Tips on how to use public transport in Kenya
Riding a matatu in Nairobi can be both fun and traumatizing. Given that matatus are the most popular mode of transport in the city, it is important for you to learn how to make your trip memorable. For a visitor, you need to know where to board the matatu, where to alight as well as how much it will cost you. Some of the complaints you will hear from matatu commuters include:
- Matatus to my destination are not stopping at the usual stage.
- I have reached my destination but the driver refused to stop. He asked me to alight at the next stop yet it is far.
- The conductor has refused to give me change. What do I do?
- The conductor increased the fares after we boarded, or a short distance after we left the city. Do I pay the extra fee?
- The driver cut short his trip after we paid the fare, and asked us to board another matatu. Who will pay for the remaining part of the trip?
- I put my luggage under the seat but now I cannot find it. Who stole my luggage?
- How do I know where to alight?
- The matatu stop is far from my hotel/apartment. How do I get home?
- Is it safe to use a matatu?
In this article, we shall guide you on how to use the matatu transport in the city and elsewhere in Kenya, while ensuring your safety.
Will a matatu get you to your destination safely?
Yes, matatus are relatively a safe mode of transport in Nairobi and other cities across Kenya. You may occasionally have to board a bus or mini-bus instead of a matatu, but as long as they are plying your route, you are safe.
Some tips to help you ride safely in a matatu include the following:
- Ensure the matatu has working safety belts and keep them buckled at all times. Do not board an overloaded matatu.
- Ensure that it has a valid insurance cover. The insurance sticker is displayed on the top left side of the windscreen.
- Board at the designated places. There are various matatu terminals and stops in Nairobi. If in town, these terminals include Koja, Odeon, Machakos country bus, Tea room, Commercial, Kencom, Ambassadeur, Bus Station, Afya Centre and Railways. You will see many matatus going to various routes also park there.
- Do not be left in the matatu alone. Avoid being a loner, unless it is a rickshaw.
- Do not use matatus at night. It is not safe to board matatus at night or during rainy days because they may leave you stranded. If you are late, use an Uber.
- Use well-known matatus. Nowadays you can book matatus online. New matatus are being added to various routes, but you can always ask your neighbour which matatu is safe. Ensure that it has a yellow line and route numbers written on it.
How much does it cost to ride a matatu in Nairobi?
Matatu fares in Kenya are not fixed. While it is a regulation to display various route fares during off peak and peak hours, very few matatus follow the fare guidelines. However, in Nairobi, fares range to the estates range between 10 shillings to 150 shillings. Karen and Rongai buses and matatus often charge between 70 shillings and 150 shillings. Shorter distances within the city, such as valley road, Upperhill, Ngong road and Jogoo road charge between 30 shillings and 50 shillings during off-peak hours. You can also board a matatu from the city centre to the SGR terminal in Syokimau for 50-100 shillings, while a bus to the airport will cost you around 80 shillings.
Githurai 45 and Kangemi are the only places where matatus/buses charge 10 shillings during off-peak hours, but in peak times fares go up to 80 shillings or even 100 depending on the season. another thing you need to learn about matatu fares in Nairobi is that they shoot up when it starts drizzling. While most matatus have the fares publicly displayed on a board, conductors can sometimes increase fares after take-off. If no fares are on display, just ask the conductor before boarding the vehicle to avoid mid-trip surprises.
It is always advisable to carry loose money when using a matatu in Nairobi. Matatu conductors may sometimes forget or just refuse to return change. Break your money into smaller denominations if you are riding a matatu.
How do you know where to alight?
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Not all matatus have a clearcut route map, but you can always check where it stops before reaching its final destination. Do not sit until you reach the end; always know find out where you should alight. This should be a stage near where you are staying. It is good to avoid using a matatu until you are familiar with your environment. This way, you will have time to find out the nearest matatu stage and its name.
Google maps application has improved the Nairobi public transport by adding matatus as a mode of transport. On your Google maps, just type your destination and then select matatu. Though this tool is not always accurate especially with the matatu numbers, you can open it and click start to know where to alight. You will also see a list of all matatu stops near your hotel/house.
The matatu can fail to stop at your usual stop. This happens because the dropping is not automatic in traditional matatus. You need to tell the conductor or driver where you are alighting and remind them as you get close. Even cab drivers sometimes depend on you for directions! If the driver has missed your stop, alight as soon as possible. If the next stop is far away, you may have to get another matatu to drop you at the right stage, call a boda boda guy or Uber.
Sometimes matatus breakdown or drivers just decide to terminate the journey midway. When this happens, the conductor usually asks all passengers to board another matatu which he pays for them. Don’t allow the conductor to choose a matatu for you, because it may drop you at an unfamiliar terminal. Ask him to refund the remaining fare and if he refuses, just leave it and pick the right matatu. Google will tell you the right matatu number to take you to your desired destination. Wait for it or get an Uber or boda boda.
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How to handle luggage in a matatu
Handling luggage in a Nairobi matatu can be a tricky affair. The conductor can refuse to carry your luggage, or you can lose it. However, if you really want to save on transport and hence use a matatu and happen to have luggage, agree on the charges of the luggage first. Do not allow anybody else apart from the conductor help you load your luggage on the matatu, as this may attract a very huge fee. Ensure that your luggage is kept at a place you can see, and keep your eyes on it so that someone else does not leave with it.
In conclusion, riding a matatu can be a very exciting experience. It can also save you costs. However, it comes at a cost and can be risky at times. Get a Kenyan to accompany you during the ride to avoid incidents. If you can book your matatu online, it will save you a lot of pain. So far, Safaricom Shuttle and Swvl bus app are changing the way the matatu transport in Kenya by offering a more organised and safer transportation mode of transport across the city.