Public transport has always played a vital role in the heartbeat of the African continent, providing people with a much needed way to get to work and earn a living. With around 70% of Africa’s urban population residing in informal settlements, these transmission lines have been essential in helping families access regular income and carry out their daily lives.
Almost three-quarters of Nairobi’s four million people use around 20,000 private minibuses as their main mode of transport. Still, commuters in Nairobi risk being overcharged when it rains, at peak times or if roads are closed to motorists, with fares on some routes quadrupling during these periods of high demand.
Digitization has always been a possible solution to create more transparency and accountability, but it has always met with resistance. However, as COVID-19 began sweeping through crowded transportation systems in 2020, reducing physical transmission through cash quickly became a key priority. The pandemic has suddenly given digital technology an unprecedented opportunity to overcome resistance and quickly integrate into transportation systems where it’s needed most.
When we entered the African market, we knew there was a demand for our services, but we had no idea how urgent that demand was. Matatu buses dominate transportation options across the country and are used by 70% of Kenya’s population, and 90% of mobile money transactions go through the popular M-Pesa mobile wallet, which has over 50 million active monthly users across the continent.
These trends prompted a pilot project where a thousand Matatu buses would digitize payments and start accepting cashless ticket collection across Kenya. Building on M-Pesa, a mobile phone could now act as a bus pass, giving people a seamless and secure way to access the routes they take every day. Users insert a code on their phone that debits their wallet, and drivers can immediately see it to let them board the bus.
The innovative platform eliminates the need to fiddle with unnecessary tickets and cash payments, providing an accessible payment solution that consumers are already using through a device already in their hands. This removes the need for physical tickets and cash payments, but it also speeds up transactions and allows buses to move faster on Nairobi’s very congested routes.
Importantly, this also increases transparency in fare collection between drivers and bus owners. In the past, public transport in Africa operated as an informal sector. It has a generally poorly organized monetary system that lacks integration or regulation, making it difficult for planners and authorities to improve services. Yet today the demand for digitization has been spoken, as the pilot has increased tenfold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In just a few years, more than 10,000 Matatu buses have adopted automated digital fare collection, helping to normalize the idea that bus fare can only be paid with a mobile phone. This is perhaps unsurprising as Kenya has always been a mobile money pioneer on the African continent.
Another example of the boom in contactless payment in African transport, Moja Ride is helping to digitize transport in Côte d’Ivoire. Since its launch, Moja Ride has gained increasing market share across multiple transportation services in the city, supporting over 1,200 taxis and buses. The app allows commuters to book and pay for their journeys digitally while allowing transport operators to manage their fleet, routes and payment methods.
Moja Ride enables transit riders to accept different payment methods from passengers, including QR codes, NFC, and prepaid cards such as the “Moja Card”, which can be topped up to pay for transit. Recharging is done either by mobile money or by a network of agents. Transport operators, owners and drivers can also track their income in real time and manage their fleet for the first time. Currently, there are hundreds of rides booked per day.
While much has been accomplished rapidly in a relatively short time, there is plenty of room for future growth. Mobile payment is a model that is going nowhere, and its implications for the transport sector are vast. The digital revolution sweeping Africa is creating more efficiency, transparency and connection than ever before, and the effects will be felt for decades.
Franck Molla is Managing Director, Sub-Saharan Africa.Certified as a Master Negotiator by Harvard and Strathmore Business Schools, Frank Molla joined BPC in 2021 to lead the organization’s expansion into Sub-Saharan Africa. With over 15 years of experience in the payment industry, Frank is an accomplished executive with experience in various markets from Europe to Africa.
Prior to joining BPC, Frank led Mastercard’s business strategy in East Africa through innovation and technology with the goal of building payment ecosystems and solutions and achieving financial inclusion across the board. key markets. At American Express in Spain and the UK, he led efforts to identify, develop and defend the company’s market share in Sub-Saharan Africa in the multinational enterprise and banking partnership space. His career started at Barclays Bank of Kenya, where he held several senior commercial manager positions.
Frank is a graduate of Harvard Business School (Boston, USA), as well as an alumnus of Nanyang Business School in Singapore and Strathmore Business School in Kenya. He also successfully completed Strathmore Business School’s Senior Management Leadership Program (SMLP) in 2019.
A strong believer in servant leadership, he improved his mentoring, management, and leadership skills by actively engaging in Harvard’s Management Mentorship Program.
He was selected for the Future Senior Leadership Program by Mastercard MEA in 2019. Globally, he was voted as one of the elite individuals who have won Mastercard’s most prestigious sales awards in excellence, leadership and achievement, receiving the 2020 President’s Club Award.
He was elected President of the Senior Management Leadership Program Class of 2019 and represented the cohort at Strathmore Business School.