Success, Challenges of E-Ticketing Technology in East Africa
Kenya and Rwanda have recently introduced new technology in the public transport sector in their capitals as part of their bids to achieve smart city status. The initiatives have borne mixed outcomes in both countries. Although Kenya mooted the cashless fare payment system as early as 2012, but with a later implementation date, it is Rwanda which has made progress with its e-ticketing initiative.
Kigali, Rwanda set the pace for East Africa in 2015 when it launched smart buses in the capital Kigali that are equipped with free Wi-Fi enabling a large percentage of the 380,000 passengers to browse the internet.
Kigali has slightly more than 560 buses that are fitted with card readers developed and deployed by Rwandese startup AC Group, a technology group that specializes in smart transport solutions.
The smartcard known as ‘Tap and Go’, has replaced the use of cash fare payment. Passengers load their smartcards just like they do for their telephone sim cards through AC Group agents or at bus terminus. The loading can be for as little as US$0.24 (RWF200). A passenger with a loaded smartcard taps it at a validator machine at the entrance of the bus and the payment is electronically made.
Although not all buses in Kigali have embraced the ‘Tap & Go’ smartcard, those that have partnered with AC Group say the technology has helped increase revenue by as much as 50 percent. Andn has made it easier for the Rwanda Revenue Authority, a State agency that enforces, assesses and collects taxes in the landlocked country to monitor and efficiently tax the public transport sector.
AC Group chief executive officer Patrick Buchana says by the end of 2017 at least 97% of the public transport routes in Kigali had embraced the electronic ticketing system hence enabling fleet owners “to increase revenue, expand their fleet and offer efficient service to passengers.”
Buchana says AC Group has partnered with the bus companies to collect the fare which is then deposited in an escrow account monitored by both parties. It is later distributed among the fleet owners according to the number of passengers.
AC Group earns 5 percent of each bus’s gross revenue. Some of the bus companies participating in the e-ticketing initiative include Kigali Bus Services and Royal Express Ltd. Rwanda has an estimated 3,300 public transport vehicles, according to the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency, a State company which regulates certain utilities including the transportation of goods and people.
“The ‘Tap & Go’ card service has enabled us to become more efficient and ensured proper and accurate revenue collection hence improving management for the customer and the company,” said Deo Muvunyi, senior manager at the Kigali Bus Services during a previous media interview
Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperatives head of operations Bishop Kihangire estimates 50 percent increase in revenue for fleet owners since the introduction of e-ticketing.
Despite the progress in Rwanda’s cashless fare payment system, the e-ticketing in Kigali is said to have rendered nearly 300 bus conductors jobless in a country where unemployment rate is estimated to have increased to 16.7 percent in 2017 up from 13.2 percent in 2016.
Attempts to introduce e-ticketing for public service vehicles in Kenya’s capital Nairobi has not been a success despite promulgation of regulations and necessary laws to govern the launch and operations of the technology.
Although plans for the e-ticketing system started as early as 2012, it was not implemented until December 2015 when the government banned use of cash in paying fare in all public vehicles.
The National Transport Authority, a state agency that ensures safe, reliable and efficient road transport service in Kenya had initially banned the use of cash payment for fare in July 2014. It later pushed the deadline to December 2015 after realizing a slow response from both commuters and public service vehicle operators.
“Every operator of a public service vehicle (PSV) shall ensure that passengers are issued with tickets or receipts for fare paid and as from July 1, 2014, it operates a cashless fare system,” said Francis Meja, the director general of NTSA in a special gazette notice of December 2013.
In addition to the cashless fare system the PSV operators were required to have a fleet management system that records speed and local of the vehicle at any time.
The PSV operators were also directed to “subscribe to a data storage system capable of storing data on vehicle speed, location and operation for a period of 30 days and when required by NTSA to provide the date before expiry of the prescribed storage period.”
The smartcard known as
“Tap and Go”, has replaced the use of cash fare payment.
However, this did not happen. Many companies including commercial banks that had launched smartcards were left with huge backlog of the e-ticketing equipment. Some, like Google, announced the official termination of its cashless fare payment system.
Google had partnered with Kenya-based Equity Bank in early 2012 to launch the BebaPay prepaid smartcard. However, the technology giant pulled out after the e-ticketing system failed to take off in Nairobi. Although the company’s statement did not make reference to the poor reception of the cashless fare system.
However, the different vendors did not have a common protocol to adhere to and the use of different smartcards in different PSV service providers was seen as more confusing for the passengers. But experts and owners of PSVs welcomed the cashless fare system saying it would result in accountability, transparency and a more organized public transport system especially in Nairobi.
“Once anyone makes payments electronically, there is more accountability in the system,” said Sarah Williams, director of the civil data design lab at MIT and one of those behind the Nairobi’s digital Matatu project.
“Our biggest problem normally revolves around chasing money. It is only technology that can digitize payment of fares and this will minimize cases of corruption in the public transport sector,” said Simon Kimutai, the chairman of the Matatu Owners Association, a lobby of public transport vehicle owners in Kenya.
Although up to 70 percent of Nairobi’s 3.5 million people rely on the estimated 80,000 PSVs in the city, public transport operations are characterized by inconsistent fares and routes with bus stops that keep changing depending on various factors such as weather and traffic flow.
Shem Oirere is a freelance writer located in East Africa. He can be reached at email@example.com.