Assuming Ksh200 as the average fare for a daily commute to and from Nairobi, we can deduce that the capital city’s workforce spend about Ksh4,800 each month (6 day work week) on transport.
This figure could go even higher, depending on not only the mode of transport, but the weather as well, among various other factors that result in major fluctuations in the cost of transport in the city.
A 2019 Sustainability Journal study titled Commuting in Urban Kenya: Unpacking travel demand in large and small Kenyan cities found that about 42% of daily commuters walk, 48% ride a matatu, 5% commute by private car, and the remaining 5% use what is described as ‘other modes’.
Bearing the above in mind, it would be accurate to assume that the majority of Nairobi residents use matatus on their daily commute to and from the city.
It is also important to note that the cost of transport carries a lot of weight when it comes to deciding on which neighborhood to reside in.
This is simply because matatus plying the various routes across the city have varying fare rates, with some of the differences significant enough to make major savings over the long run.
As an example, a return trip via matatu for a person residing in Buru Buru could average at around Ksh100. On the other hand, a resident living in Ruaka burns through an average of Ksh160 for the round trip.
Assuming a 6-day work week, the Buru Buru resident would ideally spend Ksh2,400 a month on transport, while the Ruaka resident would spend 60% more (Ksh3,840).
Interestingly, the monthly average transport cost for a Ruaka resident (16.4km from the city), is almost identical to that of residents living in Utawala (27.5km from the city), with the rental rate of a one bedroom apartment in Utawala coming close to half of what is charged in Ruaka.
The above scenario often leads to a trade off between convenience and cost, and could also be used to explain why a greater percentage of Nairobi’s population live in the Eastlands region.
This then translates to the city’s infamous traffic gridlocks that could make a 20 minute commute last for hours.
Studies estimate that during morning peak in Nairobi, the average vehicular speed is about 8.3 km/hour and 7.6 km/hour during the evening peak.
Recently, this situation has become even worse because of the construction of the Nairobi Expressway, injecting a new level of chaos into the city.
Recently there have been several reported incidents of traffic snarl ups lasting for over 5 hours along Mombasa Road, as well as Waiyaki Way.
The 27km stretch of elevated tarmac, set to dramatically change the city's skyline, is meant to ease traffic flows in and out of the capital city.
This is one of the ways the county government of East Africa's main commercial hub (currently under the stewardship of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services, NMS) has employed in a bid to ostensibly solve the transport dilemma.
In an effort to finally bring Nairobi’s chaotic transport under control, NMS is in the process of setting up six out-of-city-centre bus termini — Green Park, Desai and Park Road, Fig Tree, Muthurwa, and one at the junction of Bunyala and Workshop Road.
This is also why Kenya Railways purchased a fleet of second-hand commuter trains.
The trains were purchased as part of the Nairobi Commuter Rail Service (NCRS) project, aimed at modernising and expanding the city’s transport options, in order to reduce congestion on roads and create an efficient and affordable mass rapid transit system.
Nairobians have taken to using this mode of transport in the thousands, due to not only the affordable rates charged, but the convenience and traffic jam evasion it offers.
In 2020, records show that an average of 13,000 daily passengers used this new mode of transport to get around the city.
Additionally, Nairobi’s planned bus rapid transit (BRT) system is expected to offer an efficient public transport mode. Notably, the BRT system will cover not only Nairobi , but the adjoining counties of Kiambu, Kajiado, Machakos, and Murang’a as well.
The new modes of transport across the city have been dubbed as game-changers in terms of savings made, both financially and in terms of time.
However, the situation on the ground shows that the city is still predominantly a matatu-driven one, and all the challenges that come along with this particular mode of transport.
Nairobi’s matatu industry is heavily characterised by fluctuating fares.
As an example, prices can fluctuate based on weather and traffic: on rainy days, the cost can be significantly higher, making it hard for commuters to budget their daily travel costs.
Coupled with Nairobi’s traffic jam nightmare, it is easy to understand why city residents are constantly complaining about an average of 4 hours on the road, with the unwritten rule of thumb, if one aims to make it to the Central Business District on time (usually 8 a.m.), demanding that one leaves home from as early as 4:30 a.m.
Consequently, neighborhoods that offer a relatively shorter commute to the city, more often than not, are characterized by high fares as well as rental rates.
This once again places the regular city resident in a trade-off scenario.
All in all, matatus are still the cheapest means of transport in the Kenyan capital, but the introduction of new modes of transport such as trains, once streamlined, are set to shake up the entire industry.