NTSA plans mandatory cashless fare payment

It will soon be illegal to pay bus fare with cash as the government makes another attempt at digitizing payments in the Sh200billion matatu sector.

The National Transport and Safety Authority, NTSA has begun the work of registering service providers to offer cashless payment systems to matatu operators across the country.

The move comes even as new infections for the COVID 19 coronavirus continue to be recorded with the NTSA looking to launch a contact tracing app with the new regulations.

“Pursuant to section 30(2) of the NTSA Act, 2012, the authority plans to introduce mandatory use of cashless payment for all public service vehicles (PSV),’ said the NTSA in a public notice.

“The cashless payment system will also provide a platform for deployment of an effective contact tracing (passenger manifest) application to support the government’s effort in addressing the coronavirus pandemic,” said the notice.

Contact tracing apps use Bluetooth technology to notify smartphone users when they are in the vicinity of someone who has been exposed to COVID 19.

Several governments across the world including China, South Korea, and Germany have developed nation-wide contact tracing apps as a means of fighting the spread of the virus even as experts caution about their effectiveness.

“Unfortunately, the science of how COVID-19 transmits remains unsettled, as is often the case in emergent epidemics,” said Sean McDonald, a policy analyst at the Center for International Governance. “As a result, contact tracers are left casting a wide net.”

“In countries where new technology for contact tracing has been employed with some success, such as in South Korea and Singapore, this technology is mostly experimental and in addition to work carried out by human contact tracers,” explains McDonald.

The rollout of a contact-tracing app by the NTSA is likely to raise questions over the state agency’s capacity to manage a complex system with significant implications to Kenyans’ personal data.

In February the NTSA was accused of overstepping its mandate through the draft Operation of Digital Hailing Operators Regulations, 2019.

Among the proposals in the new law was to have taxi-hailing operators like Uber, Little and Taxify submit to NTSA a list of all the drivers on their staff as well as a data security policy that ensures protection of the drivers’ and passengers’ personal information.

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, KNBS, the number of 14-seater matatus in the country last year stood at 47,183, with mini-buses (15-33 seater) and buses (34 and above seaters) standing at 8,969 and 7,786 respectively.

Matatu Owners Association boss Samuel Kimutai welcomed the move to make cashless payments mandatory saying the government should first consult sector players and develop a robust legislative framework.

“We have tried this in the past but there was no proper legislative policy to support our efforts,” said Mr. Kimutai. “Matatu owners lose the most from corruption in the sector. We need to be included in the discussions to ensure we have competent service provides who will not take exorbitant commissions.”