By Njoki Chege
Matatu culture has come of age. Gone are the days when a matatu ride meant hopping onto an overcrowded, yellow-lined 14-seater matatu where you would be lucky to arrive alive.
Public transport has evolved to ‘new-age’ matatus whose sole purpose is to ensure you travel in style.
Popularly known as ‘manyanga’ or ‘nganya’, these matatus spare no expense in ensuring the comfort of their passengers.
The owners spend hundreds of thousands of shillings to ‘pimp’ them into a work of art to behold.
Of course, not all matatus are nganyas. There are popular routes for the nganyas, where competition to attract the youthful commuters, mostly college students, is stiff.
Because of the competition, it is almost impossible for a single matatu to remain the ‘hot cake’ for more than three months. There will always be another nganya on the way.
Ongata Rongai might seem like the end of the world from the city centre because of the heavy traffic on Langata and Magadi roads, but it is the route with some of Nairobi’s hippiest, loudest and flashiest matatus.
Loud music and free Wi-Fi are the bare minimum requirements for a matatu’s entry into the league of greats.
These matatus have taken their services a notch higher. They not only provide free Wi-Fi, but also gadgets such as tablets, play station and Xbox to keep their young and tech-savvy clients occupied.
When the Nation team arrived at Ongata Rongai, it found several of these flashy matatus parked at the shopping centre.
Most, if not all, of these nganyas are targets of the ongoing NTSA crackdown due to their noisy horns, exhaust pipes, elaborate graffiti, spotlight, side-steps, and tinted back windscreens, among other things.
The owners have opted to ground them at petrol stations as they remove the unwanted features and wait for the “situation with the police to calm down”.
Make no mistake, not even an NTSA crackdown will dull the shine of an Ongata Rongai nganya.
‘All Blacks’ is one of the latest additions to the Ongata Rongai route 125. It is named after the New Zealand national men’s rugby team.
‘All Blacks’ is a work of art and a disco on wheels. It resembles a small plane, with a ‘VIP’ section at the front complete with extra legroom and a small table where passengers can keep their bags and stretch their legs as they enjoy the ride.
Passengers also watch a 42-inch TV perched at the front. Because of the free Wi-Fi, passengers can watch music videos on YouTube.
Alternatively, they can watch news live on the Internet as they sit out the Langata Road traffic.
In front of every passenger seat is a seven-inch Samsung tablet firmly attached to the headrest. Passengers can use the Wi-Fi to surf the Internet, check mail and even update their Facebook status.
The tablets are connected to a navigation camera in the driver’s cabin through which they can get live video feed of what is happening in front of them.
Of course, many opt to just surf the Internet and let the driver do all the hard work.
FARE? NOT AN ISSUE
For those who think that surfing the Internet in traffic is too ordinary, they can opt to play gameson the play station and the latest X-box (720) connected from the driver’s cabin.
If your phone battery is dying and you have a USB cable, then there is no reason to worry while onboard the ‘All Blacks’.
All you have to do is plug in your cable and charge your phone as you wait to get to your destination.
‘Catalyst’, another Ongata Rongai matatu, is difficult to miss in traffic. Decorated in bright yellow, red and orange colours with strips of gold and elaborate multiple exhaust pipes at the back, Catalyst is one of the favourites among the Rongai commuters.
With a superb black and red interior and mini-screens in front of every seat, commuters need not crane their necks to watch the 42-inch TV ahead.
So popular are these matatus that some commuters call in advance to book a seat. The young people do not mind the slightly higher prices because the perks certainly give them value for their money.
“The maximum fare is Sh100. In the morning, we charge Sh100 from Rongai to town, Sh70 during off-peak and in the evenings we charge Sh150 from town to Rongai. They don’t mind paying a little more than the usual Sh50 because they enjoy Wi-Fi and get to watch news while travelling,” says Ms Scholastica Wanjiku, the manager of ‘All Blacks’.