Taxi fare metres is a prerequisite under law – transport regulator

Amidst complaints by a section of taxi drivers in Kigali over the introduction in September of Intelligent Connected Fare Metres (ICFM) installed in their taxi cabs, The New Times’ interviewed Eng. Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, head of transport regulation department at the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).

Though some drivers have taken issue with the regulatory body and technology provider Yego Innovision Limited over charges associated with the installed metres, Asaba said in the interview last week that both the metres and the charges are justified.

Emmanuel Katabarwa. File.

Below are the excerpts:

There have been complaints mostly from cab drivers since Yego Innovision Company started working with them. Tell us, why is it compulsory for all taxis in Rwanda to have these taxi fare metres?

Taxi fare meters have been in existence for the last five years but as you rightly said, complaints started when Yego Innovision started offering intelligent taxi fare meters, before, they were not complaining, but because of the ability of intelligent connected fare meters to expose what they are doing, it is to the advantage of other players, they started complaining about it.

It is compulsory to have a taxi fare meter as a regulation because of the following benefits of using them;

Firstly, the fare meter provides trip statistics of the usage of the cab which helps in planning.

For instance if we are going to issue a new license, we have to know how many cabs are in the city or a given area, how many trips are they making, is it a profitable business? How much money is transacted on a daily basis per cab or per cooperative? That helps us to properly advise them. On the other hand, for revenue collection purposes, it is easy to tax someone if you really know how much he is earning.

Otherwise, the tax would not be fair enough if you are taxed just from nowhere.

Thirdly, if their transactions are registered, it acts as a credit reference for them if they want to secure loans. Financial institutions will look at how much they have been adding on a daily or monthly basis, that will help the financial institution to decide whether they are to give them a loan or not.

Because of lack of this, most of the cabs are very old because they cannot access the finances.

All of this is grouped under trip statistics showing information of what is taking place so that different partners can use that information to act accordingly.

So, is it a law in Rwanda that all cabs must use taxi fare metres?

It is a current regulation, which was enacted in 2015 but taxi metres have been in existence for the last five years. It is the law. The law that establishes RURA gives it mandate to come up with regulations which are enforceable as laws. We are on trip statistics as one of the benefits. The second benefit is a fair fare.

If there is no instrument to decide how much one is going to pay, usually there is haggling. In haggling, whoever has an upper hand will overcharge or under charge the other. That is why the taxi metre will fairly charge the passenger according to the distance covered.

Being fair is a tool to regulate, to decide how much a transaction should be. Thirdly, an intelligent connected taxi fare meter allows pairing or remotely pairing a taxi driver with a potential passenger.

For instance, if there is a distance between the two, it requires either calling a toll free number 9191 and you are paired with a person that you don’t know but he is out there looking for a passenger or in the future may be after this month to use an app on your smart phone, so that you can be paired remotely to someone who is looking for passengers as much as you are also looking for service.

Tell us a bit as to why this has been a regulation for the last five years but has not been working?

Let me first say that there is a GPS tracking system in that metre which allows concerned parties, for example RURA or police to know where the cab is. For instance, if you are a passenger and you forgot your laptop in a taxi and you don’t know how to trace it, enforcement agencies can locate where that cab is.

The system enables us to know who was there at that time of the incident.

Now, at first we had metres for the last five years which were not intelligent. Each one was localised to the cab, so they could not share the trip statistics that I have told you about.

Because of that, we could not use them for planning purposes as it would require a planner to go to each and every cab to extract manually information from the meters.

Also, the system we had before could not remotely pay the passengers because there was no hailing application into that system. So if you wanted a cab, you had to go on the road and wait, but with this new system, you can be remotely paid.

There are a lot of weaknesses for the past meters that we needed to upgrade. However when we upgraded, the system came with visibility because we are able to remotely control them.

This keeps us updated of where they are and what they are up to. They now feel threatened with that visibility.

The YegoCabs Intelligent Connected Fare Metre (ICFM) automatically calculates the fare based on the distance travelled. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Has Yego Innovision been given an exclusive right for all the cabs in the country to use its system?

When we started, we made it a regulation to have a meter and those who are doing this service were the ones to go and look for potential suppliers. This is what happened to Yego Innovision.

Taxi operators, through their associations, are the ones that contacted Yego Innovision to come up with a solution that is going to fit what the regulator wants.

After contacting them, they came up with a solution customised for them and that is when they contacted the regulator to look into what solution is. That is when the regulator agreed after finding out that the system meets the requirements.

You gave the tender to Yego Innovision, what tender procedure did you follow while giving the contract?

It is not a tender. Yego Innovision is also a licensed operator meaning that the services they are offering have been verified by RURA. Yego is dealing with another licensed operator and between them they have a contract.

RURA has to make sure that each party provides what it is supposed to be providing according to the norms. But the dealing is supposed to be between the two parties, not between RURA and each of them.

That means that if there were any other provider who also meets the criteria or has a license, they would be free to switch between Yego Innovision and that provider as well.

What if another taxi cooperative or other taxi drivers don’t want to work with Yego Innovision, do they have an alternative?

Well, if they don’t want to work with Supplier X, then they would look for Supplier Y, who also meets what RURA requires in that sector.

Are there other suppliers?

As of now, I don’t think there is one but for motorcycles we have one who is doing exactly what Yego Innovision is doing, and that is Pascal Technology.

RURA is not going after a taxi driver who is not using Yego services?

Well, not someone who is not using Yego services but someone who is not using a meter because using a meter is compulsory. If there is an alternative, he could use it.

It happens that it is only Yego that is offering the taxi meter services. If they were multiple, they could choose. For instance, for the previous meters which were abandoned, there were three operators, which means they had to choose any of those.

Can RURA punish any driver who does not use a taxi meter?

Yes, because it is compulsory to have it.

So what are the fines?

The fines are Rwf200,000 for not using it. This means that they have to use the meter all the time. We have compelled them many times to use them but definitely fines will come into force.

Is this requirement of taxi fare metre only applying in Kigali or it also applies to taxis countrywide?

It requires all taxi cabs countrywide but apparently, because the available operator (Yego) is able to cover Kigali only, the others are still using the old version meters. But the moment the supplier is able to cover other areas or if we get other suppliers, then we will also ask others to comply.

You talked of the law that requires all taxis to have meters, tell me more about that law.

It is a regulation that defines how passenger transport is carried out in Rwanda and it comes up with the rights of the operators who are doing that business, how they are protected, and the obligations they have to passengers.

It is a kind of regulation to make sure that there is fairness between passengers and operators themselves.

You are aware that there was a contract between drivers’ associations and Yego Innovision. Is that contract between the two still valid?

Yes it is valid because it was signed between the two parties. What happened in one of the consultations is that drivers, through their associations, raised their concern to RURA that there are some sections of the articles that they think Yego Innovision should change and RURA agreed to look into that and this is because RURA as a regulator has to protect interest of those who are licensed.

A license comes with obligations and rights. If a licensee says that there is something bothering him or her, the regulator has to look into it. One of the things that they were complaining about was that the contract says, if there is a dispute, it has to be settled in English.

We told them Rwanda has three official languages so that should not be a problem and should be corrected but even if it is not corrected the concerned departments are still looking at it but that should not be a problem to them. We are reviewing it to make sure that it doesn’t attract any dispute.

That contract says that 10.5 per cent of the paid service has to be a commission for the technology company; do you think they are fair with this?

Looking at the best practices, they are fair compared to other similar technologies. I think the minimum is 15 per cent, others charge 25 per cent and that comes with just the application but nothing else.

This 10.5 per cent comes with a meter, an application, a 24/7 call centre, internet to power the meter and bank transaction charges plus the profit of the provider.

Do the drivers pay the price for the meter? Some of them claim to be paying Rwf 200,000.

No, they do not pay anything because the cost of the meter itself is embedded in the 10.5 per cent and they could replace it anytime as long as it is not working.

Do you think this requirement for the meter usage is going to increase the price for taxi fares?

Because of the way the system has been working, the fares are going to reduce because they were over charging depending on the need for instance if they see that you are on a hurry they charge you more.

People who are going at the airport, they charge them a minimum of Rwf10,000. Yet if you are going nearby, you should be charged around Rwf3,000 or Rwf5,000. Therefore, meters are coming to regulate the fare.

Some people were being charged basing on the skin colour, how true is that?

Definitely, the system has not been fair, if you are not Rwandan, or of different skin colour or if you are not used to Kigali, you could be charged higher.

There are allegations that drivers are required to have their meters on even when they are off duty, is that true?

That is a misconception; meters help to facilitate them in transaction and to pair them with the passenger. If they are off duty, why do they need a meter to be on? A meter should be on only if they are available for hire and that means they are able to be connected to passengers.

Being on does not mean that the meter is charging anything. The meter only starts charging if the driver starts the trip and he is able to control that. If he knows he has a passenger that is when he starts the trip.

When the passenger reaches his or her destination, the driver has to stop the meter.

The perception that when a driver is taking his family to church or travelling upcountry or taking his family to hospital is charged, is it true?

That is not true because we are aware that most drivers own one car and the car serves as a source of income, which is why we allow them to use them for personal errands. However, some drivers use that chance to make the trip commercial.

This is why we need to investigate to know really if the trip was commercial or a personal errand.

Drivers are complaining that this system is sort of an exploitation, how is RURA protecting drivers from potential exploitation in this contract they have signed?

A licensee usually has two things on the license, which are; obligations to meet all the requirements that are set by the regulator and there are also rights to be protected for his business to be sustainable.

It is our mandate to protect divers from any exploitation.

Why are they complaining?

They are complaining because this is coming with visibility. Different institutions will see how much they are earning and there are consequences for that.

If they have been evading taxes, it is not going to happen anymore. Visibility is a threat to some of them.

Do you have any update on Uber and Little cab regarding their entry to the Rwandan market?

We usually don’t discuss specific applicants’ details. But Uber has applied although they have not met the license requirements. The moment they meet the requirements, they will start operating.

Is there a possibility that they will meet the necessary requirements in the future?

RURA is open for any operator, when they meet the requirements they are welcome on the Rwandan market.

Anything else you would like to say on this topic that you never got a chance to?

I would like to inform taxi cab drivers that RURA as a regulator is here for their interests and the interests of the whole eco-system. Whenever there is regulation about a system that is coming up, it means RURA has first tested it for the benefits of the entire eco-system.

Therefore, they should not try to stay away from the requirement. If they have any challenges, they should come to RURA and then we discuss the challenges and after perfecting them the entire system benefits.