Public transport minibuses are known as Matatus which dominate the public transport system of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

The youths call it “Club on wheels” while others “Museum on wheels”  which fill the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, blaring music as they bounce and weave through traffic.

Each Matatu is louder than the next, complete with graffiti-style artwork, custom designs, flashy lights and onboard entertainment to pull the youthful passengers’ attention.

The Matatus are cheap, convenient, and sometimes a tad chaotic although they are the choice mode of transport for most Kenyans. But Matatu culture may soon be under threat from government bans and alternative forms of public transport.

What is matatu culture?

Forget about eating Ugali or drinking a Tusker, matatu culture is one of the most interesting things you can experience when you are new in Nairobi.

It is more significant than socialites and sports culture which are quite popular here too.

When RnB star Trey Songz came to Kenya, he had to take a matatu ride just to experience how pimped and comfortable our buses are.

I would say he was curious about our means of transport, considering that he is from America, which is big on using the train as a means of transportation.

Nairobi is more of a driving city as opposed to a subway city like New York. We have the train network here, but it is rarely used for short distances.

We only do the train for long distances to the coast, thanks to the new SGR.

The Matatu culture has led to a lot of competition when it comes to providing the best transport within the city.

Neighborhoods compete on which has the best matatus with the best screens, seats and strong wi-fi. You can even charge your phone while riding in a matatu to a long-distance hood like Rongai.

The bigger the screen… 

the bigger the bill of course;)

If you are riding in a Rongai Matatu with a 52-inch screen with the latest sound system playing some Lil Wayne and Drake songs, you will pay Ksh150 for a Ksh80 distance. High-end matatus mean class and it is the affluent kids of Nairobi that are most attracted to these interior decorated mats.

An expression of art

Forget about the comfort and sound system, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What is best portrayed in these Nairobi matatus is the art culture within the city. According to this article on tuko, “the matatu culture is one of the best portrayals of art within the city“. You want to know which bands are trending, check what is drawn on matatus. 

And if you want to know which series guys are watching the most, just check on the graphics on these matatus.

In fact, we have matatus specifically called ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Prison Break’ etc. Prison Break actor T-Bag acknowledged on his facebook page a Nairobi Matatu that had a poster of his picture.

This means that the battle is always on when it comes to which matatu is holding it down. Nairobi has traffic.

If you want to escape it, you are better off with the classy matatus which have sophisticated crews that overlap or take shortcuts and reach the destination within a bat of an eyelid.

You think I am playing? Try to take a classy matatu from Embakasi in the morning. They won’t follow the regular route that Citi Hoppa does. Instead, they will pass through Buruburu to Starehe and then get you in town in less than 30 minutes.

That is an entirely different story when you board a Citi Hoppa that will follow the same old route with heavy traffic. You will take an hour instead of 30 minutes. 

The new City Hoppa curbs competition

Don’t think old buses like Citi Hoppas have been eliminated from the competition by these new well-decorated matatus. They simply have had to up their game to attract well-paying passengers too. I remember inviting a friend to my place a few years ago. I instructed him to take a City Hoppa, but he refused to board them because they are considered cheap. However, that is a thing of the past as City Hoppas have decided to purchase some Benz looking like buses.

The bourgee matatus might have attracted the young Nairobians, but the old buses have managed to attract advertisers. Apart from just purchasing new Benzes, these buses have been used by branding companies to put up posters. It is Tria that came up with that genius idea called ‘bus media’.

According to this article on Forbes, “Tria makes over a million dollar in a year by just placing adverts on these long buses“. It is an awesome marketing idea, indeed.

Nganya/Matatu Awards

The long buses might get ads, but they rarely win awards organized by the Matwana Matatu culture. 

These awards are won by sophisticated matatus that go to Buruburu, Embakasi and Komarock route. The kind of matatus that charge Ksh80 at any time, even on weekends when other buses are charging a standard fare of Ksh50 from town.

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