According to our sources, the operator is preparing to launch EcoCash ta as a payment method in kombis (these are minibuses which are the most popular form of public transport in Zimbabwe). A lot of people are now probably familiar with EcoCash ta, the NFC (Near Field Communication) powered payment system that was introduced by Econet late last year.
The service uses an NFC tag which is fashioned in the form of a sticker and is linked to a user’s EcoCash wallet. To enable payment a user taps this sticker against a merchant’s enabled Point of Sale device and the corresponding amount is deducted instantly.
When we contacted Econet for comment they neither confirmed nor denied this and stated that,
The commuting public and commuter omnibus operators form part of our core target market. However, the market will be advised of material developments with regards to your enquiry.
Why kombis now?
Besides provide EcoCash ta customers with a simplified way of paying for public transport this looks like a way of boosting the popularity of EcoCash ta while angling for a hold on public transport finances. This would align perfectly with EcoCash’s strategy to morph Zimbabwe into a cashless society through mobile money.
However, introducing such options to the public transport segment will have its own challenges, something that EcoCash has already learnt the hard way.
Back in 2012 the operator introduced the option to pay for kombis via EcoCash through a service called EcoCash Commuter. Besides marking Econet’s entry into transport fares, this was supposed to ease the challenge of change owed to commuters by conductors.
The service was piloted at the University of Zimbabwe and according to information gathered at the time, Econet spent more than $20,000 offering students transport fares in the form of EcoCash deposits. Econet also placed an agent in each of the participating kombis who helped explain the process – something that was necessary at the time because EcoCash was still new and mobile money hadn’t caught on nationally.
The service was later propped up by promos that included kombi fare subsidies as well as an elaborate advertising campaign. Sadly the service failed because of challenges that included the long process involved with making an EcoCash payment, a resistance to change by transport operators who have always prefered cash (especially the kombi crew – driver and conductor), as well as the hassle of figuring out who had paid their fare via mobile money.
An EcoCash ta kombi payment system addresses some of the concerns from the 2012 EcoCash Commuter service, but it also has its own obstacles. For the service to take off there has to be massive adoption by kombi operators, something that requires all operators to have the NFC Point of Sale(POS) merchant devices.
Sources close to EcoCash have said that EcoCash intends to sell these POS devices to kombi operators via a credit scheme that would spread the $45 cost of the device over a 12 month period. Even if this works though, EcoCash would have to encourage a large number of its subscribers to make use of the EcoCash ta in the first place, not mentioning convincing users to keep transport fare saved in their EcoWallets.
In Kenya, Africa’s leading example of mobile money, the migration of public transport payment from a cash based system to an electronic one was made compulsory by the government and services like Google’s Beba Card, My1963 and KCB Pepea Card all stepped in to fill that void. But even with state led backing these services have encountered operational challenges leading a number of them like Beba Pay, Abiria Card and KCB Pepea Card to close shop.
It has been reported by Techmoran that the migration to a cashless system for public transport is also affected by challenges like poor law enforcement and a lack of awareness of the benefits of such a service.
If the rollout of EcoCash ta in kombis is to become a success in Zimbabwe it will likely have to overcome similar barriers and some that are particular to this market as well.