Maybe you wake up at 6am, have a shower, a coffee, a quick toast and a banana.
Once you have finished eating, you get into your car for 10 to 20 minutes to get to the office.
Your commute can arguably be considered as “pleasant” and “straightforward”.
But in Kinshasa, a common commute starts a lot sooner and is a lot more stressful even if you have a driver and an air-conditioned vehicle!
Most “kinois” wake up at 4am and fight tooth and nail to get to work before 7:30am.
The lack of adequate public transportation, pot-holes and non-existent roads make it a nightmare to move around the city, even if you have a car (without mentioning the police checks and rude drivers!).
For the average “kinois”, after getting onto the first part of their journey, let’s say from Ndjili, which is near the airport, they have to get to a main junction like Victoire (closer to town).
From there, and after 25 or 50 cents (more hassle and queuing if you take the cheaper transportation options), you must find a taxi bus that can take you to your destination’s closest popular junction such as Foreign Affairs or Place Royale (Hotel du Gouvernement) or Kintambo.
Once you’re there, you can look for another taxi bus but you’re maybe better off getting onto a motorcycle taxi for a quarter along with 1 or 2 other passengers to drop you 1 or 2 minutes walk away from your destination. Some would rather walk at this distance to save a few hard earned bucks!
Most salaries are between 100 and 400$ a month, that’s if they have a job!
I forgot to mention that there are several options available to get from point A to point B:
- A motorcycle : cheap, fast in heavy traffic and very unsafe (is theoretically banned in Gombe!) and better for short 5 to 10 minutes trips.
- A shared mini taxi : cheap and fast if no traffic but somewhat unsafe as there have been kidnappings of Congolese (women at night!) and foreigners.
- An express mini taxi : not shared and fast and just as risky as the above taxis.
- A mini bus taxi called 207 (because the bus model is often a Mercedes Benz 207 imported second hand from Europe) or “Esprit de mort” (Spirit of death!) with wooden seats and cheap fares: driving is aggressive and you are all jam packed (definitely no air conditioning!)
- A huge TRANSCO bus: the official public transportation service. There are always huge queues at their stops and very long waiting times. However, they are very cheap if you are very patient.
- Esprit de vie, or “Spirit of life”. These are smaller than Transco buses but safer than Spirit of Death buses. They are also relatively cheap but harder to get a spot on.
Once your work day is over, choose any of these options again and you will still only get home after 2 to 3 hours of traffic if you live in Limete, Ndjili, UPN, Binza, or anywhere outside Gombe’s immediate surrounding communes.
Oh and if it rains, the hassles and delays double or triple. It is much more prudent to stay dry and wait for the rain to pass and taxis to free up.
In the morning, the later you leave your home the worse your ride will be.
In the evening to go home from the city, leaving before the rush is the only way to get back at a reasonable hour.
And if you do get home with some time to spare, there might not be electricity or water!
Most Kinshasa inhabitants are used to it and smile when you find out how hard it is to move around.
Some (like me!) have it extremely easy!
At the end of the day, a trip to work and back home can cost 1$ if you are ready to waste 3 to 4 hours in total on the road, or 3$ if you pick the least impractical transportation option!
In French : Article on Belgian News RTL INFO
The Guardian : Traffic Robots
167 page report on transportation in Kinshasa by the Japanese aid agency JICA : PDF link
Disclaimer: For full disclosure, I have never commuted using the buses. I have only taken express taxis a few times and some moto taxis. I am basing this information from first hand accounts heard by friends and colleagues.