is highly regulated compared to similar shared-ride modes of transport in other parts of Africa. They are usually a minivan, but could also be a bigger bus or even a pick-up truck. There could be a 'tout', or conductor. They could be luxurious with lots of amenities, or you may be riding in the open on dusty road, crammed in with several people and even small livestock. Some are standard vehicles without any modifications, but the type of Matatu that most comes to mind for Kenyans is the highly customized and ornately painted minibuses seen in the following video. There is an extensive use of electronics for entertainment and lighting. Loud sound systems are ubiquitous. There could be videos displayed on flat-screen TV monitors both inside as well as from the outside rear. At night, alternating or flashing neon lighting that covers the length of buses can be seen on Matatus plying the streets of Nairobi . In many parts of Africa, using cell phones to pay for products and services (as opposed to debit cards) is quite common. Some buses are now accepting payment via mobile phones.

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