Smart Electronic Ticketing for Public Transport in Fiji

  • October 01, 2017

  • Suva, Fiji

Shailendra Prasad

Puneet Chopra

Pushkar Raj

Krishnan Narasimhan

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We met Kini at one of the Vodafone e-ticketing roadshows. She, like many Fijians, had queued at the Vodafone canopy to get her e-transport card, a digital card that will replace the existing cash-based fare collection across all the buses in Fiji.

Kini, had never used digital payments before and had been apprehensive about digital payments. However, the Fijian Government’s decision to digitize public transit for everyone, had left Kini with no choice but to transition from cash to digital. We decided to follow her, in her new journey. She came out of the crowd, ecstatic, with her latest possession – a new red-coloured e-Transport card. Kini had just begun her digital journey and was excited. So were we.

A month later, after having ridden on the bus, thrice, with her new e-transport card, Kini was amazed at the convenience the new payment system had brought in her life. Not only was she excited about the experience of “tapping” the card on the bus but was also relieved from the hassle of carrying coins and haggling for change. She further mentioned that a greater respite would be when her eight-year old son starts using the card on his school bus. She later quipped that now she would be able to outsmart her son by monitoring his expenses.

This anecdote underlines the transformative experiences the thousands of Fijians have undergo in the lead up to the October 1st mandatory cashless system. Public transport is extremely vital for the people of Fiji. Over 1,470 buses and hundreds of boats and taxi, carry a significant percentage of the 870,000+ Fijians every year. Nearly 210,000 school and college students, and over 50,000 senior citizens are heavily dependent on the public transport in Fiji. For commuter convenience, the Land Transport Authority, under the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, provides various concessions and grants. The public bus transport is licensed to 54 private companies, covering 188 main Road Route Licenses (RRLs). All school students and the elderly are eligible for discounted fares on buses. Nearly 61,000 of them are eligible for 100% discount and do not pay any fare. The discounted bus fare vouchers are issued to eligible students by the Ministry of Education under the government busfare subsidy scheme for the needy children and distributed individually through the schools.

In order to compensate private bus operators for losses on account of these concessional fares, they are eligible for a refund on fuel tariff and receive customs concessions to encourage fleet renewal. In the national budget of Fiji for 2017-2018, the import duty on new buses has been reduced to zero (with certain conditions) for a period of two years. The bus operators are also exempted from paying Value-Added-Taxes (VAT). These grants and concessions add up to several million dollars a year.

Despite the massive financial support from the government, the current bus ticketing system has several challenges. On the one hand, several routes are claimed to be unprofitable, with bus operators claiming severe losses. On the other hand, there seems to be a lack of accountability and diligence on the part of the drivers as well. Additionally, the distribution of millions of discounted vouchers to students every year in paper form puts very significant additional burden on school staff, requiring accurate accounting, distribution and reconciliation. It is also vulnerable to misuse, despite check and balances.

To overcome these and other challenges, and to provide greater convenience and a superior user experience to commuters, the Government of Fiji has planned to implement electronic ticketing in phases for public transport in Fiji. Initially, e-ticketing has been implemented for all buses plying on the main land routes across Fiji. Rural service vehicles plying on the deeper rural routes are likely to be covered in subsequent phases. With a gradual transition phase from cash, that started in July 2017, all the mainland buses are planned to go cashless from October 2017 onwards.

The e-transport project involves multiple stakeholders to be on board, participate and collaborate in development or adoption of the system. The Government of Fiji, the Land Transport Authority, the Ministry of Education, the Department of Social Welfare (Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation), the Ministry of Economy, the Fiji Bus Operators’ Association, the bus operators in Fiji, Vodafone Fiji and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP)

The advantages of an e-ticketing system will be:

  • Improved revenue collection and cash flows for the bus operators and the government.
  • Greater transparency and control over targeting, coverage and distribution of the transport assistance/subsidy to the students, the pensioners, the senior citizens and the disabled citizens/residents.
  • No cash or change requirement for passengers or drivers, resulting in speedy transactions.
  • Reduction in handling of cash and associated efforts and risks.
  • Richer data and information quality for the government ministries and departments, and bus operators – for improved revenue management and informed decision making.
  • Learning lessons and building future capabilities to expand the e-ticketing architecture and platform to ecommerce, digital G2P and P2G payments, electronic attendance for students/teachers in schools and other relevant use cases.

The design

PFIP and MicroSave Consultants collaborated with and supported Vodafone in the design, planning and roll out of the e-ticketing service, branded as eTransport. The objective was to leverage global experience and lessons learned to avoid potential pitfalls and to ensure improvised service design and user experience. Several tools and frameworks have been developed by PFIP and MicroSave to support the eTransport service of Vodafone.

An important element of the approach followed by PFIP is to focus on and ensure consumer centricity, including women. Keeping this in view, the complete lifecycle journeys of different user segments (adults, women, students, senior citizens and concessional card users) for e-ticketing service were developed and mapped in a framework. This is presented below and has formed a basis for defining or refining business requirements and business rules to be followed. Furthermore, this is significantly aiding modifications to the information technology (IT) systems and processes at Vodafone.

Deliberations based on this framework led to improvisation of several service functionalities and processes that would enhance user experience. For example, features such as ability to top-up (load e-money to) another person’s card remotely using the M-PAiSA mobile wallet on the phone, or using card serial number only (card not present); ability to refresh card stored value on the buses themselves, and to pay for fare immediately thereafter, came up as a result of this approach. These features will eventually be of massive utility to users, wherein they do not have to depend on physical touch points to recharge their eTransport cards, and instead have multiple and remote options to do so. These user interface functionalities will be introduced in a phased approach by Vodafone, given the system development timelines required.

Another example relates to the concessional student eTransport cards, that need to be refreshed at the beginning of every school term, after subsidy amounts have been loaded onto the cards by Vodafone, through its back-end systems, on advice from the Ministry of Education. To make it most convenient for the students (that include very young primary school children), suggestions were made to provide one (or more, as needed) POS devices within school premises, and to train the existing staff, that handle paper vouchers, to refresh student cards using the POS devices. A solution as to how the costs for the POS devices will be covered, was found with Vodafone agreeing to provide substantial discount on the cost of the POS devices to be deployed in schools. The Ministry of Education is likely to consider these recommendations, which will make it near seamless for the nearly 210,000 students to transition to the new system, without inconvenience or worries. Likewise, improvisations have been made to the processes related to cards for senior citizens and disabled that are managed by the Department of Social Welfare.

There are several other learnings and smart features associated with the architecture of the e-ticketing system in Fiji. The first major one is to ensure a commitment from the bus operators and drivers themselves. A lack of this has been the failing of some models in other markets. The Government of Fiji has ensured participation and commitment of the bus operators. This has been done both through funding support and policy reforms. Considerable financial (through subsidy on equipment required on buses) and handholding support (in terms of retrofitting/testing of the equipment and software; training and capacity building of the bus operators and the drivers; customer care support offered by Vodafone, and so on) has been provided.

Furthermore, the eTransport solution has been designed with an offline architecture, without dependence on the Vodafone mobile network to be available or operational. This will ensure that fare payment on buses is possible offline and in locations or situations where/when the Vodafone network is not available. At the same time, information will be shared periodically between the devices on the buses and the Vodafone M-PAiSA and other back-end systems, through the mobile network (when available during transit). These will be for purposes such as – synchronisation of the bus devices with the Vodafone systems at periodic intervals; to enable balance refresh on consumer cards on the buses; reconciliation of daily sales by the bus operators and so on.

These considerations for enhanced human-centric design architecture and superior user experience contrast with some of the not so successful e-ticketing models in East Africa, that were very onerous for users.

Successful implementation of a massive programme

In Fiji, given multiple stakeholder involvement and several inter-dependent tasks and activities to be performed, it was critical to programme manage the e-ticketing service roll out effectively. MicroSave consultants assisted with programme management to ensure progress, as well as slippages/challenges and risks were in sight of the Vodafone senior leadership, through appropriate dashboards, supported by detailed analysis beneath them. Recommendations and solutions provided guidance to the leadership to take informed decisions quickly. The end outcome of a collaborative effort across stakeholders and vendors is a timely rollout of the service covering over 1,000 buses, within a short timeframe of three to four months, along with development of all the back-end integrated systems; training of agents/merchants on the new service; marketing programme design, roadshows and awareness campaigns; and user registration and card issuance to over 520,000 commuters across Fiji.

The broader vision

From a consumer standpoint, e-ticketing will not merely be an isolated service. Linkages with M-PAiSA are already being established to provide a richer user experience. It will constitute an important use case for digital payments, and for users to gradually experience additional financial services through M-PAiSA mobile money platform. PFIP in collaboration with Vodafone has set up a mobile financial services Innovation Lab (Lab) project to design, test and validate user relevant financial products and delivery models, to enable low-income Fijians to effectively use them through the Vodafone M-PAiSA. The Lab will focus on creating financial solutions for priority segments, especially women. PFIP will use a “Learn-Test-Scale” framework for projects and activities under the Lab.

The Innovation Lab project activities will focus on targeted customer research, user experience mapping, channel management, product development and rapid prototyping of solutions that improve customer experience with the M-PAiSA agent channel. The Lab will operate concurrent to Vodafone M-PAiSA operations. As the products are tested and validated, the Vodafone M-PAiSA team will incorporate them into the larger Vodafone operations, expanding the scale of the impact to the national level. In addition, Vodafone aspires to spread all viable parts of its business model to its other markets in the South Pacific. Vanuatu and Kiribati are likely to be the next set of markets that could benefit.

PFIP and Vodafone collaboration through the Lab, will enable introduction of additional demand driven financial products to the market, while catalysing greater demand and uptake for existing consumer relevant products. Utility services such as buying tokens conveniently for pre-pay electricity meters from Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) are already available through M-PAiSA, and have witnessed considerable user demand, meeting a very vital need. There is considerable demand and market potential for domestic and inward international remittances too. Additional future products on the anvil at the Lab could be subscription to FNPF provident fund, goal based savings and digital credit.

The Lab along with MicroSave consultants has undertaken test interventions to improve the agent network development and management to lay a strong foundation for seamless delivery of M-PAiSA offerings (including e-ticketing). These include more scientific methods for agent/merchant network mapping, selection and on-boarding; alignment of the performance management systems across the distribution channel; expanded outreach and handholding consumers to experience M-PAiSA, through supplementary distribution channel for rural areas, in the form of mobile village agents (MVAs), leveraging women as agents or brand ambassadors, as possible; design of relevant and sharper go-to-market strategy and training collateral; capacity building of field teams, leveraging the improvised content; and use-case driven channel/consumer marketing and communication.

In an ensuing blog, we will share more about the lessons learned through successes (or failures) of these multiple interventions and other efforts undertaken through the PFIP-Vodafone Innovation Lab.