The push to streamline public transport through automation and cashless payments a year ago was welcomed by many. Passengers were hopeful that the introduction of innovations like the smart card-based fare payment solution would translate into lower public transport fares in the city.
Last year, the Ministry of Youth and ICT (MYICT), in conjunction with Kigali City public transport operators and Olleh Rwanda Networks, rolled out an initiative to provide wireless internet on public transport buses.
The initiative was expected to scale up broadband adoption in the country under Smart Kigali Initiative.
However, nearly 10 months since it was first launched, passengers are crying foul over cases of inconsistency, and illegal high costs.
They say, the transport fares have not only been increased thanks to the introduction of free WiFi, but the communication tool in buses is often on and off.
“It has come to our notice that we are actually being charged an extra Rwf30 for using the so called free WiFi on city buses,” Eric Mutangana, a resident of Nyamirambo a Kigali City suburb, told Business Times adding that the introduction of the Tap&Go smart payment solution, by AC Group has only made the internet fares mandatory.
It means whether you browse the internet or not, you will pay since deductions are made using the smart card, he added.
Emelyne Mbarushimana, another passenger says, that public transport fares went up immediately after the introduction of these innovations; “and we are wondering why technologies and innovations that are supposed to help reduce the cost of public transport are actually responsible for its increment,” she asked.
After the introduction of what was seen as an efficient communication and monitoring tool (Free WiFi in city buses), transport fares along Kigali- Kabuga route increased from Rwf350 to Rwf380, likewise other routes followed, raising concerns from the public why the internet was in first place introduced on the buses.
“We expected a further reduction in transport fares which was not the case,” Mbarushimana said.
The idea of having internet on the buses was to facilitate the ease of doing business and communication in the most efficient and affordable manner; but not using the tools to milk money from commuters,” Theogene Mushimiyimana, a commuter told Business Times. Buses that currently have wireless belong to Kigali Bus Services, Royal Express and Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperative (RFTC).
Bus operators speak out
However, according to Charles Ngarambe, the KBS executive director, the idea of having internet in buses is to facilitate social development;
“And we always put the commuters’ interests first,” Ngarambe noted adding that bus operators don’t want to keep changing fares even when fuel prices go up.
“For- example, in the past fuel prices went up and we never increased the prices, equally when the fares went down by a small margin, we decided to use the drop to meet other costs including internet,” he said.
Ngarambe says that commuters should not mix the use of smart cards with internet facility.
“The cards are there to support efforts to promote a cashless economy but also to facilitate the ease of collecting payments in the industry….And we will ensure the internet is up and running all the time,” he said adding that the company has a team of inspectors who ensure that everything is up and running.
RURA speaks out
Meanwhile, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) has reassured public transport users that the introduction of internet services in public transport had nothing to do with price increment but rather to facilitate ease of communication and monitoring of buses.
Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, RURA’s head of transport department said the WiFi component in public buses has many components that commuters are paying for.
“The facility is not only meant for browsing; but as part of the internet solution, we are using it as a monitoring and regulatory tool to easily manage these buses and the way they operate around the city,” he said adding that the utility body cannot increase prices without consulting with all stake holders including representatives of the commuters.
Smart Card inventors clarify
According to Patrick Buchana, the chief executive officer, AC Group, the Tap&Go smart payment solution is mainly for automation of public transport payment systems. Buchana notes the firm does not provide the internet but also helps operators collect their money as agreed in the contract.
“The idea is to try and ease revenue collection for bus operators; he said adding that the system has ability to monitor the location of the bus, its speed and information about passengers’ onboard, data that is critical in streamlining the sector.”
“The system is designed to benefit the Rwandan economy as it seeks to support the country’s efforts to become a cashless economy,” Buchana noted.
There are currently three public transport operators in the City of Kigali – Kigali Bus Services (KBS), Rwanda Federation of Transport Co-operatives (RFTC) and Royal Express – as part of efforts to streamline public transport system in the city under the Kigali Transportation Master Plan that was unveiled in 2013.
In November last year, RURA increased public transport fares for both passenger commuter buses and taxi cabs.
On public buses, the fare increased by two francs to Rwf20 per kilometre on Kigali city routes and to Rwf19 from Rwf18 per kilometre on upcountry routes.
Katabarwa, said at the time, the new fares were to ensure the operators recoup their investments and also get some profit.
RURA also set the basic fare for taxi cabs at Rwf1,500 for the first kilometre and Rwf500 for every extra kilometre covered.
The fare for airport taxis was set at Rwf2,500 for the first kilometre, an increase of Rwf700, and for every extra kilometre, the passenger will incur Rwf600.
The utility body fares will be valid for a period of two years except if the fuel exceeds Rwf959 or goes below Rwf817 per litre, according to RURA.
With the new fares also came a directive that public transport operators in Kigali install WiFi on all buses and coasters.