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Kenyans face dilemma in payment

03 July 2014, 22:05

Nairobi - Resident George Mukunya carries cash and several payment cards in his wallet.

Among them are two debit cards from banks where he is an account holder and a fare payment card which he acquired about two months ago.

However, while Mukunya walks around with the gadgets, he uses the debit cards only to withdraw cash from automated teller machines.

And he has never loaded cash in the fare payment card, despite the government imposing a deadline for use of a cashless system in Kenya's public transport vehicles (matatu) starting July.

"I acquired the card because I did not want to be caught flat- footed. The government had announced that all matatus were to begin using a cashless system. I got the card to avoid last minute rush," said Mukunya on Wednesday.

The 35-year-old said he has not loaded money in the card because he wants to see how it works first.

"I am not in a hurry to use the card. I cannot load money in it because I know the system is yet to be fully developed. I fear that I can load the cash and fail to use it, then where would I get my refund? For now I will continue paying fare in cash."

His dilemma is shared by millions of other Kenyans across the East African nation. The Kenya government declared that all public transport must start using a cashless fare payment system by July 1, but this has not taken off.

When the day arrived, both commuters and matatu operators were not ready to implement the system. While some commuters like Mukunya had the card, they did not use them.

Majority of Kenyans who rely on public transport system have not bothered about the cards. They woke up that day armed with cash.

"I know about the card and I have even seen it, but I am not in a hurry to get it," said research assistant Beatrice Cherop.

Cherop noted that she is sceptical about the card because she fears losing her money.

"The government wants us to use the system but it has not addressed our fears. At one time I was living in Kitengela and there was a bus company that came up with the cashless system. I acquired the card and loaded 34 U.S. dollars. Then the company collapsed soon after."

The mother of one still has the card five years later, with efforts to recover her 24 dollars balance having come to naught.

"The experience is what has made me be hesitant to adopt the cashless system. I do not want to suffer again. I will continue paying in cash until all our concerns are addressed."

Peter Macharia is, however, among the about 1 million Kenyans who have acquired the cards and some are using them.

"I bought it over a month ago and I have been using it, but not in all vehicles because some have not adopted the system."

According to him, using the card is safer as chances of one being overcharged or the conductor disappearing with one's money are minimal.

"The other day a friend gave a conductor 2.3 dollars note and then forgot to ask for change. The conductor disappeared with the 1.7 dollars balance. Her efforts to trace him failed."

Such acts will certainly be cured by the cashless fare payment system because when the card is swiped and the amount deducted without the need of returning change.

Matatu operators are reluctant to adopt the system because they fear they might lose jobs.

"With the cashless system, where does one get his day's payment? We are usually paid on a daily basis. We normally deduct our money from the day's collection and take the rest to the employer. We have not been told whether with the cashless system we will be paid monthly or not," said Kenneth Mogaka, a driver on the Kayole route.

One of the top concerns among low income earners is where to get money to load in the card.

"The system demands that I load money in the card, but not all of us have that ability. Sometimes I leave home with only one-way fare. Then I must work, get paid for me to get the fare back home, " said casual worker George Masinde.

"We will educate the public to ensure people appreciate the advantages of using the cashless system. The system will tame unfair fare charges and corruption on the road. It will further improve revenue for matatu owners," said Francis Meja, general director of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

Despite his assurances, the government has a toll order implementing the system in Kenya's transport system, where cash is the king.

 - Xinhua


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