As you may know, the term "matatu" indicates a privately owned bus used in Kenya and in neighbouring African nations. Often decorated vith colorful, bright colors, matatus are adorned with slogans or mantras, some religious, some secular. These minibuses ply set routes, run from termini, and are used for both inter and intra-city travel. Every day, they carry wealthy, suburban young professional workers to the city. They now provide all sorts of amenities on-board, including wi-fi and drinks. The service, which began in the late 1990s in Kenya became very popular, eventually replacing public transportation.
Concurrently, matatus also became the target of violent crimes throughout Nairobi and other cities. In some cases, carjackers hijack Nairobi bound matatus robbing them off their personal effects and cash. The thugs pose as regular customers and eventually take control of the vehicle. In other cases, gang members ambush the matatus, often in the middle of the city, extorting the passengers' possessions, before escaping on a van or car. Most of the attacks are deadly. There are allegations that matatu crews are involved in the carjacking cartels, which are controlled by powerful and ruthless gangs. In one recent operation that took place on January 31, 2014 leaving three passengers dead, the five thugs responsible were described by the authorities as "[M]erciless people with very queer, grisly and unprecedented methods of killing innocent and defenseless people by throwing them out of a moving vehicle" (James Wakahiu, The People).
As David Kilcullen wrote in Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (2013):
In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, for example, gangs such as Mungiki have exploited their location astride the city’s food transportation routes (as well as their relationships with figures in the Kenyan political elite) to prey on the matatus—the brightly colored, privately owned minibuses that connect outlying suburbs with downtown areas— extorting as much as 1.1 billion Kenyan shillings (US $ 13 million) per year from transport operators.
Kenyans riders share maps of the most dangerous matatu routes to and from Nairobi. Here's an example:
Hardly a day goes by without reports of a hijacking or rampant pick pocketing on what is commonly known as a ‘Ma3′ or ‘Nganya.’ Accidents are also the order of the day. In a city grappling with terrorism and escalating cases of hijackings, is it safe for a person to travel using Public Service Vehicles? Or is it the only means of transport for the majority? (Joseph Muraya, February 19, 2014)
With the latest layout, COLL.EO wonders if the "matatu experience" will eventually become "normal" in San Francisco as well. Such hypothesis is less far-fetched than it may sound. As Stephen Graham wrote in Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (2011), today most American cities are in a pre-apocalytpic state, on their path to become "feral":
The urban landscape is now populated by a few wealthy individuals, an often precarious middle class, and a mass of outcasts. [...] Social polarization in the US is thus now exceeded by only a handful of very poor countries in Africa and Latin America.
And so we wonder:
In a city that has elevated hyper-gentrification to a lifestyle, where evictions are routine, where wealth inequality is not only tolerated but actively encouraged by the local institutions, where the privatization of public services - including transportation - is a standard are hijackings of high-tech companies's buses inevitable? Will a criminal retaliation follow the ongoing "middle class cleansing" taking place in the City?
In short, are Google Bus hijackings what lies ahead for San Francisco, the next feral city of NorCal? Is San Francisco, nicknamed the Baghdad of the Bay, also the next Nairobi?
The term "feral city" was coined by Richard J. Norton and is the subject of a highly influential 2003 essay titled "Feral Cities". In his definition, Norton emphasized the non-existence of social services and the absence of governamental control, both replaced by a weird co-existence of corporate interests and criminal entities. In feral cities, the citizens "have no access to even the most basic health or security assistance" and there is "no social safety net", adds Norton. Huge income gaps produce a polarized society, which inevitable leads to violent clashes and various forms of exploitation. Feral cities also display "massive levels of pollution". They are, in other words, "disaster zones". Consider, for instance, the devastation of Hunter's Point produced by the US Navy, where high levels of radioactive contamination still affect a large area of the city.
There is little doubt that San Francisco is "going feral":
The Bay Area Matatu Express is, therefore, a premediation, a design fiction, a layout of a "What If..." scenario. See more here.