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Economy

Cashless matatu fares roll-out flops yet again

Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said the government needs to give PSV operators time to harmonise their systems. PHOTO | FILE
Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said the government needs to give PSV operators time to harmonise their systems. PHOTO | FILE 

The anticipated launch of card payments for public service vehicle (PSVs) fares flopped yet again amid claims that the receipting systems designed by rival financial service companies were not inter-operable.

The PSVs reverted to cash payments on Tuesday afternoon after a chaotic morning in which commuters were not allowed to board buses from Kencom, Ambassadeur and GPO without the cards.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) chairman Lee Kinyanjui was non-commital on the next step the regulator would take after the failure of the pilot, which was seen as the precursor to a city-wide roll-out of the system.

“We are operating on a timetable that was given by the operators and we can’t keep pushing the dates forward,” he said in an interview.

“These are short-term challenges. But these should not outweigh the long-term goals.”

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The Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said the government needs to give PSV operators time to harmonise their systems.

“The biggest problem is that the government wants to give directives and deadlines. But the only way this can succeed is if the operators are given time. To get such a system running properly could take as many as four years,” he said in an interview.

Some commuters were confused about how they were expected to activate their cards and opted to rush to Railways bus station to board other vehicles that were not targeted in the pilot launch.

“I’m headed to the Nairobi Hospital and this delay will make me miss the visiting hours so I’d rather just go to railways,” said a commuter, Ms Vivian Wangari.

Matatu owners at the bus stops complained that they were suffering massive losses due to the customer flight.

The bus conductors claimed the cashless system was prone to frequent failures.

“In other cases, a customer boards with a card that has no money loaded into it. You can’t let them travel free so they pay cash,” said Jonathan Mburu, a conductor.

Proof of inter-operability of the payment cards was a key licensing condition set by the Central Bank of Kenya.

But some financial institutions, mainly banks are said to have questioned the level of security of the cards. The banks claimed they could not handle payments from cards that are not EMV-based (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) a global standard that is said to be more secure.

Mr Kimutai said are fears that banks may be locking out players whose cards are not EMV-based.

The payment cards providers are competing for a piece of the Sh2.1 billion to be realised annually for processing fare payments for PSV operators calculated at a flat commission rate of one per cent.

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