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Cashless pros and cons

Geraldine Panapasa
Monday, October 30, 2017

THERE have been a lot of mixed reactions to the new cashless system for transportation on public buses ever since the electronic-ticketing system came into effect on October 1.

The more than $6 million initiative is a government regulated fare payment system that now requires the travelling public to pay their bus fare through electronic means.

From October 1 this year, passengers on public buses will no longer be allowed to pay their bus fare using cash. Cash fare will be completely replaced with an electronic ticketing system.

Therefore, all passengers travelling on public buses will need to register for an eTransport card and have these cards pre-loaded with electronic value to travel on public buses.

The system was introduced to ensure there was transparency and accountability, among other reasons, between bus operators and bus drivers as well as allow for the accurate calculation of taxes through near real-time data to ensure operators were paying the correct taxes.

Vodafone Fiji outlets and agents have been on their toes to meet the demand for bus cards as thousands of people depend on public service transportation to get around.

A week before the implementation of the cashless system for bus transportation, more than 450,000 people had already registered for the eTransport initiative and at the time, 66 bus operators had agreed to provide the service.

The new system was made compulsory despite concerns from some members of the travelling public about the lack of awareness and consultation.

Some of these concerns were raised by members of the public at the 8th Parliament Speaker's Debate, which focused on the theme "Is Fiji's Transport System Working?" at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on October 2.

There were concerns about the many teething problems that popped up soon after the implementation of the cashless system — claims about faulty machines and eTransport cards, drivers overcharging commuters, passengers being denied entry, as well as concerns about refunds, accessibility, convenience and even the possibility of implementing a cash and card system for bus travel.

Minister for Transport Parveen Kumar was one of the panellists at the forum and urged commuters to be patient as they sought to find solutions to the teething problems.

"All bus operators are responsible for eticketing but at the same time, we all have to work together," he said during debate. People who have been overcharged will be refunded. There has to be a refund, that bus company has to (give the) refund — there are no two ways about it.

"Whenever there is a change, there will be teething problems, we all have to understand that. We have given the bus operators time to rectify all these issues."

Mr Kumar also made it clear that the initiative had been passed by Parliament and refuted claims about the lack of public awareness and consultation.

"One of the reasons for eticketing is because bus operators were complaining about revenue," he said.

"When we talk about upgrading buses, they complain about revenue so we brought up the eticketing (initiative) so that there is fairness and accountability," Mr Kumar said.

Fiji Bus Operators Association president Richard Lal said it was sad to note that there was a culture of dishonesty in the industry and it was one of the hardest things bus companies had to deal with.

"You'll be surprised to learn that some 25 per cent of normal bus fares go into pilferage so we are trying to capture that so we can do better services and provide better buses," Mr Lal said at the forum.

"It may help us give a better quality of life to the workers in this business by giving them better wages."

On the contrary, some bus commuters think the "Government folks are not listening and out of touch" as opposed to thinking from the perspective of the consumers and the impact the eTransport system has had on their lives since its implementation.

Johnny Tui, a resident in Suva, said it was almost as if they (Government) just listened to the corporates so they can get more money.

He said transparency and accountability in the bus industry were issues for the bus companies to fix and not the travelling public.

"The bus cards are great. There is nothing wrong with bus cards. It's just that the implementation was not well thought out," he shared.

"But there are a few points I'd like to raise like why isn't it a simple tap on and tap off system? If they would like to make certain things compulsory, they can make consumers tender the exact change when they pay their fare.

"For example, in Hawaii, they don't have the usual coin collecting box that the bus drivers here have. They have a locked box that can only be opened at the depot.

"And do you know that some drivers may have also found a way around the system? So they are still stealing from the bus companies.

"They've been swiping their own card and they take the money from customers who don't have a bus card," he claimed.

Lily Kay, a parent from the Capital City, is a regular bus commuter who said bus services in her area had been irregular ever since the eticketing system was introduced.

Bus commuters in Wairua, Tamavua have also felt the pinch of irregular bus services. On more than one occasion since the eTransport system was implemented, bus services in the mornings have been irregular. Schoolchildren and the elderly are seen by the roadside as early as 6am and if the 7.30am bus does not come, many have had to walk up the steep long winding road to catch passing buses on the main Princes Rd.

"I also find it cumbersome to keep topping up ... Cards are such a nuisance to keep remembering. I have to remember to top up my kids cards too … like mine's not enough," Ms Kay said.

Another parent, May Yali, said her children used to pay 35 cents when catching the school bus but when they used the card system, they paid a few extra cents.

"When their card is swiped, it costs a few extra cents, sometimes even 56c. If they miss the school bus, it's more than that — usually 70c and even $1."

The eTransport system has been in place for about a month now and will still take some getting used to.

This means commuters must ensure they have sufficient funds in their cards before travel, inform drivers of their destination before tapping on the machine and collect receipts for travel in case you've been charged the wrong fare.

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