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Mobile money for public transport: EcoCash in the Kombi

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EcoCash Mobile Money

Today, a friend pointed us to a development on the EcoCash for business front. Specifically, in the public transport sector. Apparently Econet is already trialing its mobile payment service in Kombis (local Zim colloquial for public transport minibus). The friend, a student at the University of Zimbabwe says he started noticing the development yesterday.

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In his own words:

They have launched transport payments using EcoCash in select areas of town. & they are giving students free money to spend on transport.

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But mahwindi andakataura nawo [translated: the touts I spoke to] they are very much against the system. Hanzi takabvuma [they said we agreed] just for the free joining reward. Complications in asking who has transferred and who hasn’t and also busy counting physical money while you are adding money that came virtually so u can’t tell yabva panaani [who has paid]. It will be interesting though, it could be a resistance to change.

We asked “so how do the students get the money?” His response;

They registered at their faculties. $20. It should be to about a thousand students when they gave the announcement

They said this they started this week on select routes. I only heard UZ and Mbare.

I was surprised to find out that everyone in the kombi had an EcoCash account. Then i saw 5 who actually paid. I say that’s an impressive ratio.

The kombi has stickers inside with their merchant number.

Later, via phone, he told us that Econet has an EcoCash agent/Econet staffer in each Kombi that is part of the trial whose job is to explain the concept and help if there are any issues. As well gather feedback we’re guessing.

We contacted Econet for details but they’re of course not ready to speak yet so our emails hasn’t been responded to yet. From some sources however, we’re gathering that the pilot just started and that it’s the final stages of preparation to launch the service. “The latest we will take to launch officially is probably next month” the source said.

Econet launched EcoCash for business in August. Competing mobile money transfer services on the market include ZimSwitch’s and another offered by rival and seco nd largest mobile operator in Zimbabwe, the state owned NetOne. Telecel, the third largest mobile operator in the country, revealed last month that they killed of their mobile money service to focus on direct GSM services.

image via gsma.com

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28 thoughts on “Mobile money for public transport: EcoCash in the Kombi

  1. I’ve wondered why SA has never implemented it in all its electronic glory. I know SA’s relatively wide bus network uses a rechargable smart card, but not with the Kombis. I thought about it and there are a few issues with doing it with Kombis.

    – What happens in the absence of network(commuter or windie)?

    – Or if commuter’s phone gets stolen or fails unexpectedly, without money on the person?

    – What happens to that extra “incentive” that windies have of making an extra buck after
    satisfying the day’s quota of trips or mid-route pickups after a drop-off? Money goes straight to account Given that these are the people that Econet has to win over.

    – Is the windie still needed? I guess so, to watch his phone
    ___________________________________________________________________

    It certainly solves many things:

    – Like change issues (a plus for commuter perspective,not fun for cheating windies).
    – Like fixed pricing. No more R2/R3/R4 or R5 negotiations (its both a pro and con for the combi owner)

    Good luck!

    1. I stay in Cape Town and most kombis dont have mahwindi so you can survive.. Everyone just puts their money together yoenda kumberi. To answer your issue about hat happens of the commuter’s phone disappears,: i believe its just wise to always have a bit of cash with you. It’s like asking what happens if a consumer loses their debit card amira muqueue kumashops. You’ll just have to ensure you always have enough cash with you just to be prepared for the unexpected. Otherwise usakwire kombi kana phone yakupera battery.

      1. I stay in Cape Town and most kombis dont have mahwindi so you can
        survive.. Everyone just puts their money together yoenda kumberi.

        They do that just about the whole of SA. My question relating to SA had more to do with the fact that SA has more advanced payment systems that have been proven to work very well with their bus transport system. So one would ask, why has it not been implemented on their kombis

  2. With the complexities of transporting the public I would like to see how well this will work, had they looked at RFID’s reader’s inside the kombis it may have been an instant hit, what if your phone doesnt have battery you would get stuck… Just saying

  3. Problem is some kombi owners would like to have their cash paid at the end of the day to buy supper for the night. Also it may not be good if you carry two trips of Eco-cash customers how will you buy fuel when service stations are not accepting eco-cash payments. Well the full commercial cycle needs to go to eco-cash and we need 24 hour eco-cash agents in Zimbabwe.

  4. this is a very complicated solution to a SIMPLE problem that has been solved by simple solutions across the world!! Those who have used SA public buses and trains know how simple you can use “plastic debit cards” to pay PUTCO, METRO buses and the GAUTRAIN. Its a very simple solution. You recharge the card whenever you feel like, and all you do is swipe and go! Why do we complicate things like this?

    1. Simple to say, maybe

      Simple swiping presents a new problem. Unemployed windies.

      There are also rollout costs. Who foots the bill for the device? Will it be convincing enough for shareholders?

      Maintenance issues(& costs), Given that those devices have to be accessible to the entry points and also protected from damage. In our small combies, question is where to place it thats reasonably safe and unobstructive? For combies with no middle front-seat, may be easier.
      Its much easier on a bus where there is better space. A combie is also more personal than it is institutional, compared to a bus.

      1. I blv u have seen some very small portable POS devices, the size of a iPhone. They are cheap and run on rechargeable batteries and use 3G & Edge to connect wirelessly. We could use the same concept. The devices doesnt necesarily have to be on the entry point, the hwindi can carry it and ask for cards, the same way he is currently asking for his $$. There are no PINs required, you just swipe/tag and it deducts.

    2. comparing apples to oranges? do kombies in SA use the cards or is it buses (PUTCO & METRO) and trains (GAUTRAIN)?

  5. Gotta love the innovation here, a business problem tackled head on. Big up to Econet. A lot of people are finding ” problems” – the “what ifs” etc – you need to understand a concept called development. If it is implemented, over time, this system will evolve and be more redundant.

  6. I see previous posts have issues with the level of ecocash’s liquidity/ perhaps quick access to physical cash. We forget that it is ecocash and the drivers can drive past an agent and get cash for petrol/traffic fine money|

  7. i appreciate the innovation but the truth be told, there are too many loop-holes here & besides that, why focus on a doomed industry or rather doomed players of the public transportation industry?

  8. ‘Innovations’ like Ecocash are signs of a broken banking system. At a basic level Econet is operating as bank – unofficially. It is a sign of the sorry state of the financial system in Zim. Given a proper financial system that works. Why the need for Ecocash?

  9. i think the econet guys are the ecocash too deep. it is impracticable coz the kombi guy would always prefer hard cash over this “mobile cash’

  10. Problem is, would you see the city of Harare successfully running a bus schedule? There should be more private players in the public transport sector. the most government/city council can do is alter the road network to make them more public transport friendly, e.g. putting in bus lanes, more bus stops, proper bus terminals and train stations etc

  11. Actually, for the most part, cards havent truly caught on because of the bank charges associated with continuously swiping. In the end most people always stick with cash unless they are dealing with large amounts of money for which it becomes rather dangerous to walk around with cash.

  12. mandimbandimba will have to get their tarrifs thru ecocash as well he?? KOO toll gate , chitsotsi chese choperera pano manje. Are we not going paperless now??? Kana maUBA abvuma its feasible. Innovation paexcellence!!!!

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