As the tough economic times continue to bite, some matatu operators are finding ways to maximise their profits.
One such means is the categorization of matatu rides — as either VIP or ‘economy class’.
Although this is not really new — the practice is fast gaining currency in a number of matatu routes after fuel prices shot up in the recent weeks.
VIP rides are a common thing in Eastlands where matatus often charge extra for the ‘heated’ seat (it’s perched on top of the engine) right next to the driver.
The good conductors often make it clear– before one boards — that the seat in the driver’s cabin is prime – and therefore costs a little more.
Some of the benefits one gets to enjoy at the ‘cockpit’ include small chat with the driver, unobstructed view of the traffic – and of course the little assurance that one will not be listening or watching some loud, weird music.
It’s not crowded – which means a VIP passenger is not exposed to pickpockets, muggers and 15 conductors hanging on the door shouting themselves hoarse.
These benefits are alluring enough to most Nairobians who want to arrive to work with their suits or dresses still looking recognizable.
A driver who spoke to Wananchi Reporting said the additional charge is part of the driver’s daily allowance.
“It is a thing that has been there for a long time, in some vehicles anyone trying to get there is told of extra charges or denied access,” explained Tony Manganga, a driver operating between Embakasi and Nairobi town.
“If we charge Sh50 from the city center to Embakasi, then the person seated in the cabin will pay Sh20 extra to the driver, that’s Sh70,” he said.
On a good day, according to the crew who spoke to Wananchi Reporting, a driver makes up to Ksh1,000 a day from the extra charge as allowance.
The same trend is common in some matatus plying Buru-buru, Mwiki and Kasarani route.
The crew were quick to discount claims that the cabin is often preserved for hot women, who often enjoy the rides for free; chatting up the driver, and occasionally the makanga.
“It is not true. This is a misconception, we don’t preserve the cabin for city girls to enjoy free rides, in fact some of us have families,” Dan Omari, a driver operating Mwiki route said.
A matatu Owners association official who did not wish to be named said it is not against their policy for a crew to charge extra for the cabin seat.
On his part, Felix Munga, a route manager of matatu sacco that plies Kikuyu road said the practice has been there for sometime.
“It is not a must you pay extra, but some people perceive the cabin as being more comfortable and don’t mind adding the extra coin when requested before boarding,” he explained.
“In some cases, drivers prefer to sit next to people they trust, mostly during the evening hours for security reasons,” added Munga.