Commuting in Urban Kenya: Unpacking travel demand in large and small Kenyan cities

Deborah Salon, Sumila Gulyani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


In Kenya's capital city, Nairobi, streets are regularly gridlocked. While it is clear that roads are congested at peak hours, it is not known which commuters are experiencing that congestion or what their commute times actually are. Even less is known about commuting patterns in other Kenyan cities. This paper contributes new evidence on commuting from a survey of 14,580 households, conducted in 15 Kenyan cities in 2013. Walking and matatus-privately-operated paratransit-account for 89% of all adult commuting in urban Kenya. As cities increase in size, the proportion relying on walking falls and matatu use increases. Within a city, commuters with higher income and education, and those living further from the city center, are more likely to use matatus rather than walk. Commute times are surprisingly short. In smaller Kenyan cities the median commute time is just 20 min. In Nairobi, the median commute time is 30 min, and only 5% of those surveyed reported commuting an hour or longer. These data paint a remarkably sustainable picture of urban travel patterns in Kenya. As incomes, education levels, and demand for motorized travel rise, the challenge will be to expand and improve the system while maintaining its sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3823
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2019


  • Commute mode
  • Commute time
  • Matatu
  • Nairobi
  • Poverty
  • Transport planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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