The vans were nicknamed matatus as the 30 cents would be paid in three ten-cent coins — mang'otore matatu in Gikuyu

The old timers of Nairobi narrate with nostalgia of a period when there was an organized transport in the capital, a system that had clean buses that kept running on a timetable and could be depended upon even when it rained.

The disarray on Nairobi’s roads can be followed as far back as 1966, when the City Council of Nairobi gave United Transport Overseas Services (UTOS) a monopoly to operate a bus service inside the Central Business District. UTOS were the then proprietors of the Kenya Bus Group Ltd and the arrangement included giving the City Council a 25% stake in the company.

The buses had routes assigned by the Transport Licensing Board and worked on set timetables, making them a solid means for transport around the city. Everything worked fine until the ever enterprising Kenyans noted a gap and began exploiting the opportunity. They were buying small vans, mounting seats, hiring one man to drive and another to collect fare and therefore making some cash.

These became favorable to the inhabitant of Nairobi in that the new vans charged a standard fare of 30 cents to any destination inside the city. They carried fewer passengers, which meant they spent less time waiting at bus stops. Like today, the commuters wouldn’t mind being squeezed or sitting in awkward positions to make space for that one more passenger.

The vans were nicknamed matatus as the 30 cents would be paid in three ten-cent coins — mang’otore matatu in Gikuyu — and quickly turned into a favored means for transport in the city.

They worked at rush hours and, again like their present day counterparts, were in an unending cat-and-mouse game with the traffic police and city authorities. In any case, they were likewise a thorn in the flesh for the owners and operators of the bigger buses, whose routes were dictated by the TLB and worked on the set timetables.

To have an unregulated competitor can be awful for a business that adheres to the standards, thus the buses operstors sent an appointment to met the then President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. They met him at his home at Ichaweri in Gatundu and he calmly listened to their grievances, with their main petition being that since the matatus were working in the same routes as their buses, they should either to be regulated or banned.

Kenyatta is reported to have asked…READ MORE

Unajaribu kutuonyesha ati kwa kuita hizo magari za passengers matatu, watu wote hii kenya walicopy wakikuyu?

The “coastals” could have said mapeni MATATU as well!

AAAAAAND they are NOT Kikuyu!

We like painting a rosy, nostalgic picture of the transport system then but it also had some very serious systemic problems. For instance, the buses would be overwhelmed during rush hours, and you would have passengers clinging on each other at the doors. Accidents were very common with such passengers. Two, the crew did not care much about collecting passengers; the driver could easily ignore a waiting passenger if he did not like their face. Three, the company could not serve emerging population centers at a matching pace; people would sometimes be forced to walk for long distances to reach served centers or roads.