AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Kenya's urban landscape lost some of its color overnight. Gone are the vividly painted commuter vans that usually clog the roads. Fleet owners have pulled them off the streets. That's their response to newly implemented traffic safety regulations. The government, though, says it will press on. It's already arrested more than 2,000 drivers for violating the rules. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: This bus terminal used to be a raucous place. Touts would try to lure you onto their buses. They tell you the route and the price and show off the elaborate graffiti, the neon and the entertainment systems on board. But today it felt more like a matatu funeral...
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTER CHIRPING)
PERALTA: ...Well-organized lines of tall, white minibuses getting turned on and off as they move up to meet passengers in a designated spot. As far as the Kenyan government is concerned, the wild days of public transport - the days when Kenyans were packed into overcrowded matatus and touts would dance out the door to thumping beats - those days are over.
ALFRED NYANKUNDI: Now, most of the rules the government is posing - it is for what - about safety.
PERALTA: That's Alfred Nyankundi, a matatu driver for 20 years. He says it's time to bring some discipline to his trade, and the government had been telegraphing these changes for weeks. So his matatu is white. It has seat belts and an electronic speed limiter, and he is wearing a uniform.
NYANKUNDI: It is reasonable because they are caring for the people.
PERALTA: As he talks, Joseph, a much younger driver who would only give me his first name afraid police might arrest him, rolls his eyes.
JOSEPH: They are too much harassing us. They just arrest people passing around.
PERALTA: Just this year, there have been almost 2,000 traffic deaths in Kenya. So this time around, Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i says they are serious. They will arrest. They will fine. They will not back down even if some drivers continue to strike. Joseph rolls his eyes again. During the contentious elections last year, Matiang'i refused to comply with several court orders.
JOSEPH: Why minister want us to go to court and he - well, he fear to go to court.
PERALTA: So what you're saying is he didn't follow the law.
PERALTA: And he expects you...
JOSEPH: You to follow the law.
PERALTA: I walk past the drivers, past a few touts still courageous enough to shout a bit.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Swahili).
PERALTA: And I find Joyce Kimani with a broad smile. She says today she rode on a seat of her own. And for the first time ever, she wore a seat belt.
JOYCE KIMANI: (Speaking Swahili, laughter).
UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: She said she forgot about it as she was getting up, so she fell down.
PERALTA: It was a new experience, she says. And she liked it. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRAMATIK'S "MUY TRANQUILO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.