WITH all the fuss surrounding the new bus e-ticketing system, it was decided that I had to go through the system myself to see how much of it works and how much of it will be sheer frustration to the uninitiated.
So off I went to the Vodafone shop at the Triangle in Suva to get myself a new bus e-ticket with questions in my mind, coupled with a wee bit of suspicion.
My suspicions proved to be correct because they wanted me to register as a Vodafone customer, which means I had to give them my personal information in order to buy a bus e-ticket.
All this for bus fare!
It was certainly a hassle because I had to give my personal information just to pay for a bus ride.
Good thing though they didn't ask me to include a passport sized photo which would have meant another trip to the photographer's.
I just can't get over the fact on why we need to register our personal details with Vodafone when all I am doing is simply paying for my bus fare.
Why can't it be like the Telecom Fiji recharge cards or even Vodafone or Digicel recharge cards where we don't need to divulge our personal information?
It just does not fit the bill because I believe the only people who really need our personal details is the taxman, and all other important institutions in our lives, and of course, registering for a mobile phone. But for a bus ticket? I reckon that's stretching it a bit too far.
A quick scan of the form revealed that they have a special section for students, which means that all those who receive bus fare subsidies like the school students, disabled and the elderly, will now need to have their own e-ticket cards.
The total number of people who receive bus fare concessions number more than 30,000, yet they are all covered on procedures on how to fill their registration forms with Vodafone.
Anyway I had to pay $2 for the card alone which has zero dollars by the way. And then fork out another $5 to fill it up. It all depends on the customer and how much top up they want for their cards, with $5 being the minimum amount you can recharge with.
Altogether, I started off spending $7 to register, get myself a new card and fill it up with bus fare.
And so my journey began.
My card has an expiry date of 2032 which means the card has a 20 year lifetime to it, but the very helpful salesperson at Foneology said the card does not expire.
I was among the many who took time out to register and pick up a bus e-ticket.
Then I found out that some drivers had lodged complaints with their companies saying how the card machines had been playing up.
Trying to get a comment from the Fiji Bus Operators Association only drew blanks as they referred all queries to Vodafone and the Land Transport Authority.
With my new card, I decided to take a bus ride to test the system and see how it works. And so, together with photographer Jone Luvenitoga, we walked down to the Suva bus stand.
Almost all the buses parked at the bus station are outfitted with the e-ticket machines. A quick check also revealed that some still had not.
Many of the bus drivers said they would use it later as their companies were yet to approve its use.
We spotted some LTA (Land Transport Authority) officers patrolling the bus stand area. A few quick queries and they told us they were there to monitor the buses and their compliance with the e-ticketing system and also keep a look out for bus defects.
We boarded a Suva bus. I told Jone not to worry about our bus fares, I was paying with my new e-ticket card!
So I thought up the logic that if I swipe twice I will be paying for both our fares, and of course thanks to the driver, he allowed me to do it.
I swiped twice and collected both tickets, and to my surprise both read that I had $4.30 balance left in my card. Which means the machine took only 70 cents - one person's bus fare.
The driver was baffled and he couldn't even offer an explanation. Nevertheless, he waved us off and said he would give us this ride free because now he had gained another understanding of how the e-ticketing system works.
Yay! I have beaten the system and got a free ride to go with it!
So that means, no more piggy backing on your friend who is offering to pay for your bus fare with his/her e-ticket.
If what we experienced proves to be true, then everyone needs to have their own cards. That includes you, your children, grandchildren and all of your relatives who will be using the bus to travel.
And according to government statistics, 60 percent of the travelling public use the bus as their main means of transportation.
So this 60 percent need to get their own e-tickets.
A debate raging on the Citizens Constitutional Forum Facebook forum raised the question of how the unemployed will not be able to cope with this system.
Scrolling through the various comments and sometimes heated arguments, only one thing emerged - no more can we just stand up and choke our bus fares from our parents, relatives and friends. We will need at least $7 to buy a card and if you already have a card, you need to keep at least $5 on hand at all times in case you need to recharge. If you want to choke, you can't choke just for a fifty cents or saqamoli. Now you will need to choke for a Kacau ($5).
Anyway, we got off in front of the Fiji National University's Samabula campus and walked up Princess Road to catch a bus back into town.
After our free bus ride in that bus I thought I would try it again, but to my disappointment this particular bus we boarded to return did not have an e-ticket machine installed.
So I had to fork out some coins for our bus fare. Lucky thing I had some coins on me, otherwise I would be stuck with just an e-ticket card, and nowhere to go.
I wonder, when will the system be completely cashless?