Consider all scenarios on e-ticketing

People may still be sore from the last time e-ticketing was introduced between 2013 and 2014. Results were not as shiny as expected back then and in fact when the e-ticketing operation was ceased, it left a big question mark.

However e-ticketing should not be misunderstood. It’s all for the recovery of millions of dollars which bus operators say could boost the industry and provide state-of-the art service for commuters.

So don’t be too alarmed with the fact that the Government will reintroduce the system in August this year because this time according to a report from the Fiji Bus Operators Association Convention 2017, serious consideration must take place. At least this time round we hope lessons learnt would be ironed out to minimise trial and error by all stakeholders involved.

Government and some bus operators wanted it, and telecommunication companies were keen to provide equipment.

Initially the Fiji Government began e-ticketing as a pilot project in 2011 in which four schools were selected. The project was first used by students assisted under government’s bus fare subsidy scheme.

Cabinet gave the green light and TFL was contracted to supply 100,000 electronic bus fare cards to be used by schoolchildren whose parents’ joint income was less than $15,000.

That deal turned sour amounting to more than $200,000 unaccounted funds according to the Auditor General’s Report 2012.

In 2013 Government opened e-ticketing to other telecommunication companies through the Land Transport Authority in which five expressed interests however one took the lead.

In January that year, people registered and paid $10 a card. An estimated 450,000 bus travellers and passengers were expected to pay a minimum of $5 to top up those cards. Those who lost their cards paid $15 for a replacement at the time. LTA supported this until the Attorney General’s office announced a reduction to $2 — only until March, 2013.

Many people invested money in these cards but some never got to use it.

What followed that year was a wave of confusion and inconsistency according to stories published earlier. Stories made headlines of passengers overcharged and bus drivers demanding cash instead of cards (March 2013), cards not working and dysfunctional machines.

Around this time LTA issued a public warning against drivers on the issue and also enforced operators to install the electronic device or cease operation.

The Fiji Times reported the LTA slapped $10,000 fines on bus companies that failed to comply with e-ticketing regulations. Some were issued with traffic infringement notices (TIN), and bus drivers were even fined up to $1000 for non-compliance. Penalised companies then signed a petition to the prime minister seeking a review of the e-ticketing system around May 2013.

Reports stated 1100 buses had installed machines and just under 50 did not have machines in their buses. The e-ticketing initiative was an attempt to recover about $7million that drivers were said to be pocketing annually, as reports by local media said. A grace period was granted and bus companies give more time until April 30 to install e-ticketing machines.

About this time more confusion unfolded and there wasfingerpointing between stakeholders as reported in the media. THE JET for example ran a story titled “Stop giving consumer the round around”. The Sunday Times piece titled”E-ticketing under review” gave an in-depth on what the telecommunication company that spearheaded the move had to say about the situation.

Fiji Consumer Council voiced grievances of consumers who purchased cards and bus operators giving notice that they would no longer install machines and revert to cash fares in April.

But only recently the 2017-2018 National Budget highlighted e-ticketing would be compulsory from January, 1 2018. Soon it will also be introduced to taxis, mini bus and even marine transportation.

Fiji Bus Operators Association 2017 report said the next two months would be a busy one for FBOA and Vodafone Fiji as they slowly roll out the e-ticketing system this August.

Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed- Khaiyum told FBOA’s annual convention in May that the protocols needed to consider all scenarios, particularly concerning school children’s welfare and bus commuters without a card. Mr Khaiyum said e-ticketing provisions were first put in place several years ago but did not go into mainstream use because of the inability of the initial console providers — Digicel, Bula Mai Fiji and Vodafone — to find a way to be interoperable.

“With Vodafone now the only console provider, an August timeframe has been set for the system to be fully functional. Different cards will be issued to school students, adults, people on welfare and people with disability, and protocols must be developed to address potential issues with each of those cardholders,” the report said.

The AG said he had advised bus operators to develop the protocols quickly and submit a draft on it.

Vodafone Fiji said in the FBOA report that some of the issues addressed included what would happen in the event of equipment failure, card failure or insufficient funds on the card, as well as how cards would function for different profiles of people.

FBOA general secretary Rohit Latchan reportedly said e-ticketing would lift the transportation sector and hopes the technologies would help bus operators provide high quality services that contribute to the comfort and safety of the travelling public and bus drivers. So lets hope it would be better this time — fingers crossed.

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