1 January 2012

Ethiopia: City Bus to Send Team Abroad to Study GPS, Electronic Ticketing

Managers at the Anbessa Bus Transport Enterprise have received positive nod from the company's board of directors two weeks ago to send a team of four overseas to study the electronic ticketing method and how global positioning system (GPS) technology could be deployed in their buses for fleet tracking.

But, managers have yet to agree which country to visit, although India seems to be the likeliest choice, according to Bedlu Assefa, general manager of Anbessa. Hong Kong, South Korea, and South Africa are also strong candidates, he told Fortune.

Electronic ticketing is a system where users pay by scanning an automated rechargeable fare card on an electronic reader installed inside buses. GPS technology provides users and service providers with information on bus location and is widely used in public transportation systems in developed countries.

Anbessa had plans to acquire such technology in its 2011/12 budget and earmarked a ballpark figure of 10 million Br. However, the amount that the Enterprise will end up spending on procuring the technology will depend on the findings of its survey, says the general manager.

The budgeted amount represents less than 1.5pc of the Enterprise's 780 million Br budget earmarked for the fiscal year 2011/12.

Anbessa covers part of its budget from the revenues it generates, while it is one of the public companies highly subsidised (17pc) by the city administration. The city government took over the Enterprise from the Privatisation & Public Enterprises Supervising Agency (PPESA) in 2011.

To implement an electronic ticketing system, the Enterprise will have to install card readers on all of its 450 vehicles, a server that keeps data on tickets sold and settles accounts at the head office in Yeka District, and card recharging centres at the four bus terminals in Megenagna, Menelik Square, Merkato, and La Gare.

Anbessa plans to use the GPS system in order to track buses en route, getting information about their location at any point in time, including whether they are operational. It has 98 regular routes and an additional 14 routes during peak hours from 6:00am to 9:00am and from 4:00pm to 8:00pm, mornings and evenings, respectively. GPS devices will have to be installed on each vehicle and monitored at the head office. Screens will provide computerised information on at terminals, notifying customers of a bus's status.

Although the Enterprise had presented a draft preliminary survey to its board of directors after informally trying to gather information from the Addis Abeba Information Communication & Technology Agency (ICTA) and the Information Network & Security Agency (INSA), a more detailed study was needed, it decided, as the technology is new for the country.

"We have to get more hands-on knowledge of what will work in Ethiopia," Bedlu told Fortune. "Our survey will not just be based on literature."

How much the trip will cost is yet unknown, but the team will comprise of four members, including Bedlu and two others from the Enterprise as well as a delegate from the city administration's ICTA, the general manager disclosed.

Since its announcement to acquire these technologies almost three months ago, the Enterprise has been approached by companies such as Hong Kong-based Tap-to-Pay Limited, the Chinese Ego Go, and local-based DH Micro, for the supply of the necessary equipment, Bedlu disclosed.

"Once we have done our survey and decide on what to buy, we will float an open tender for the supply of the technologies," he told Fortune.

Acquiring these technologies will transform the way the Enterprise, which has passed through different business models since its establishment in 1943, does business.

Not all commuters are excited about the new technologies that the Enterprise is trying to embrace, such as people like Gudu Negash, 56, a security guard who takes Number 75 from Kazanchise terminal to Beklo Bet area.

"It does not make much difference to me whether the ticketing is electronic or not, if the price remains the same," said Gudu, whose daily sojourn at 6:30am costs him 1.50 Br.

That view may change, for managers at the Enterprise are contemplating offering discounts on fares for commuters willing to pay in advance to use the electronic payment system, although both the manual and electronic modules will continue side-by-side for some time in order to wean people off the current system, disclosed the general manager.

"The electronic ticketing system will be uniform," Bedlu told Fortune. "If there are people who want to pay as they travel, the existing system will still be functional."

Such decisions will keep the jobs of ticketing officers such as Denkinesh Eshetu unchanged. Although yet to be briefed by her superiors about the changes to be made in the company that she has been employed at for 14 years, Denkinesh, 38, mother of five, learned about it through the media. Serving on bus Number 45 - with routes from La Guare to Dil Ber, around Simien Mazegaja - she does not think electronic ticketing will affect her job.

"The sense is that they will still keep us around," said Denkinesh, whose monthly salary grew from 168 Br to the 1,059 Br she earns now. "We usually run out of coins. If some people use the electronic payment system, it would help this problem."

If it does put her out of a job, though, the veteran ticket controller will accept what comes, she says.

The management is reassuring the job security of the 680 conductors the company currently employs.

"We will still need the ticket controllers to monitor passengers who scan cards and to help them refill the cards at the recharging terminals," Bedlu told Fortune.

Not informed of the Enterprise's latest efforts, Gudu, the commuter, is nonetheless appreciative of what he heard the GPS will provide.

"It will be pleasantly convenient to know when a bus is arriving or if it is delayed," he said.

Anbessa City Bus was a share company owned by Emperor Haile Selassie and members of the royal family upon its founding, before it was nationalised in 1974. It came to be a public enterprise only after it was re-established in 1994. The Enterprise's management now reports to a nine-member board of directors, chaired by Motuma Mekassa, cabinet affairs head of the mayor's office.

Anbessa has recently begun to acquire buses assembled locally by the Metal & Engineering Corporation, a newly established military industrial complex of the Ethiopian government. It has included in its fleet 180 of these locally assembled buses known as Bishoftu Buses, bearing the town's name where the assembly plant is located. Eight of these buses are in Jima, although Anbessa only operates in Addis Abeba and special zones of Oromia Regional State.

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