Petrol stations across Nairobi are telling a similar story to those told all over the world right now: fuel prices are skyrocketing and there’s no end in sight. The station around the corner from us has consistently been out of premium unleaded and whether that is due to the 99.99 Ksh/litre price tag or a simple lack of supply in the area is unclear.
To put that into perspective for you, we paid $6.40 USD per gallon today. A slightly less than full tank (4000Ksh or $65 approx) usually lasts us just under a week. The even more cheerful news is that petrol was 101Ksh at the petrol station next to Adams Arcade – the first station in town that I’ve seen cross that 100 shilling threshold. The scary part is that I know it is only the first of many that will do so.
While you and I might kvetch about the price of a tank of gas, the truth is that we can basically afford it – even if we cringe while we do it (it’s been a double hit with the falling US dollar). For most people in the developed world, there is often the option of taking public transportation. Here in Nairobi the story isn’t quite the same.
Public transportation here usually takes the form of a matatu. These 14-seater minibuses usually get people all over town for 20 Ksh – about 30 cents. My driver Rock told me on Friday that due to the increase in petrol prices, most of the matatus in town have raised their prices. To get from Kawangare to town during rush hour, for example, now costs 50 Ksh – about 80 cents. In a matter of mere months the price has more than doubled during a time of day when people have no choice but to take a matatu to get either to or from work.
For many people, this increase cuts directly into what little money they were making in the first place. For someone who earns 1,000 Ksh a day, for example, it used to cost only 4% of their daily take home salary for the privilege of getting to and from work – it now costs 10%. And for people who are living hand to mouth, margins like that cut deeply.
To put this into perspective, imagine your local bus service – the TTC for those of you back home in Toronto – had raised its price from $2.00 to $5.00. Now imagine that increase had taken place since March. It wouldn’t really go over that well – people would be up in arms about such a drastic hike. Here in Nairobi, there isn’t anyone to complain to that can or will do anything to fix the situation (and with Kenya trying to fund 42 cabinet ministers at a cost of US$500 million in the next six months just for them, good luck trying…).
The worst part of this fare hike is that it has effected the people least able to afford it – the poor and working class citizens of Nairobi. Nor has it only affected their commute to and from work – the price of food in major supermarkets like Nakumatt and even at the small dukkas has also gone up. And it is all due to the rising cost of oil.
So next time you complain about having to cut down your venti frappachinos in order to afford to put gas in your tank remember – some people have to cut back feeding themselves and their families the basics.