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Executive fiat gives 14-seater Passenger Service Vehicles new lease of life

By Tony Ngare | Nov 23rd 2014 | 3 min read
By Tony Ngare | November 23rd 2014

It is believed that a cat has proverbial nine lives, but the “Nissan” matatu seems to have more.

Earlier this month, the President confounded both friend and foe when he lifted a blanket ban on licensing of 14-seater Passenger Service Vehicles for long distances and rural areas.

“After wide consultations and research involving my government and stakeholders, it has become clear that a blanket ban, especially for long distance and rural transport, may not be appropriate at this time,” he said.

He said the move was prompted by the need to allow operators continue investing in the sector by acquiring roadworthy and safer vehicles.

But one can also argue that nothing stopped the matatu operators from buying safer and bigger buses to ferry commuters across towns.

For close to ten years, the ban had held firm.


One is tempted to ask whether the technocrats who crafted the reports that led to the initial ban had not invested adequate resources and thought process, even perhaps the now infamous benchmarking into this process.

If we needed to benchmark on management of rapid mass transport system, there are tens of cities that can be splendid case studies on how to move millions of passengers.

The population of Nairobi, by day, cannot come close to rivaling the human traffic in cities like Tokyo and Mumbai.

Yet, they have not allowed immediate inadequacies hamper their grand vision of an elaborate and rapid mass transportation.

Of concern to many is that while there have major attempts to have just bigger vessels for public transport as it is the norm world over by maintaining the 14-seater matatus we are curing a symptom rather than going for the root cause.

It is no-brainer as the Americans would put it that with larger but fewer PSVs operating that is not an ideal situation for the thousands of jobless youth since the cake would have been reduced to even smaller pieces.

Yet, this would be one way of easing congestion since it has been argued in the past that the three “Nissan” matatus occupy the same space a bus would do yet they transport a third of what the bus would carry. The government also decided to go easy on matatu graffiti.

The previous governments had viewed the elaborate matatu graffiti as something akin to devil’s worship.

Of course those of us who appreciate public art know better.

Equally these regimes spent their waking time devising means of stopping Public Display of Art on matatus.

The ugly yellow line that matatus bear across their bodies was one way of kicking colour out of the matatu.

While a  “Nissan” matatus got stuck with it, the bigger matatus which are often decorated resisted the suggested plain looks.


Even the indefatigable late Minister for Transport John Michuki found this a hard nut to crack.

This form of art on our public vehicles has even been lionised in foreign travel magazines and blogs.

Thus, to pretend that it is not apt yet we know it is what adds colour to the eyesore that is Nairobi and most towns’ garbage, is naïve.

After all matatu graffiti does not cause accidents, careless driving and speeding do.

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