AC Group, a technology company that is providing smart transport solutions in Rwanda is fast revolutionising the transport system in Rwanda.
Today, with the Tap&Go card by AC Group, one no longer has to spend hours queuing at the bus stop or tussle it out for change with bus conductors.
The card-based automated fare collection system for public transport in Kigali was launched last year and has since replaced the use of cash on public transport buses.
The city’s three bus operators, Kigali Bus Services, Royal Transport Services and Rwanda Federation of Transport Companies (RFTC) have all embraced the system and AC Group is looking to get the entire city public transport entirely cashless by mid-this year.
So how did it all start?
Patrick Buchana, the founder and chief executive officer of AC Group, told the Hope Magazine this month that being a smart card solution provider in Rwanda, they looked for the pain points in the transport system and found that bus operators were losing up to 40% of their revenue to fraud due to cash handling on buses.
"For very long, bus operators couldn’t properly monitor how many people have actually moved on the bus that day without an automated system and faced a lot of fraud with cash exchanging many hands before getting to the operators,” he said and continued, “Passengers also faced a lot of delays at bus stops without a proper bus fleet management system in place.”
He said they sat with the bus operators and tried to find a lasting solution to these problems.
“The solution we are providing is tailored to fit our local market which we have done well in collaboration with all key stakeholders (Government, the commuters and the bus operators),” Buchana noted.
“When we were building the smart transport solution that we have today, we were majorly focusing on giving a commuter the best public transport experience. AC Group spent a lot of time on the pilot trying to provide a better reliable and customized urban transport system, which in turn makes the Kigali city have faster, more efficient traffic management, improved traffic flow and faster commutes,” he said.
AC Group has a very competent team that is working on the system components, the software and the on ground operators.
Buchana and his team carried out a pilot for eight months that helped them understand what they were dealing with and how to overcome certain huddles.
Today, more than 70,000 commuters have the Tap&Go cards and Buchana noted they are targeting at having more than 120,000 by the end of this month.
How does one use the Tap&Go?
With Tap&Go, one purchase a card, tops it up from any of AC Group’s mobile agents in the taxi park and at bus stops or any e-Sale agent that sells cash-power in neighbourhoods.
Soon, Buchana said people will be able to top it up using mobile money, Tigo Cash and Airtel Money as well as mobile banking.
With the card topped up, one can board in half the time they used to board previously and enjoy a more efficient transport system. To date, there’re over 200 Automated Fare Collection (AFC) machines fitted in the public transport buses.
What happens to the bus conductor?
It is hoped switching to a card-only system, will not only improve efficiency on Kigali's public transport but help operators recoup the money lost with traditional cash payments.
However, part of the fears of many is that many conductors, employed by the bus operators are losing their jobs because the new system removes the need to hire bus conductors.
Buchana has a counter argument to this.
“The conductors haven’t been laid off. Instead we are re-training and hiring them as Tap&Go inspectors, many of whom operate on streets and at bus stops throughout Kigali.”
With over 85 people employed by AC Group so far, Buchana noted that it all about combing efforts to give commuters an all-round experience, every day.
"We are heading for a brighter transport system," Buchana noted
By replacing cash and receipt payments with a contactless card that can be topped by using mobile and bank payment channels, AC Group is contributing towards creating a cash light transport system that in turn contributes towards the building of a cashless society.
Operators speak out
Charles Ngarambe, the Chairman of Kigali Bus Services said that the use of smart cards not only saves revenue for them and time for the commuters, but also protects the environment as they no longer print paper tickets littering the city.
Anita Mukamusoni, the RFTC Secretary General noted that they are going to start working with AC Group this month and are optimistic the system will create efficiencies for them.
“Our goal is to have our passengers save time boarding the buses or looking for change by using the cards,” she said.
AC Group Future prospects
As the information around us becomes ever denser, access to high quality facts has gained increasing importance.
The government of Rwanda has been a key partner in building cashless and smart city and with their support; AC Group is tending towards building an integrated and intelligent transport system. Bus scheduling and timing, sensors and cameras that are integrated into the fare payment channels are the next in line towards the end of this year and leading towards building a smart transport system that works in Rwanda but also easily exported to other emerging economies and cities.
“AC Group smart transport solution will evolve towards the adoption of new paradigms like, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), and a system-based demand-response approach to optimize the entire transportation system,” Buchana closed.
What Tap&Go users say…
Martin Karegeya, student
The smart card really helps me to save compared to using cash to pay for my fare to school. On a daily, I move from my home in Gisozi to Kabeza which would not have been cheap if I was paying using cash. I top up the money on my card every week and get to enjoy the discounts.
Immaculate Ingabire, Kigali resident
The card helps me in saving time when it comes to boarding the bus during rush hours because those who have cards are allowed to board faster unlike those who don’t have cards and are forced to queue up and pay with cash.
Djouma Hakizimana, trader
With the card, I don’t have to go through the stress of giving the conductor money to look for change after deducting the fare. I just tap my card of the AFC reader and go.
Djouma Karegeya, resident
The card has been a real life saver for me in terms of time and money saved when I get to board the buses. And now that all three bus operators in Kigali are using the system, I am able to use my card on any of the buses.