February 23, 2018
The e-ticketing system has been met with mixed reactions since its implementation despite its good intention. Some have embraced the change with open arms while others have raised issues related to access to top up agents in rural areas or after hours and non-availability of disposable cards on the buses. There is another school of thought that there is a need to do away with disposable cards altogether in order to fully realise a cashless fare system.
More recently queries have been raised on the transfer of unclaimed disposable card monies on to an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Trust Fund created by the State.
Since then more discussions have been generated on this subject. The Council wishes to clarify few issues raised on this subject through the media.
The e-ticketing system was created to curb pilferage and determine the revenue earned annually by the Bus Industry so that tax-payer’s money is not used in providing concessions if the bus industry is able to control pilferage and collect all the revenue.
The Council does agree that there are passengers who are still facing problems with e-ticketing system including the sale of disposable cards. Currently, disposable cards are sold at all Vodafone and Valuephone outlets and on the buses. The two chains of outlets currently operate from 9am-5pm on a daily basis and are closed on Sunday. Those who commute from rural communities earlier than these times with no top up agents near their residence have found travel frustrating. It is for this reason disposable cards should be available in the buses.
It must be noted that every disposable card sold by the bus drivers can be accounted for and acquitted at the end of the shift unlike the cash system which relied on the bus tickets to tally the revenue. So, there are mechanisms in place to ensure transparency and accountability in the e-ticketing system in comparison to the cash payment system.
Earlier, suggestions were made that the disposable cards should not be sold by the bus drivers to make the system cashless and let retail agents such as canteens, shops and hotels sell disposable cards. This is definitely a good solution but that’s not happening on the ground right now because traders are not interested as they cannot make money out of it.
In such situations, then what is the best option taking into consideration that passengers should continue with their travel with less hassle and pilferage is contained?
Section 5A (1) of the Electronic Fare Ticketing (Budget Amendment) Act 2017 stipulates a passenger may purchase a disposable bus card from a solution provider, top up issuing agent or an omnibus driver.
The latter part of the clause indicates that bus drivers have a responsibility to carry disposable bus cards with them. Unfortunately, there are bus companies that do not carry disposable cards at all or carry disposable cards in high denominations. This is where the problem starts. It is equally the responsibility of the bus operators to ensure that their drivers have enough disposable cards in denominations affordable to general public for the trip and the passengers can then top up at the outlets.
Concerns were also raised in regard to unclaimed monies on expired disposable cards. According to Section 5A(3) of the Electronic Fare Ticketing (Budget Amendment) which states “e-money that is not refunded to a passenger upon the expiry date of a disposable bus card must be transferred by the solution provider to a fund prescribed by regulations for the development of information and communication technologies in Fiji”
The Council would like to highlight that consumers can claim any money left on the disposable card within a month by taking the card to any Vodafone and Valuephone outlets. The card is activated upon the first use. If a consumer does not claim the balance after the expiry of the card, only then it is transferred to the ICT Development Trust. Disposable cards are temporary in nature as the name suggests.
This practice is similar to that of inactive accounts held by banks. Unclaimed money from a specific account is transferred to the Reserve Bank of Fiji which then remits the funds to the government. The account holder is given a specific time frame to claim the money on the account before it is transferred.
The Trust Fund was created to help increase accessibility of ICT services across the country. Following the launch of a national broadband policy in 2012, the government created an ICT Trust Fund to build capacity and increase internet penetration and access. This fund is used to finance telecentre projects which allow communities to use broadband internet services at designated community centres for free.
To make this system work, every stakeholder needs to come on board and it must start with bus operators first as a beneficiary of this system, after all revenue collection should not be left to the public and the state.
What they can do collectively is raise awareness on e-ticketing in a cost- effective manner by playing recorded message on their bus on how to use e transport card, where to top-up, what not to do etc. etc.
Also bus operators should ensure disposable cards are available in their buses as required under the legislation and also promote e-ticketing.
On the other hand, the solution provider needs to engage with either more retail outlets or develop systems and processes so that travelling passengers can top-up their card easily just like how they get their recharge cards for their mobile phones.
LTA need to ensure the regulations are followed.
Finally, consumers in the interim can carry exact amount of money to buy their disposable card and only use disposable card in an emergency situation.