Getting around this city is my least favorite part of living here. As the city has grown and incomes have increased, more and more cars are on the streets. Infrastructure development has failed to keep up. Nairobi is growing fast and it’s only going to get worse.
My commute from home to work is about 4 or 5 miles. If there is no traffic it takes less than 15 minutes. But when I go home at 5 or 6 pm, it can take more than an hour. Almost all the streets are one lane both ways and they’re unable to handle peak hours. If there is an accident, it can bring traffic to a complete stop until the road is cleared. My first weekend in the city, we went out for dinner. It took us 2.5 hours to get home…no more than five miles.
Most of the problem is the complete lack of traffic laws. There are no lanes, stop signs or traffic lights (I have seen one set of traffic lights, but no one obeyed them). Cars will drive on the sidewalk. At intersections, cars inch their way into the streets, stopping traffic in both directions. At 4-way intersections, this quickly turns into a knot of cars where no one can move anywhere. There are really no “lanes” for people to drive in. Just space on the road for cars to fill.
Public transportation in the city is a type of van/bus called matatus. They have been hollowed out and there are five rows three people wide. It’s actually more comfortable than the transport that I took in Morocco. The matatus have a complicated system of routes throughout the city; I only know a few routes so far. The price is dependent on how far you are going and how bad traffic is. My 4 mile commute is normally 20-30 shillings ($0.22-$0.33). Most cars drive pretty crazy in Nairobi, but matatus are the worst. They love to cut people off and play chicken on the road. They are the reason that I decided against buying a bike for commuting. Not too many people have their own cars here; matatus are probably 30% of the vehicles on the road.
There are also taxis, but they are too expensive to take on a regular basis. They are 200-1,200 shillings ($2.22-$13.33) depending on how far you’re going. But matatus aren’t safe to take late at night so sometimes the taxis are necessary.
Transportation is also indicative of the huge wealth differences in the city. There are many luxury vehicles with tinted vehicles and chauffeurs. On the other hand there are always people walking miles and miles to and from work because they can’t even afford the matatus.
Apparently there are regulations on exhaust for cars purchased. But no such regulations exist for matatus or trucks. Walking along the road, it’s very common to be bathed in black exhaust. I was sick with a cold for the first two weeks I was here and I think the air quality played a large part of that.
In American cities, I think the biggest causes of traffic problems are lack of good public transportation and urban sprawl. Here it’s the absence of traffic laws. Enforcing laws would make a huge difference.
Work is improving as I’m figuring out what I’m doing. I think I’ll write my next post trying to explain my work. This weekend I’m taking the train to Mombasa, which is on the coast. Should be a blast! Hope all is well!