AC Group, a Rwandan tech firm enabling payment in public transport recently debuted into ‘moto’ transport payment digitization. With ‘motos’ being a popular mode of transport across the country with thousands of operators, what are the firm’s objectives and expectations? The firm has been previously known for its involvement and role in digitizing payments in public transport buses beginning 2015. The firm’s Chief Executive Officer Patrick Buchana spoke to The New Times’ Collins Mwai on their involvement and plans for ‘moto’ sector, the firm’s outlook for the coming months and changes in public transport over the years. Excerpts below: Since the debut of Tap&Go systems by AC Group in the digitization of public transport payments, what are some of the ways the sector has changed with regard to improving opportunities in the sector? Following the introduction of Tap&Go in 2015, there has been a major transformation in the public transport sector such as elimination of the then frequent fluctuation of prices based on the needs of the driver and conductor. Passengers are now able to budget for their weekly or monthly bus fare. The platform has also allowed for data collection enabling bus companies to make data-driven decisions, inform government policies and pricing around public transport as well as optimize fleets according to traffic. The system has also enabled and aided contact tracing through our channels in city transport, intercity and will also be possible on the moto. After the success of Tap&Go service in Kigali, we have expanded to intercity transport with 700 buses extending the same benefits and also enabling passengers to buy and pay for their tickets anywhere. This August, we kicked off Motorcycle digitization where now passengers will be able to cater to their journey from end to end from a ticket booking for an upcountry trip to riding on a moto with their Tap&Go. At the time of the debut of the system, public transport companies were reporting losses of millions of francs annually, has this been curbed? Yes. Before the introduction of the Tap&Go, public transport companies were losing an average of 20 per cent of their revenue and up to 50 per cent on one of the routes due to lack of transparency. Today, the losses have not only been curbed but through partnerships with financial institutions, we can increase the fleet with guaranteed revenue collections through Tap&Go without financial institutions asking for collateral that previously hindered the bus company’s growth. AC Group has now entered into the taxi Moto value chain, what’s the company’s role in the digitization process? Amount of investment made? AC Group’s mission is to make public commuting more efficient, connected and safer for passengers within their desired mode of transportation. To achieve this, it calls for innovation and continuous growth within the public transport sector as well as the creation of additional value for the customer. For instance, Soon passengers will be able to, book a trip from Huye (as well as any other district in Rwanda), board a bus to Kigali paying with our Tap & Go app, get to Nyabugogo and get on a bus to a neighbourhood in Kigali paying with their Tap&Go, and board a moto with Tap&Go for their final mile. All booked at once and at the start of the journey. AC Group is expected to invest Rwf3 billion into the new Tap&Go ride subsidiary and recently recruited the former Head of Operations Officer at Andela, Malik Shaffy to run it. What are your broad objectives and expectations with the digitization of payments in the Moto sector as the operations are formalized? Along with the benefits we shall bring to the commuters and transparency of the sector, we also want to bring a lot of benefits to the motorists. With Tap&Go, they will be able to have a financial footprint and hence financial inclusion. We have also reached out to selected institutions that are their suppliers and we are in the process of lobbying easy and affordable access to services that are otherwise costly for them such as insurance. Most importantly, we want to have all our riders be able to get a mortgage to own their own home as they will be eligible and our partner banks are willing to work with us on this. AC Group provides WiFi in public transport buses, there have been both positive and negative reviews in the media and social media. What are the facts? We started Tap&Go WiFi on the bus in 2018 and have seen growth in the number of buses connected until January 2019 when all buses were connected and passengers were enjoying WiFi on the bus. As for connectivity just like it happens with your phone, network drops and comes back on. We closely monitor and ensure that all buses are always connected with our technical team working around the clock to troubleshoot where necessary. Regarding the comments, RURA invited media houses to test the Tap&Go WiFi on Thursday last week. They entered the bus, used the WiFi and spoke to passengers who were on the bus using the WiFi too. We have also seen a number of commuters testifying since that article and sharing their experience. Buses operating in Kigali use up over 81.6 terabytes of data per month, however, this has dropped now with curfew being much earlier. Along with our team that works on this project, RURA and bus companies also have their own inspectors and dashboards where they view buses connected in real-time. We invite anyone to come and test it because the perception of no WiFi in the bus from 2017 before we started has stayed and we are embarking on a campaign to pursue commuters to connect and test for themselves. Has the regulator expressed concerns about the state of the WiFi? The regulator has not expressed concerns and this is because they are always aware of the state of WiFi in the buses through the dashboard monitoring and on-ground inspection teams. In fact, we are always working together to see how we can make the service better as connectivity infrastructure improves in the country and even expand to public spaces. AC Group has 2 million clients, how is it like managing that pool? Managing complaints, expectations and at the same time creating awareness? It is exciting to see the growth the Tap&Go card and app have had and the 2 million cards is the reason we are expanding to intercity transport, moto-taxi and more. At all times, commuters can buy cards through our 200 agent points and load it with MOMO, Airtel Money and our app. In the same channels, they can also check their balance through our agents, USSD and app. When they tap on the bus validator, it shows them how much is deducted and their new balance. One can also swap their card through a series of questions and we are kicking off card personalization this September. Along with passengers, our other clients are bus companies and they view their revenues from a dashboard but also have the field inspection team that checks commuters transport on physical devices on the ground and validates that everyone who entered the bus paid through the cameras we have installed and an inspector terminal. What else is keep AC Group up at night at the moment, what are you working on for the medium term? Unfortunately, our expansion plans have been slowed down by the pandemic but this has also given us an opportunity to strengthen our services within Rwanda. We are finally also launching the long-awaited Tap&Go Generation 2.0 that we announced earlier this year with new exciting features for commuters, the efficiency of buses routes and schedule all to be included on the Tap&Go app/bus stop. We shall be sharing details in October ahead of the launch. With the need to go cashless and our Tap&Go card personalized, we will also be adding new use cases for commuters as we fight this pandemic along with various institutions. Lastly, what have been the effects of the pandemic on your operations? In many ways, we have been set back with revenue cuts and limited expansion out of Rwanda due to COVID-19 but we still believe there is an opportunity to create solutions that will help us fight the pandemic in both the transport and cashless payment sectors. Although and this requires further investment we continue to trust that growth will come as we meet the needs.