Passengers using public transport buses within the capital Kigali have been fleeced billions of francs worth of internet they pay for but cannot connect to and doesn’t exist in these buses.
In a one-year-long investigation, Taarifa team has boarded nearly all city buses belonging to three transport companies and the findings indicate a carefully woven massive and powerful financial fraud cartel.
In November 2015, Rwanda public transport system introduced an innovation that leaped the country into a digital era- passengers started using a contactless smart card to pay for their trips across Kigali city.
The country has been fast-tracking its adoption of a cashless economy.
AC Group, a local technology company specializing in smart transport solutions partnered with the government and city bus operators and introduced a cashless payment solution for city commuters. This service was named Tap & Go.
For the past five years since the introduction of Tap&Go, the AC Group has so far managed to connect 2 million customers into its database and works with three bus operating agencies.
According to the group, Tap&Go cards are used on all public buses in Kigali to pay for transport fare.
Commuters buy the cards from agents, load it with money, tap it on the card reader at the bus entrance, and are allowed into the bus.
Meanwhile, under this new innovation, all three bus agencies were required to be fitted with WiFi that passengers would connect to with their smartphones and laptops or any other gadgets that require the internet as they enjoy their ride.
AC Group statistics indicate they started with a deal of connecting 450 buses by fitting them with routers that would ensure the sharing of the internet within the buses.
The company’s CEO, Patrick Buchana told Taarifa in an exclusive interview that currently, they connect “over 100,000 passengers with some routes are having more and others less,” although AC Group’s website says 300,000.
For the past one year, Taarifa has been investigating this Tap&Go and Bus WiFi connectivity services.
During this period, our team has commuted on nearly all routes of the city road network but the findings are very mind-boggling.
Both Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) and AC Group confirmed to Taarifa that every time a passenger taps their at least Rwf10 is deducted from their total journey fare to pay for the internet.
For example, if a passenger is boarding from Kimironko heading to downtown Nyabugogo and pays Rwf270, it should be noted that the internet fee is included.
With 300,000 daily connections, the AC Group fetches Rwf3 million daily from passengers in about 450 buses. This means the company can rake in a monthly Rwf90, 000,000, and annual Rwf 1,080,000,000.
This service has been part of the passengers’ expected package for over three years. That means according to AC Group’s numbers, Kigali commuters have paid about Rwf3.24 billion in three years.
However, during this year-long investigation, Taarifa has also discovered that not all 450 buses are connected to the internet daily.
Only about 80 buses have been at most supplying internet to passengers. As of today, there is no bus that is connected to any form of internet.
Holders of Tap&Go cards are candidates of an unavoidable yet mysterious technical trap. To acquire this card, you go to any agent mostly found within bus terminals or bus stops.
The card costs Rwf500 but you have to pay an extra Rwf500 to be added on the card, a minimum although a card can have about Rwf2000 balance at one point.
There are those passengers that load more money probably to take them through the whole month.
However, when you lose this card, there is no way you can claim the balance on it because the card is not registered to the owner.
Over hundreds of millions of unclaimed cash is lost annually in this manner because there is no proof of card ownership (look out for Taarifa’s investigation into this matter next week).
Last year, RURA said it had recorded a large number of complaints from people who had lost the card or stolen – and the cash as well.
Patrick Buchana the CEO AC Group told Taarifa in an exclusive interview on August 1, “Balance on Tap&Go cards doesn’t belong to bus companies.
Money is kept in an escrow account and there are rules governing escrow accounts which we follow.”
Taarifa asked Buchana; who has oversight on this money? He said; “No one [based on] escrow rules, only when a client taps at any payment point does claim their share. There is a technology system for that.”
About the controversial availability of internet on buses, the group CEO says the internet is working at 85% uptime [as of last week…that was in July] which is good for a mobile router serving in a harsh environment.
“Please go test it for yourself and if it is below, this can be a need to us to address,” he challenged Taarifa.
We have asked passengers and bus drivers. “Zero, no internet,” says Annet Mutesi from Kimironko.
“We have been telling our bosses that the buses are not connected, but they don’t tell us why,” says one of the drivers on the Kicukiro-Nyarugenge route.
“There is no internet, it is a scam,” says one Muhire, a passenger from Remera.
However, one passenger from Masaka told us that there was some internet in the first months when the service introduced, but she says the internet was too slow and couldn’t even send a WhatsApp message.
“After a few months, there was no more internet at all since then. Never,” she says, laughing sarcastically.
Who is responsible for helping commuters to recover these billions of francs that were taken? Will these billions be returned to the public who received no service?
Editor’s note: RURA’s Director General told Taarifa later today afternoon that he has no knowledge of this matter. “I am not aware,” he said. “There seems to be some misinformation; my team met AC Group last week to review the status and RURA inspectors are constantly checking, so far no issue of the internet in buses.”
He added that “the population is used to the internet and they complain when it’s not there! I have not seen any complaints.” “I would suggest that you send people to check status on buses, rather than have a story that is inaccurate.”