It is about time to say that something drastic needs to happen to deal with the ‘chopper-matatus’, ‘BOX- Ma3’s in Kenya. It is either they improve on the ventilation or pack. I was considering petitioning parliament to ban previously designed ‘chopper’ a.k.a ‘BOX’ as cargo Toyota Hiace/Nissan ‘shark’ vans from doing matatu or force them to modify the windows as a matter of urgency. As of now, it’s a disgrace that ’11’, ’14’ and some ’19’ seater respectively passengers are crammed inside a poorly ventilated van. That number is when the zambaza ‘Tablets’ seats are not in force, which could mean six to ten more passengers on each category.
Weather and health issues
More than half the passengers cannot access the small windows which only slide one way (see picture above). Imagine with climate change, the hot humid and sunny months. Health-wise think of someone either unwell, feeling giddy, motion sickness, droplet infections, some forms of obesity, tuberculosis, and even some people on drugs like chemotherapy. Let us also consider a pregnant mother or with a young child or a lady approaching climateric (menopause) age. Someone shared how an hour for her in a Ma3 is a nightmare.
These are all people who experience some degree of heat flush, I see some ‘pepetapepeta’ but nothing doing! All of us are hardly breathing inside this contraption. No wonder the Ma3 are referred to as BOX. Think of the lack of personal space and access to the outside. Suppose one needed to talk to a friend outside or buy stuff from a vendor? There are tens of reasons for wanting to freshen up especially on long trips. There is also that feeling among some passengers that the fixed window screens take in too much sun heat, may the design was never meant to have human beings inside (at least they make very nice hearse, that one there is little to complaint about).
Few have working air conditioners but as usual for most PSVs these gadgets stopped working the day the vehicle was inspected. The industry is after one thing – profit. Whether we choke, suffocate, vomit or faint behind there is less of their business. As for the driver, why care? Some have a punitive anti-vomiting/ anti-literring fee of Ksh200 (2 dollars), as if daring you to vomit from your marooned corner. The day you vomit in a matatu is the day you will know who really Kenyans are. They look at the victim with a holier than thou attitude. Some of these incidents could be due to poor ventilation. Only the driver and two front passengers (seat no.1 and 1x) have roll-up front door windows within a touch of a button. As for the rest of us that is the sorry state of stuffiness we have to put up with. Come to think of it , would the driver manage without the windows? How on earth do they expect the passengers to manage?
It is only human
It reminds me of chicken and ducks that have to be squeezed under the crammed matatu seats, only a few kienyeji ones make it to the destination alive. At least a lot better ride on the roof carrier enjoying the ‘breeze’ while their owners are hardly breathing inside the matatu. Even ‘sharks’ cannot dive forever, they need to emerge to the surface to breathe. The vehicle engine has a breathing and cooling system. For God’s shake we are humans, our health, style, comfort and convenience matters. We ought to enjoy our package.
Photo of an accident scene involving a 11 -14 seater ‘Box/chopper’ matatu. Note the tiny windows which would be difficult to escape through during an emergency (Courtesy of a Facebook wall Buyer Beware-Kenya Original by Raphael Mahulo highlighting a faulty braking system in the chopper models)
Users to dictate the design
We seem helpless over such a small thing, we should not be convinced that these are default settings. We need our matatus customized for the tropics and not engine-reconditioned mutumba cargo vans. If they know or we know they are importing it for matatu business, why not have them recondition the cabin and the body too? In fact fit the seats and seat belts from there. Let us desist from licensing those without proper ventilation. If as public health officers we dare to condemn dwellings with poor ventilation, how is it we can put up with it in public transport? I remember there used to be stickers in matatus written ‘Stop TB, open windows for air circulation’.
Can we Zusha!? Yes. Why? Because these are things that can be rectified from the manufacturer or modified for our comfort. To me these are not minor issues for one doing a 4-hour or more trip on road in the tropical heat in a ‘chopper’. I bet some shuttle companies just need a cough from Dr. Matiang’i and you can count it done. Matatu people are very innovative, lets encourage them in this one too, with some nudging.