Nairobi News

ChillaxHustleMust Read

Will electric buses survive in Kenya?

Oya Boss! Tokens zimeisha? (Hey Boss! Are the tokens over?) The conductor of the matatu behind us joked as the electric bus I was alighting from took its time at an unsanctioned bus stop. More people were getting off which was causing traffic at the junction. I watched as the bus drove off with the ‘Powered by Basi Go’ logo plastered on its back.

I laughed all the way home because the whole ride was a comedy.

This year, a few matatus companies such as MetroTrans, City Hopper and Super Metro have purchased electric buses from BasiGo serving some of their regular routes. The electric vehicle company has placed a live tracker on its website where people can see where the bus is in realtime if you want to catch a ride.

Saturday was my lucky day when I saw the MetroTrans electric bus being used for the 4W route that serves commuters from Ngong Road to Kabiria. The brand-new bus was given priority for being the new kid on the block as the older buses that had been waiting for longer were pushed to the back of the queue to let their new shiny toy sparkle.

Some commuters had already boarded so the rest of us rushed in to see what maendeleo (progress) looks and feels like. I got myself a window seat with curtains and a nice view.  The seats are comfortable but compared to the diesel buses, space was little for the extra luggage Kenyans carry.

Also read: Embassava Sacco goes green with new fleet of electric buses

A couple that sat behind me with a cradled baby had two suitcases that had to be put next to the door after everyone was onboard. The conductor shouted at the driver who was enjoying his quick cup of tea to get to his seat before he closed the door, forgetting that the driver has his own door.

The one-hour trip was a comfortable one. The bus moved swiftly but smoothly, unlike most matatu rides. It was until we got to a snarl-up at the closed Uchumi Ngong Road that the driver decided to use the alternative rough road that most drivers use to evade the traffic until the traffic lights turn green. The rough road has a series of potholes and high bumps that proceed to loudly scratch the futuristic vehicle.

Ushaanza kubomoa gari? (You have already started spoiling the car?)”A commuter blurted out his inner thoughts. People started giggling until he drove into a deeper pothole that definitely left a dent.

Wakenya hawawezi patiwa vitu vizuri. (Kenyans cannot be given good things),” another commented.

Also read: Doctor onboard helps woman give birth on Madaraka Express train

I could not hold my laughter. It was not supposed to be funny but Kenyans are used to laughing at terrible situations to deal with their trauma. Old habits die hard.

This is also evident in the conductor’s choice to allow an extra passenger who stood for most of the ride, clinging to a pole beside the driver.

The setup in electric buses is very different from what Kenyans are used to. There is little to almost zero luggage space which is a problem for those who carry boxes and sacks of goods using matatus on the regular.

For the drivers, the new shuttles are lower than the regular buses they are used to which might hinder their maneuvering skills through the paths made by their regular trips through their favorite shortcuts to escape their worst enemy – traffic.

Which begs the question, will electric buses survive in Kenya?

Also read: Nairobi Expressway to be expanded to curb traffic