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Why matatu Saccos are fighting to control city

By Graham Kajilwa | September 7th 2021

Matatus at the Green Park Terminus, Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Maybe it was the Covid-19 pandemic that partly crippled the industry, or the strategic push by Nairobi Metropolitan Services to de-congest the city’s central business district (CBD).

Whatever sparked the fire, matatu business in the city has become survival for the fittest and with dwindling avenues to make money, some operators are willing to literally fight to secure their turf.

Barely a month ago, two matatu Saccos, KAM and Makata, took up arms when another group named Naekana started operating on ‘their’ route between Nairobi and Machakos. The new Sacco was charging Sh200 instead of the usual Sh300.

Early in the year, another Sacco, Super Metro, also raised hackles when it started operating the Ngong-Nairobi route and charging Sh80 instead of Sh100, which led to a go-slow by other operators.

On August 18, 2020 Neo Kenya Mpya announced that its sister company Lothian would launch services on new routes to Tala in Machakos County.

Kenya Bus Service (KBS) managing director Edwin Mukabana says competition within the CBD has become so intense that everybody is trying to find an alternative place to go. He said even taxis are operating as matatus.

“The licensing regime we have has no rules of entry so the city is ‘abused’ hence a lot of wasteful and unfair competition. Everybody is fighting for space,” he said. “In real transport planning, it should be like airports, you cannot allow everybody to land. But here we are allowing everybody to land in the CBD.”

Mukabana said there was a clear structure previously on operators who would be allowed in the CBD since their facilities permitted them to. This included having a depot, a ticketing system, breakdown vehicles and chase cars. “Now everyone is being licensed,” he said.

KBS Manager Edwin Mukabana. [Courtesy]

Its is the same argument fronted by Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) chair Dickson Mbugua who says the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) should do a study on various routes and Saccos to determine the supply of vehicles against demand.

“So in a situation where there is undersupply with more commuters than vehicles, then they should be able to balance so that the new entrants are directed there,” he said.

“This should also be communicated to the operators already in that area so that we avoid this situation of Saccos fighting.”

Mbugua said there should also be a limit on how many matatus operate in an area. This number should be held constant for two or three years so that NTSA does not license a new vehicle to the CBD or that area within the period unless demand dictates.

He said in the absence of such rules, the industry is so open that anyone buys a matatu and puts it on the road.

The situation now is that matatus operators that had dominated certain routes for long have to fight to safeguard their business while others such as KBS that had abandoned some destinations have to go back as the field gets saturated.

In June this year, KBS announced that it would be operating a regular service on route 110 from Bus Station, Nairobi to Kitengela via Mlolongo.

The fare for this route was listed as between Sh70 and Sh100.

“This has been necessitated by the need to serve the residents of Kitengela and its environs after numerous calls for us to provide them with a service,” said KBS in the notice.

Mukabana said apart from the 110 route, KBS is also licensed to operate 201 (Malaa), 102 (Kikuyu), 111 (Ngong), 126 (Kiserian) and 237 (Thika).

It is worth noting that many of the city route numbers were introduced by KBS decades ago. 

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