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Matatus asking for fairness? Not when they treat us so badly

By Alexander Chagema | Apr 19th 2018 | 4 min read
The Kenyan Matatu scene is synonymous with flouting rules as the system is controlled by cartels. [File, Standard]

Without qualm, my position is that Kenya’s public transport sector employs an assortment of the most uncouth, undisciplined and inconsiderate individuals. But to be fair, there are a few good- natured individuals whose goodness is swamped by the mischief of the majority. That is why I was stupefied to hear senior officials of the Matatu Owners Associations call for fairness from the government following the introduction of the National Youth Service (NYS) buses on some routes in a pilot scheme; a move that undercut their lucrative business.

A few days ago, the same officials, clearly not having read the public mood and woken up to smell the coffee, demanded talks with the government over the NYS buses. Impudence doesn’t come worse than that, because our public transport industry is ‘unfairness’ personified. In case matatu owners forgot, public transport is the province of the government and them, squatters.

An alien concept

Fairness is an alien concept to matatu operators driven by the desire for super profits. Currently, the country is experiencing heavy rains; a phenomena beyond the control of commuters, yet they are made to pay the price for it. One would be forgiven to think that the distance between point A and B elongates once it rains, for then fares either are doubled or trebled.

Jams that form unnecessarily long queues are majorly a creation of matatu crew who deliberately fail to observe simple road rules and discipline.

Always in a hurry, they are constantly trying to muscle in on other motorists by forcing them to give way, and when this doesn’t happen, they revert to form. The unfortunate motorist will be bombarded by stinking invective, shown the finger or pushed into a ditch.

In that mad rush, drivers of private cars are disadvantaged, whatever way one looks at it. If a matatu driver hits your car and doesn’t drive on nonchalantly, his crew will rough you up. Should you hit a matatu, you will still be roughed up. Either way, you lose. Where is the fairness in this? Woe unto the commuter who finds an ungroomed individual shouting himself hoarse and negotiates fare to a given destination.

Beware, most likely that chap is just a lout, and once the journey begins, you will be forced to pay more than you bargained to pay. Arguments over such have resulted in matatu crew pushing hapless commuters out of moving vehicles. You wonder why matatu touts get these inclinations to subject fellow human beings to such bestiality simply because they lack what Caesar wants to exact.

Repeatedly, matatu crew in urban areas have been charged with beating their customers, raping women, stealing luggage, robbery, and even killings following disagreements. Some of them exhale such foul breath from chewing too much miraa and smoking, yet don’t observe mouth hygiene it is nauseating just looking at them.  

Some of the operators are known for deliberate refusal to hand over change to their customers, especially at night. Insistence on a refund is asking to be roughed up from the touts who move in groups, and are always armed. The question then is; do people who habitually resort to such without reprimand from their employers have the moral authority to demand fairness from anybody?

Death traps

The condition of most of the public transport vehicles is appalling. They are death traps. Most windows do not open. This exposes travelers to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, colds and flu in the stuffy confined interiors of the vehicles.

The seats are so hard and worn out, sitting on a wooden bench would give one more comfort, and there is real danger of injuring yourself on metal bars that protrude everywhere. Fumigation does not exist in their vocabulary. Quite often, commuters unknowingly take home bedbugs and cockroaches. Matatus pick and drop fares in non-designated places and in so doing, inconvenience other road users. Where is the fairness here?

Although ineptitude is a synonym for government projects, competent management and expansion of the NYS project to eventually, and as soon as possible cover all city routes is the most effective way of dealing with the unruly, uncaring matatu industry players. Without cajoling, and if members of the public take a liking to efficient NYS buses and shun the matatus, the latter will be forced to revise their fares downwards.

When they begin to starve of easy money, they will understand the meaning and benefits accruing from courtesy. With more of the NYS buses, the issue of bribes to traffic policemen will have been cut by more than half. Only a suicidal cop will demand bribes from his employer. Touts finding money hard to come by will stick to rules to keep cops at bay. For once, Kenyans will have won.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The Standard.[email protected]

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