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The Matatu as an Innovation in North America

The share taxi is a common sight across Africa. A van or minibus (usually with a young male hanging out the window shouting the name of the destination) roves the city streets and picks up passengers headed to said destination, or somewhere else along that route. In East Africa these share taxi’s are called Matatus, in Nigeria they are called Molues, India calls them Phat-a-Phats (I love that name), in Mexico they are referred to as Auto de Ruta, and Argentina has it’s Colectivo.

In some countries, the informal share hire system arises largely due to a lack of a formal public transportation sector. Share hires are the lowest common denominator for getting around, particularly for the poor. They’re cheap and faster than walking, but don’t exactly offer a ‘direct route’ to most places. North America has the benefit of having robust systems of public transportation special or private hires, the public bus system, long distance coaches (Geryhound), etc. However, it’s not really common to see the share hire.

In New York, the idea of the share hire is being reintroduced as a green alternative to the normal taxi system (where no one but good friends share regardless of how efficient or environmental it might be) and casual carpooling (which requires advance planning). In the U.S. and Canada the common name is the Jitney, Circulator or Dollar Van. Most Americans will recognize these as being similar to the shuttles at the Airport.

I admit my title is a bit of an exaggeration. The idea of the share hire is as old as the early days of transportation, and certainly predates the first automobiles on the African continent, both in Europe and in America. Still, it’s funny to see things evolve into such a diverse system, only to come full circle.

Via Kenya Matatu Transport Map via KenyaBuzz.

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