But now, a newly opened urban metro service is set to transform the way people in Ethiopia's capital get to work.
The $475 million Light Rail Project is a joint venture between Ethiopia and China and the first of its kind for the city and sub-Saharan Africa..
"There has been a lot of positive economic development in the last 20 years," Dr Getachew Betru, CEO of Ethiopian Railways Corporation, told CNN.
At the moment that means taking 60,000 people who live in the suburbs and bringing them towards the center to work: "You would not imagine to have that in a sub-Saharan city".
Now passengers can hop aboard two lines that connect the east and west and north and south.
Tickets cost up to 6 bir, around $0.27, and trains run between 6AM and midnight.
"It's really exciting" says Behailu Sintayehu, Manager of the Light Rail Project. "Recalling the situation 3 years ago, it didn't feel like it would happen like this. We are in a hurry to open up the other line as soon as possible."
For Sintayehu, the best part was the cooperation between the governments and the citizens: "The railway project came into the picture just after 100 years."
The energy used for the metro service is generated from big dams, located all over the country: "We do not share the power from the city of Addis and also we will not have continuous interruptions or power shortage problems" adds Sintayehu.
The initial stage of the operation is being overseen by the Chinese company Shenzen, as an exchange of skills and culture between Chinese and Ethiopian workers.
Once completed, the light rail will connect up with the national train system of Ethiopia, and by 2025 there will be 5 thousand kilometers of track across the whole of the country.
The long term goal is not just to connect Ethiopia, but to see the country connected to Djibouti, Sudan and Gabon.
Watch the video above to find out more