Plans to extend the ‘Smart Kigali’ initiative to city public transport sector have hit a snag following failure by operators and the regulator to acquire the required equipment to facilitate the switchover.
City public transport service providers were supposed to switch to automated fare collection services (using smart cards) by the beginning of this month, according to a roadmap by the operators and the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).
Three firms – Kigali Bus Services (KBS), Rwanda Federation of Transport Co-operatives (RFTC), and Royal Express – were awarded a five-year deal to provide public transport services in 2013 under the new Kigali Transportation Master Plan. They were from the onset expected to gradually embrace ICTs, including automated ticketing, for better service delivery.
Three months ago, the three firms had vowed to start using electronic payment systems (smart cards) on all their buses by the beginning of the month (September) as part of solutions to the public transport woes, and also support government’s plan of a cashless economy.
However, operators and regulators have said the implementation of the initiative may now take months, but said they are in advanced stages to have the new fare collection system in place by December.
Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, the head of transport department at RURA, told Business Times last week that they are currently procuring a contractor to supply the required equipment, adding that they are also assessing costs and funds needed for the project.
“We are also still in the process of harmonising the system so that a passenger can be able use one smart card across all three firms...It is not an easy process as one can think.
“Operators at first thought they would do everything themselves, but they were overwhelmed, and that’s why RURA had to come in,” he explained.
Katabarwa added that RURA is prioritising the use of smart cards on public buses to have the system running as soon as possible.
Passengers have been complaining about delays on the road by city commuter buses, with some saying the fare collection mode being used currently is outdated for a city that is looking to automate most of the systems in near future. Under the ‘Smart Kigali’ initiative, the city authority promotes switch to ICT-enabled operations to ease and improve service delivery across all sectors of the economy.
Drivers claim that they delay at bus stops to pick more passengers and fail to meet the daily quota of money required by the employers.
“I have daily requirements to make over Rwf130,000; if I fail to make the money, the shortfall will be deducted from my salary,” said an RFTC driver on the downtown-Nyamirambo route.
This driver said automated fare collection system will be a big relief since the drivers will no longer be tasked to make given amounts of money daily.
“I never receive my full salary and the same applies to my colleagues. Nobody receives full salary, not even for a single time, from January to December because of those deductions,” he said.
We are ready for smart cards
Nilla Muneza, the managing director of Royal Express, said the operators are ready to switch to smart card use whenever RURA concludes the deal with the devices’ supplier, adding that he was optimistic the system will be working by December.
Emmanuel Ngabo, the operations manager at KBS, said the firm has already put in place all the necessary facilities to embrace the new fare collection system.
Anitha Mukamusoni, the executive secretary of RFTC, said they are working closely with RURA to fast-track the use of smart cards.
E-fare collection long over due
A KBS driver said he was forced to quit his job at one of the other bus operators after he accumulating over Rwf300,000 in salary deductions “due to failure to collect money required daily”.
“The use of smart cards will save us from these ‘debts’ and unfair treatment by employers.”
Another KBS driver, who operates on the Nyabugogo-Remera route, claimed that bus firms are reluctant to switch “because they are making a lot of money at our expense.”
The story is same in Royal Express, with one of the firm’s drivers sharing similar concerns. He said the use of smart cards will relieve him from the pressure of daily cash requirements.
Mixed reactions from commuters
City commuters said though they will embrace the new system, they are worried the smart card might be too expensive for them.
“Smart card may solve problems in the city transport sector. The delays we face with conductors collecting fares when passengers are disembarking will cease with e-fare collection,” said Christine Kabatesi, who commutes daily on the downtown-Gikondo route.
Odette Murekatete, a regular commuter on the downtown-Kimironko route, said the initiative is good, but added that “we need more buses and less traffic jams.”
“I often spend an hour queuing for a bus and another hour on the way from home to work and vice versa. I am also worried that most of us won’t afford the smart cards,” Murekatete said.
However, Nilla Muneza, the managing director of Royal Express, allayed the fears, saying passengers will receive smart cards at no charge and they will only have to load on money for use.