Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) is mulling over the possibilities of harnessing technology to streamline the country's public transport system.
And the regulator has taken bold steps towards bringing smart transport to Rwanda, with one of the latest innovations being automation of taxi-moto (commercial motorcyclists) fares.
Eng. Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, Head of Transport Regulation department at RURA, told The New Times that taxi-motos play a central role in public transport, thus the need to improve their operations.
RURA first announced that it would start to regulate taxi-moto fares in January. According to Asaba, the licensing of Yego Innovation Ltd - operators of Yego Moto App - to install their application into Kigali city taxi-motos, will help improve service delivery and make the industry safer.
"We have been introducing ICT in public transport as an enabler and that is why we thought that introducing similar innovations in taxi-moto business would improve service delivery," Asaba said.
Yego Moto's taximeter comes with a GPS and those two tools combined will enable the regulator and the user to perform different tasks, such as monitoring and paying through platforms like mobile money.
According to Asaba, the regulator and the developer of the app are already thinking of introducing other forms of electronic payment modes, such as visa cards or any other that would be convenient for most users.
"But the most important part of this innovation for now is that both passengers and taxi-moto operators can easily identify transport fare without negotiations." he added.
A mandatory app...
Asaba says that from previous experiences there are times when negotiations between a motorcyclist and a passenger were unfair to either party depending on who had lesser information about standard fares or the length of the journey.
According to the Rwanda National Police, some 50-60 complaints arising from the misunderstandings between passengers and commercial motorcyclists are recorded daily.
This informed the regulators' move to find a solution.
"We are bringing a system whereby a motorcyclist will charge money depending on the cost incurred and they get a small profit negotiated between the industry and the regulator," Asaba said.
He said the system is built in such a way that the motorcyclist's profit will range between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the cost incurred.
The GPS will also help in tracking motorcycles in case of security incidents, he said.
"We have had a few dishonest motorcycle operators; they snatch bags, or take off with your Rfw5000 without giving you the balance, some are involved in facilitating criminals," the RURA official said
He explained: "the reason most of these motorcyclists do such things is because they know it's not easy to trace them. But with the GPS we're able to locate where they are.
The meter also enables the regulator to identify a motorcycle that is speeding above set limit, according to Asaba. "We hope all this will help change the mindset and promote professionalism in this business."
He added that, with the new technology, a person is able to trace the nearest commercial motorcycle - in case of emergencies, including at night - and call it to pick them wherever they are.
"It will be in the form of taxi-hailing and it works once you have the application in your phone. You log in and see the nearest motorcycle. Once you click on it, you will receive its contact number and you will be able to call it to come pick you wherever you will be. This also has a GPS that enables the motorcyclist to trace where that passenger called from," he said.
There are about 30,000 'motos' in Rwanda. As of last month, about 15,000 'motos' were operating in Kigali, making about 350,000 trips per day and nearly a million trips in three days, according to Yego Innovation Ltd, operators of Yego Moto.
Asaba said 700 of the motorcycles are connected to Yego Moto App-which is currently running the smart innovation in taxi-motos in Kigali.
"However, there are two other companies which have shown in interest in investing in the industry. Once the regulator finds their system trustworthy they will be accredited. But RURA has accredited Yego Moto and it will become mandatory for taxi-motos to have it," he said.
What taxi-moto operators say
RURA is currently running sensitisation campaigns in the City of Kigali and other parts of the country to make sure that motorcyclists understand the benefits to the whole system.
"We don't want to push anyone. We want to educate the riders through their cooperatives and maybe after a month we will be able to launch the system. The plan is for the system to cover the whole country in nine months," Asaba explained.
The Yego Moto App is not "totally free" but the motorcyclists will be not paying anything to have the gadget installed on their motorcycles. However, once the developer has installed the meter a potion of the fare will go into meeting the cost.
RURA is currently working on harmonising the fares and that is why the system is still in trial phse, Asaba added.
Theoneste Kamali, who has been in the industry for about four years, says he installed the App about four months ago.
"Initially, we used to have a lot of issues with passengers when it came to payment. But this has since been resolved thanks to Yego Moto application," he said.
Kamali however said there are still challenges with some people who are reluctant to use the application, "but if you look at it very well, it is actually a win-win for both the passenger and the rider".
"The fact that it will streamline our operations and ensure safety of both the motorcyclist and the passenger is enough reason to adopt it. Passengers can also pay via mobile money. It is really helpful," he added.
Claude Bizimana, a taxi-moto operator who is yet to install the App, noted that he wouldn't mind installing it as long as the government sensitises people to use it.
"It is good that this App will help us know how much money we make through electronic transactions, the banks will now know how much we make and it will be easier to get loans."
Asaba said that only those that have been in this industry illegally or are using taxi-motos to facilitate criminals will not be happy with the changes.
The future of taxi-motos
There have been on-and-off rumors about a possible move to ban taxi-motos in the City of Kigali, but Asaba says that as long as the industry continues to employ a significant number of Rwandans and play a key role in the transport sector, the regulator can only streamline taxi-motor business.
"The public transport policy in Rwanda favours buses because they carry many people at once and are safer and more affordable. But for now we still need taxi-motos and they are not going anywhere soon. They employ many people, they take people where buses can't reach, but they come with challenges which we are trying to minimize," Asaba said.
He also noted that the regulator was "working hard to introduce a comprehensive smart transport system together with other government agencies so that people don't have to struggle to get where they want to go. In so doing, we will be reducing the number of private cars, which will help safeguard the environment."
With Germany car manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) set to build an assembly plant in Rwanda and introduce a car-sharing system, Asaba is optimistic that local bus operators and taxicab owners will improve their transport operations because they will be having a point of reference.