It’s a Wednesday morning and I am aboard a Thika –Nairobi matatu. We have been stuck at Ngara for the past 30 minutes. When the traffic moves, she heaves a deep sigh. When it stops, her facial expression tells it all — she is panicky.
I ask her if this is her first time to be inconvenienced by the traffic. “I recently moved to Thika,” she responds half-heartedly.
When her initial disinterest withers, her face lights up, and she says: “I was working in Nyahururu, but I recently got a transfer. This is my first week commuting to and from Thika.”
Her phone rings. She answers the phone call and moves to an empty seat in front of me.
Having sat in traffic for more than 40 minutes, most of the passengers have opted to alight at Ngara and walk to town. The traffic is moving albeit slowly, and thus I stay put. Walking from Ngara has become the routine among commuters along this route.
The distance from Thika to Nairobi is about 45.3 km and according to Google maps, the journey should take 53 minutes. But on this day, I boarded the bus from Thika at 7.15am and I alighted at Posta in the city centre some minutes past 9.30am.
Another passenger, who later identifies himself as Joseph Wahome, pushes me aside as he alights in haste.
According to Mr Wahome, this is the third time he has been late for his bi-weekly meetings since he moved to Thika two years ago.
The secret to avoid being late, he says, is to be time-conscious. “Ask any Thika resident, even those complaining about getting late, and they will agree that 10 minutes can make a lot of difference. If you leave Thika at 6am, you are likely to be in town by 7.20am. But when you leave at 6.30am, 9am will still find you on the road,” he explains.
In 2012, former president Mwai Kibaki inaugurated Thika Road, an eight-lane superhighway meant to ease the relentless traffic congestion that had come to define route.
But six years later, residents are back to the cauldron of grinding traffic. On most mornings, heavy traffic jam starts to build up at Safari Park Hotel all the way to Khoja commuter stage.
For those whose arrival time at work is before 9 am, they are forced to leave Thika before 6am.
Although Ms Alice Kimathi, an office clerk, doesn’t live in Thika town (she lives in Ruiru), she has to leave the house at 5am to ensure that she arrives at work in Upper Hill by 8am. “I use a matatu that plies the Thika-Nairobi route, and I have one particular driver who picks me up at Ruiru stage at around 5.15am. During that hour, there is no traffic and I get to office by 7.45 am,” she says.
While the perennial Thika Road traffic has been blamed on the number of private vehicles plying the route, other people have blamed it on the high number of people who have moved to Thika and other towns along the highway.
Determined not to be caught up in the traffic menace again in the evening, I arrive at Kenya Mpya stage along Munyu Road at 6pm. The clouds are getting darker, and I purpose to board a bus before it starts raining. However, that is not to be. There is a long queue. With more than 100 people in front of me and just one bus in sight, I opt to walk to Ronald Ngala to board a matatu.
One of the Kenya Mpya drivers, who only identifies himself as Mutua, advises me to wait with the promise that the buses are around the corner.
But when the first raindrop hits the ground, I ignore his counsel and head to the matatu stage. There, not a single matatu awaits, but thankfully, there is no queue. However, that joy is short-lived when I realise that one has to shove her way in a matatu that has just arrived.
My attempt to board the matatu fails and dejected, I walk back to the bus station. It’s few minutes to 7pm. After 20 minutes of queuing, we leave but it takes us almost another 20 minutes for the driver to manoeuvre his way to the superhighway.
Woefully, the morning experience is replicated as there is a huge snarl-up from town all the way to Allsops.
I arrive in Thika a few minutes past 9.30pm and Ms Monica Wambui, a daily commuter, tells me I am lucky there was no traffic at Garissa Road- Kenyatta Highway junction, another traffic headache. “Sometimes we spend even over 30 minutes here and on several occasions, I am forced to take a motorbike to Thika town, which is an added cost,” she says.
After more than two hours, I get to Thika town, exhausted and sleepy. Even before I alight, I adjust my alarm clock for the next morning.