NAIROBI, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- Until Tuesday, many public buses, called matatus by local people, plying the Nairobi city center-Rongai route in Kenya had TV screens on each seat and music stereo inside.
The music system was for entertaining passengers with the latest videos and songs in the usually one-hour journey. The windows of the buses were also tinted black and their inside and outer walls dressed in all manners of graffiti.
However, these gadgets are now all gone after the operator removed them ahead of the Nov. 12 deadline for the implementation of tough traffic rules by the government to curb road tragedies.
The public transport vehicles have been ordered to remove the music systems, install speed monitors and seat belts. Drivers are asked to wear uniforms and not to carry excess passengers.
For long distance buses, those travelling at night must have two drivers and comply with other tough regulations. The rules, which have been there were, however, largely ignored in the past.
The government, however, is keen to restore order this time round as the number of massive road accidents rises in the East African country.
Some 3,000 people die in the East African nation every year due to road accidents, according to the National Transport and Safety Authority.
"We had spent over 200,000 Kenyan Shillings (about 2,000 U.S. dollars) to 'soup-up' this vehicle a year ago. We had again to use 100,000 shillings to undo the work to comply with the law," complained Joseph Karanja, a matatu driver on the Kayole route on Thursday.
He said it had taken them three days to modify the vehicle, which translates into missed earnings of 60,000 shillings.
Karanja said they decorated the vehicles because that was what the commuters want and it brought them more money.
Passengers in the souped-up matatus also pay higher fares enabling operators to earn more.
The decorated vehicles referred to in the east African nation as "nganyas" have helped create a matatu culture that is unique across the world.
To those who love the vehicles, they are simply mobile discos on the road offering entertainment but for those who don't love them, the vehicles are a nuisance and a health hazard due to the loud music.
"These rules will end the matatu culture as we know it which is very vibrant and some tourists even come to the county to sample the rides, said Cornel Nokia, who owns a 14-seater matatu.
He had also "souped up" his vehicle that plies the Embakasi route but was forced to take a loan of 20,000 shillings to ensure it complies with new traffic rules.
He wished the government could have found a way to accommodate the matatu culture, because the matatu graffiti industry employs hundreds in Nairobi in particular.
Kenyans are divided on the government move, with the young who love the nganyas protesting that it will make commuting boring.
"It is unexciting to board a vehicle and stay in traffic jam for two hours without listening to loud music which helps us enjoy the journey," said university student Modesta Changiri.
Older commuters, like Bernard Musya, however, believe the nganyas should comply fully since the culture enhances unruliness on the roads and they are a small number as compared to those which do not play loud music.
Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi, noted the matatu sector is a multi-million-dollar industry that supports thousands, which must therefore be regulated for the good of all.
"The police must enforce the rules to save lives. An industry that is regulated will serve everyone better than when chaos reign as is currently. Those graffiti artists I believe can still find a role in a better regulated industry," he said.
Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet promised on Wednesday that the police will not relent in enforcing the law to be effective on Nov. 12.
Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai, however, called for more time to allow the matatu owners to comply.