Tap&Go, a cashless payment solution for public transport in Kigali is no longer a family affair following a government directive limiting the number of people that can use the same bus card in a single payment.
Effective January 2019, if you have the Tap&Go card, it is not possible to swipe payment for yourself and others taking the same bus with you and whom you are responsible for.
From 2015 when the cashless bus fare solution was introduced, one person with the card could pay for as many people as they wished on the same journey. This was good especially for families.
Without Tap&Go, you will have trouble moving around Kigali as nearly all in-bound buses do not accept cash. You must buy a card from agents spread around the city.
It costs Rwf1,000 for which you get a Rwf 500 bonus that you can pay as bus fare. A one-way journey goes for up to Rwf 250.
However, you can load as much money as you want on the card.
All buses are fitted with a gadget at the entrance on which every passenger simply taps the card. The contact between the smart card and the bus gadget makes a sound as confirmation of payment. The process takes seconds!
The cashless solution was introduced by a local tech firm AC Group – which has also exported the same system to Cameroon.
All was well until beginning of January. The new changes have not gone down well with a public that had been enjoying the solution with excitement.
“I think they are requiring everyone to buy a card so they can sell out their stock of cards,” said Niyonsenga Protais.
“I have three sons, a daughter and my wife. It means I must buy six cards which we all have to carry even when travelling together! Besides, getting Rwf 6,000 to buy Tap&Go cards is not as simple as it sounds. These people are doing business but pretending to be helping the public.”
AC Group says the changes were advanced by industry regulator Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA).
“My understanding is the new mechanism was adopted for the safety of passengers and not influenced by sales,” said Eden Benimana, AC Group COO in charge of Tap&Go and Wi-Fi.
RURA for its part says it has recorded a large number of complaints from people who had lost the card or stolen – and the cash as well.
“Some people have been caught using fake Tap&Go cards,” said Tony Kuramba, the RURA spokesperson.
“The card needs to be treated as a personal permit. Just as one cannot share the national Identity Card and health insurance card, why should another similar personal item like a Tap&Go card be shared? We are trying to close any loopholes that fraudsters could use.”
Today, when you swipe the card at the bus entrance, it can only be used again after five minutes. It limits passengers swiping again for the next person since buses stop for less than that time-frame.
In addition, to get the Tap&Go card, a client is supposed to present national ID. Should you lose your card, it will be blocked from being used as soon as you report the case. The credit on the missing card can be transferred to the new one.
Similar cashless bus payments have been in operation for years in Europe and North America. Sweden and Denmark were the first countries.
Drivers’ Unions in Sweden pushed for end to handling cash from passengers fearing it made them targets from robbers. Keeping cash was declared a work environment hazard and thereby banned.
The difference with the local solution here is that there are multiple cashless payment choices in places like Sweden. You can either pay by quarterly card, phone, or one-way ticket – all of which are for tapping on the payment gadget inside the bus.
“I think people are complaining because they have no other choices,” said Mukangabo Merci, a Rwandan in Denmark. “Supposing I get onto the bus and find I have less cash on my card, shouldn’t another person am travelling with be able to pay for me. Is there any other way to get a bus?”