Earning from the Road

Published on 4th July 2006

Dressed in her maroon uniform and calling on people to get into the matatu (public transport minibus), one would think Joyce Karimi; a 26 year old national, has lost her mind. However, she is doing what most people would term as a job preference for men. Joyce has been a conductor for matatus on route number 33 for the last six months. Previously, she worked for the Nairobi to Nyahururu to Nairobi matatus. The African Executive caught up with her and she shared some of her experiences.




Q. For how long have you been doing this job?


A. About three years.


Q. What motivated you?


A. Before my current job I was working as a tea girl in one of the firms in industrial area. I did not have a permanent job with these people and I used to renew my contract after every three months. After working for two years with them, the company ran bankrupt and we all had to go home. I was jobless for one year when one of my uncles bought a matatu and asked me to be accompanying the driver and conductor so that I could monitor their movement. One day the conductor fell ill and we needed someone to take his place. Unfortunately no one was available and I had to do his job. This went on for three days, and without much hesitation I began my job as a conductor.


Q. How is it working as a conductor?


A. It is tough; venturing in a field that most people believe is meant for men. My job entails too much shouting and persuading customers to get to the matatu. I have become too accustomed to the noise in town. Once in a while the traffic police mess us up by creating mistakes where they do not exist. So we end up wasting time in the police stations convincing them to set us free before the case is taken to court. Passengers too can get rude and they at times refuse to pay.


Q. Matatu drivers are known to be arrogant and they do not observe traffic rules. What do you have to say about that?


A. At times they can get so unruly but I do not blame them since usually they are striving to get the next passenger before their counterparts. This is business and there must be competition between opponents. It is quite unfortunate that they do this at the expense of others. This behavior has so many disadvantages. It has left some innocent people dead as accidents take place every now then. In most cases if there is an accident on the road, a matatu is involved. Some drivers are reckless and they do not care since the vehicles do not belong to them.


Q. Are there targets you are supposed to meet?


A. Yes. For example at the end of the day we are supposed to take home Ksh. 3,000 (US$40). That is why we at time start work very early and close very late.


Q. With the increase in petrol price, will this have any effect on the fares?


A. On this route, I do not think so but on other routes, there could be. In fact matatus on our neighboring route number 15 have already hiked their fare.


Q. Why do you say so?


A. If we increase prices on this route we shall end up closing business as our customers will prefer walking from the estate to town. Already, there have been complaints on the fares since we increased it in February 2004, when the new rules on seat belts and reduction in number of passengers were implemented. We raised our fare by Ksh. 10 and this led to loss of customers. Customers used to walk to South B and Industrial area and back to Kenyatta market; we had to reduce the price again to maintain our customers.


Q. Do you think the introduction of speed governors and seat belts has been effective?


A. Yes to some extent. Accidents have reduced and when they happen passengers are much safer as they are not thrown out of the window if they have fastened their seat belts. However, most passengers do not buckle up their safety belts until they see a policeman. One is left wondering whether they are doing it for him or for their own safety. On the other hand some matatus have already tampered with their speed governors; I think there should be frequent check ups on this.


Q. Tell me more about your experience with customers?


A. Some of them make fun of me. They do not see how a woman can be a conductor while others encourage me. Some get away without paying and they do not care whether one is going at a loss or not. It is even worse when you have an uncontrollable drunk customer; he hurls so many insults and may end up not paying.


Q. How much do you earn?


A. Approximately Ksh. 15,000 (US$200) per month.


Q. Do you own a business?


A. Currently no, but I hope to buy a matatu that will be operating from one corner of the city centre to the other. I have heard many customers complaining of the distance one has to walk for example from the General Post Office (GPO) to Machakos bus station approximately 2,000metres. They say the buses charge them expensively, my services will be cheaper.


Q. Describe your working day?


A. I am awake by 4am; I take a shower and dress up ready for my day’s chores. The driver comes and picks me from home at 5am to begin our job. We do this till around 10pm on weekdays. The time we close the job varies depending on the demand. On Fridays and Saturdays I work till midnight.


Q. Any advice to your customers?


A. Its important that people respect other people’s job and also one should do his job to the best. Love your job and all will be well.

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