Matatu is a Swahili name used in Kenya to describe privately owned vehicles used to transport people. Matatu culture and the entire matatu business has experienced significant growth in the past years. Decorated buses are not only mode of transport for Kenyans, but also a culture embraced by many. Most of the vehicles in Nairobi are vanished with striking colors on the hull and its interior to attract more customers.
Since it’s legalization in 2013 by president Uhuru Kenyatta, the matatu culture has contributed to the growth of the Kenyan economy by providing job opportunities to youths talented in art. Most of the matatus in Nairobi and other big towns and cities are equipped with loud music and screens in the interior aiming to entertain the passengers.
Where did the name matatu came from?
After independence, the Government of Kenya introduced a mode of public transport where passengers were required to pay 30 cents as fare. By then, the Kikuyu language was widely spoken in Kenya. The Kikuyu community came up with the name ‘matatu’ meaning 30 cents hence the minibuses adopting the name ‘matatu’.
After a few years, the government allowed the citizens to own public transport vehicles. The business picked up very well, and people who owned the cars leaped huge profits out of the business. To ensure a faster way of transporting passengers, enterprising owners acquired smaller minibuses which could accommodate 14 passengers.
Due to stiff competition in fare price between the government transport sector and the private sector, private matatu owners had to come up with a unique way of attracting the passengers. And that’s where matatu graffiti culture and installing music systems came from. Since then, the industry has experienced a tremendous growth day by day.
Routes; How Matatu Operates
Matatus aims to transport people from one place to another. Therefore, there are specified routes designed by the government where matatu operates. Popular routes in Nairobi include South B/C route, Kasarani, route 44, Thika road route, Umoja route, Buruburu route and Rongai route among many others.
Each route has a unique identification number. Two people operate each bus. A conductor and the driver. The work of the conductor is to encourage passengers to board and charging them fare. He/she also alerts the driver whenever a passenger wants to alight or when to pick a new passenger.
Qualities that make a minibus gain the status of a matatu
Not all minibuses are called matatus. There are some additional features that a minibus should have before qualifying to be called a matatu. Such features include;
- Modern blaring music with bass speakers.
- Well painted; Graffiti designs on the exterior body.
- Well-spaced comfortable seats.
- A flat-screen television for passengers to watch music videos, news, or even movies.
- Functional CCTV cameras to ensure the interior of the matatu is secure.
- Flashy lights.
Most of the graffiti design features famous personnel, including athletes, hip hop artists, political or even religious icons, football stars, and also international pop stars.
It is designed from scratch. Welders fabricate and attach panels of the stripped chassis of a new vehicle. Once the attaching process is complete, and the blank canvas is ready, Graffiti designers take over and embellish it with various designs showcasing the entire matatu culture in Kenya.
Hottest Nairobi Matatus 2019
People travel each day, making the transport industry lucrative. This has therefore led to an increase in the number of transport vehicles, especially ‘matatus.’ Therefore, to reduce competition, matatu needs to be unique compared to others.
Each vehicle wants to be the hottest in terms of physical appearance, service delivery, and passengers experience. Even after the ban of tinting hulls, especially windows, matatu owners still have a unique way of standing out of the crowd. The pictures below represent some of the hottest matatus in Kenya and where found.
Kayole Matatus: Kayole is home to some of the hottest matatus featured with diverse designs, colorful lights, and beautiful interiors. Check out some pictures;
Ongata Rongai Matatu: Rongai is located not far from Nairobi CBD, and it’s veteran when it comes to matatu culture. Most of Ongata Rongai matatus have beautiful interiors with comfortable seats, CCTV cameras, Free WIFI, flat-screen TV and exterior with diverse graffiti designs and flashy wheels. Check out pictures of such matatus in Rongai.
Kayole and Ongata Rongai matatus are the most popular even though there are other matatu culture locations. Below are some of them.
Matatu culture Embakasi: (embed the video)(Below is the link)
Matatu culture Langata:
Matatu business in Kenya has been in existence since early 1930s. Those days, the transport industry was operated by a foreign company called Overseas Transport Company (OTC), which was based in London.
The company operated 13 buses which ran in 12 specified routes. With time, the company changed to Kenya Bus Services (KBS). The company continued to enjoy a monopoly business environment until 1970 when the citizens started acquiring private vehicles to transport people.
Minivans were commonly used means of transport at that time. With time, the minivans were eliminated when buses and minibusses started emerging. As at now, the matatu business is dominated by high capacity buses of at least 62 seaters and minibusses of up to 14 seaters.
Matatu business is a very profitable business when well managed. Since President Uhuru Kenyatta allowed graphics designs on matatus (especially graffiti), the industry has experienced tremendous growth because people have come up with better and unique ways of doing the business. And that’s why ‘Nganyas’ are almost dominating the business, especially in Nairobi. You can leap huge profits from this business, but at the same time, it’s hazardous to venture into it.
We’ve therefore gathered some information highlighting some of the most important things you need to know and have before you venture into this business.
How to Start a Matatu Business
Buy the right car
This is the first thing you need to purchase before anything else. You may decide to buy a second-hand or a brand new. A second hand 14-seater matatu can cost you at least Ksh 500,000 while a second hand 33-seater can cost you around 2 to 3 million depending on its condition and how long it has been operating in the business.
A new 14-seater matatu costs about 2M to 3M while the 33-seater goes for about 5.6 million. If well managed a 14-seater can earn you Ksh 7000 daily while a 33-seater can earn you at least Ksh 10,000 daily excluding other expenses.
If you consider buying a new vehicle, get it from a well-known dealer like Isuzu, Nissan, or Toyota. You’ll never regret purchasing your matatu from those three companies. Spare parts for their cars are readily available in most places across the country at a very affordable price.
Body Branding and Music
The challenge of competition faces most of the lucrative businesses. The same case applies to matatu business. Everybody wants to stand out of the crowd.
To avoid much competition which might throw you out of business within a short period, ensure your matatu is branded with modern graffiti designs on the exterior part. Beautify your car on the interior by installing a modern music system, flat-screen television and ensure the seats are in good conditions for comfortability.
Join a Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO)
Sacco is an organization which will aid you to operate the matatu business smoothly. You’ll also have an opportunity to deposit your savings on a savings account once you join a Sacco. They monitor their member’s operations by allowing passengers to give feedback in case of mishandling by the driver or the tout. Join a Sacco, and you’ll not tire looking for customers; otherwise, you might regret the business.
Insurance and Licensing
The National Transport and Safety Authority is very keen on checking road worthy of public transport vehicles. NTSA officers will, therefore, check whether your matatu has the required equipment like seat belts, speed governors, and fire extinguishers. They’ll also check your PSV insurance, Sacco membership, and the driver’s documents.
So, to be on the safe side, ensure your driver has valid drivers and PSV licenses, and your car is insured through a known PSV insurance company. Also ensure to acquire permits from relevant authorities, including the county government depending on your route, music copyright, advance tax, and TLB.
Matatu business is a lucrative business if well ventured into. However, if it’s your first time, ensure to have another source of income as the backup. This is to mitigate the risk which might be involved in the matatu business. Above all, ensure to keep aside a certain amount of cash for maintenance and to service your car.