Attracting businesses to offer top-up services a challenge and assistance of operators and drivers needed to make redeem system work for bus passengers - Vodafone

Attracting businesses to offer top-up services a challenge and assistance of operators and drivers needed to make redeem system work for bus passengers - Vodafone

By Vijay Narayan
Friday 01/09/2023
[Image: File Photo]

E-ticketing service provider, Vodafone Fiji has said that one of the main challenges facing Vodafone is attracting businesses to offer e-ticketing top-up services and the company also stresses that they need the assistance of bus operators and bus drivers to make the redeeming system work for passengers.

While responding to questions from fijivillage news regarding the number of top up outlets, Vodafone says it has introduced a number of initiatives to address this challenge, including enabling passengers to top-up their cards using M-PAiSA.

The company says as a convenient top-up option, Vodafone has enabled eTransport cards top up via M-PAiSA to be redeemed in the bus to reduce reliance on top up agents.

It says the redeeming feature has been enabled on all bus machines to make it easy and convenient for commuters.

Vodafone Fiji also says as alluded to by the Acting Minister for Communication, Filimoni Vosarogo in his statement, the e-ticketing hardware is nearing its of end of life.

It says this is normal for any electronic device as new and more advanced models are introduced in the market, the older models are gradually phased out by manufacturers.

However, the company says this does not mean that the current system has stopped performing its required functions.

Vodafone says the travelling public is still able to use their e-ticketing card to tap and pay their bus fare as normal without any disruption.

Vodafone says it will continue to provide e-ticketing services the best it can, given the many constraints to ensure minimum inconvenience of the travelling public.

It says the public is also able to check top up agents near them by dialling *134# on their mobile to find the most conveniently located top up agent.

Vodafone says there are currently 566 active top up agents throughout Fiji, and they continue to work with independently owned businesses to sign up more if they wish to provide e-ticketing top up.

Although the availability of disposable cards in buses is stated as a requirement in buses under the Electronic Fare Ticketing Act, Vodafone says the disposable cards were introduced to this system as an aid for the public to transition into the eTransport system.

Vodafone says it was purely intended for a temporary period so that the commuters had sufficient time to acquire their permanent card.

It says the first permanent card is available at no cost to the public, and in the last 6 years, Vodafone has provided around 2 million cards for a total population of 900,000.

95 percent of these cards were given free of charge.

Vodafone says this means every travelling public must have access to a permanent card which they can top up and use.

An average of 370,000 permanent cards are used per day.

Vodafone says it fully sympathises with the public who are finding it difficult to top up their card due to lack of convenient access to agents. It says it is doing its best under prevailing circumstances to assist the best it can in working with independent businesses and on-boarding additional agents.

They also urge consumers to use M-PAiSA where possible to top up their cards and also to top up their cards at least for one additional trip.

People label the e-ticketing system as a nightmare, and demand for change

By Vijay Narayan
Wednesday 30/08/2023
[Image: File ]

The e-ticketing system for buses has now become a nightmare for many people as they are facing great difficulty in topping up their bus cards.

Many people who have contacted us over the past few months are demanding for urgent change as they are unable to top up their cards at a number of places, and machines are also running out of top up funds.

This was also a major issue brought up during the last general elections.

People say it is also difficult for them to redeem the top up from e-ticketing machines in the buses as many drivers are not allowing it.

Many people say they just end up giving cash as disposable cards are no longer available, and there are also many incidents of children not allowed to travel if they have insufficient funds in the card.

When the system came in, it was stated by the previous government that we will have disposable cards in the buses. This was to ensure that no one goes through the expected inconvenience as we had raised that not everyone would be able to find places to top up funds before boarding the bus.

The Electronic Fare Ticketing Act states that the bus drivers and operators should ensure they have disposable cards or they will be fined. It also states that passengers should travel for free if the machines are inoperable. In February 2020, the Consumer Council of Fiji CEO, Seema Shandil had said that unavailability of disposable cards was already a grave concern, and the phasing out of the cards was utterly uncalled for.

She says disposable cards were meant to cater for emergencies and one-off travel on buses and to cater for visitors and tourists coming to Fiji.

Shandil says phasing out the disposable card leaves consumers with no alternative when faced with unforeseen circumstances such as loss of cards and emergencies.

Shandil had said globally, public transport, including bus industries provide disposable cards to tourists so that they can move around discovering places easily and in an affordable manner.

The Council reminded the Fiji Bus Operators Association that they are required under the law to provide disposable cards on buses.

Section 5a (1) of the Electronic Fair Ticketing (Budget Amendment) Act 2017 stipulates that a passenger may purchase a disposable card from a solution provider, top up issuing agent or an omni-bus driver. Furthermore, the Regulations 7 A of the Electronic Fare Ticketing (Omnibus)(Amendment) Regulations 2017 clearly stipulates that “An omnibus operator must ensure that disposable bus cards are available for sale at all times on any omnibus owned by the omnibus operator”. Lack of adherence by the bus operators shall incur a penalty of $1000 and a failure to pay the fine on their part will result in a maximum fine of $5000.

Many people living in the rural areas have called for the system to be changed as they say they cannot top up funds in remote locations, and all shops do not have the top up options. These people end up giving bus drivers cash to travel although it is unlawful under the Act. In the urban and peri-urban areas, some shops are now only allowing top ups from 9am to 5pm while others have stopped.

For the shops and service stations that have top up services, they have a limited amount of funds, and once the funds run out in the machine, no further top ups can be done on that day.

Some parents have said they have gone to top up cards in the mornings, afternoons or evenings, and they have to look for other shops when they find out that the machine has run out of top up funds.

People have contacted us from Nadawa, Nadera, Uduya Point, Lami, Waila, Samabula and Tamavua.

A person from Nadera says they have only two top up locations. If the machines run out of funds, they have to go to Valelevu to top up their bus card.

Redeeming top up from the machines in the buses is also a nightmare as many drivers do not want that option to be exercised, and some machines also freeze while carrying out that process.

All this has created a major mess and inconvenience for many people both in the urban and rural areas around the country.

Transport Minister, Ro Filipe Tuisawau has referred all questions to the Minister for Communications.

While responding to questions from fijivillage News, Acting Minister for Communications, Filimoni Vosarogo says there is a Working Group/Taskforce that has been formed, led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Communications Manoa Kamikamica, to look at a new e-ticketing system, as the present one has come to the end of its useful life. Vosarogo says the Government's Director of Transport has been tasked to draw up a draft Terms of Reference which is to be socialised with the Working Group/Taskforce out of which the Ministry of Communications will also present a paper for approval on the way forward on getting our ticketing system becoming more user friendly, accessible and adaptable to different locational challenges in Fiji where our buses operate in.

The Fiji Bus Operators Association referred all questions to the Ministry of Communications. Vodafone is yet to comment.

Bear with us as we navigate these times of designing a better ticketing system that would be lasting - Vosarogo

By Vijay Narayan
Wednesday 30/08/2023
Acting Minister for Communications, Filimoni Vosarogo [Image: File]

We are asking those who are finding things difficult now in relation to the e-ticketing system and the cards to bear with us as we navigate these times of designing a better ticketing system that would be lasting.

That is the message from Acting Minister for Communications, Filimoni Vosarogo to people in the urban and rural areas who are finding great difficulty in topping up their cards, and are walking around to many locations just to top up their card.

Vosarogo says they urge the service provider, Vodafone and the retailers acting as agents to improve service delivery for the benefit of the travelling public on our buses.

He says if there are machines that are not working, or experiencing connectivity downtime, it is important to get this fixed quick so that travel is not affected and people are able to get from one destination to another with ease and with minimal interruption. Vosarogo also says this simply shows us the obvious of the past government.

He says when people do something without sufficient consultation and without getting the critical mass of consensus before implementation, not ensuring the endorsement of the bus operators and the details of their challenges, you are bound to get into problems later, and that is what we are experiencing today.

Vosarogo says they now inherit an extremely serious problem with the e-ticketing system, and the government wants to do a thorough investigation and consultation before putting together a solution package that is efficient and tailor made to suit different challenges faced by the public transport travelling public of Fiji.

He says in the meantime, Vodafone has agreed to continue to provide its services till next year to allow time for the Taskforce to draw up specifications, consult, and go through the tender process of a new system.

Vosarogo says they continue to implore the service provider Vodafone to maintain their optimal service and reach to areas of Fiji that are most challenging to get service.

He says there is no reason why top up machines should not be working - if they are not working, Vodafone should fix that on being notified.

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