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Matatu industry travelling on right technology path

NEWS
By By MACHARIA KAMAU | Dec 2nd 2013 | 3 min read
By By MACHARIA KAMAU | December 2nd 2013
NEWS

By MACHARIA  KAMAU

KENYA: The matatu industry is on the path of embracing information and communication technology (ICT) to help in accountability, efficiency and earnings.

The public service vehicle (PSV) operators, just like counterparts in other industries are increasingly taking up different technology tools to help them manage their businesses as well as value add services that attract commuters to their matatus.

Prominent products offered include BebaPay – a prepaid commuter card by Google and Equity Bank – and Safaricom’s Vuma Online, which offers Wi-Fi on matatus.

Initially treated with apprehension and even thought to be unnecessary, the operators are now slowly warming up to the products.

Billy Gacheru a driver of a matatu plying Umoja-City Centre route has Vuma Online on his vehicle as a value added service and has seen an increase in the number of customers that he services daily.

“I have seen increase in passenger traffic. Having Wi-Fi in the matatu is a crowd puller… previously I used to take 30 minutes to fill up the matatu but nowadays it takes 10 minutes on average,” he said.

Gacheru has no problem paying Sh2 000 monthly connection fee, noting that he is able to recoup the money in a matter of days.

“Other operators might see it as expensive but I see value when I’m able to fill up the matatu fast especially during the off peak hours of between 10am and 3pm when traffic among passengers is really slow. I am able to make more round trips and recoup the money in a few days,” he said.

He however experiences challenges such as downtimes when passengers will not understand why the system is down.

Elijah Muriithi, proprietor of Unified Poa Matatus is also a convert of using ICT to run his fleet. He is among the 50 operators running a combined fleet of 350 vehicles that have taken up BebaPay by Google and Equity, a prepaid commuter card.  The card enables passengers to load money on their cards that is then deducted every time they use matatus that accept the card.

Swipe their cards

The PSV crew have specialised mobile phones using near field communication technology that enables users to swipe their cards on the phone for the transactions.

There are some matatus that have pulled the gadgets down after the promotional phase when they got Internet bundles for free was over.

Safaricom, however, notes that those taking up its Vuma Online product and paying the monthly connection fee are far more than those pulling them down or not paying the fee. It attracted 1, 500 vehicles between July and November against an initial target of 350.

The firm expects this number to grow three fold over the next six months and is now focusing on recruiting co-operatives and companies that operate matatu fleets.

According to Nzioka Waita, Safaricom’s corporate affairs director the bullish uptake has prompted the company to review the number of PSVs it is targeting to 5,000 by the end March 2014.

 Dorothy Ooko, Google’s communications and public affairs manager for East & Francophone Africa said the BebaPay solution is proving key in the reducing the amount of cash handled by both small businesses as well as individuals.

“The idea is that every small business can now reduce cashless payments and the associated risks (fraud and theft) by simply installing the BebaPay app on an android device,” she said, adding that money can be directly transferred to the business account without security issues

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