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Banking Economy

New Smartcard to Speed Up Passenger Use on Dar’s Rapid Bus Transport System

Two years ago, a top logistics company in the central business district of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, disqualified Olivia Massawe for a job interview because she was 45 minutes late. Olivia says she would have arrived on time had it not been for the long queue to buy a ticket at Kimara station for the city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

“We queued for more than an hour. I didn’t have the money to get a boda-boda [motorcycle] all the way to town, and with no daladalas [minibuses] on this route, there wasn’t an alternative. I just had to wait,” she said.

In June 2016, the BRT operator made an initial attempt to introduce smart cards. This allowed commuters to load their cards in advance through mobile money payments. To access BRT stations, they would only need to swipe their cards over a scanner, as opposed to queueing to buy a paper ticket at the cashier. Even back then, queues for the service were quite common, especially during peak hours. But Olivia recalls that life was so much easier when the smartcard trial was on.

“Back then, we used to load our tickets in advance, and access the bus stations using our cards, which speeded up boarding. They should bring those cards back. Right now, we don’t have any other option but to purchase our tickets physically at the cashiers,” she said.

The rollout of smartcards ended, however, when the Tanzanian government restructured the fare collection system to improve the cybersecurity of transportation services amidst rampant cybercrime.

Efficient bus fare collection is a critical component for effective management of any public transportation system.  Basic paper-based ticketing systems are a recipe for complaints among passengers as they result in long queues at terminals and stations. An upgraded system greatly improves user experience and attracts more ridership.

The Dar es Salaam Urban Transport Improvement Project (DUTP) was approved by the World Bank in 2017. It supports the construction of BRT line 3—from Dar’s Central Business District (CBD) to Gongo la Mboto via the international airport—and BRT line 4—which runs from the CBD to Tegeta through the road to Bagamoyo on the coast to the north of Dar. It also supported the construction of the Ubungo Interchange, which has already been completed.

One of the DUTP project’s key activities was the design and implementation of Automated Fare Collection Systems (AFCS) on BRT line 1, which was also financed by the World Bank (under the Second Central Transport Corridor Project.) 

AFCS is a digitalized system for issuing tickets consisting of a combination of hardware and software that work together to deliver a quick, user-friendly fare service to riders, giving them swift access to public transport. Such digitalized systems have been used in public transport globally but gained more popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that with the DUTP project’s support, the Dar Rapid Transit Agency (DART), which manages BRT—East Africa’s first such rapid transport system—is now on the verge of improving its fare collection system. Under it, DART will revamp the use of smartcards; in fact, a pilot system has been installed at some stations and trials have been conducted to test its efficiency.

The plan is for AFCS to be installed in all of the BRT’s 29 bus stations, as well as five terminals. Apart from the ICT systems, the activities being supported include about 200,000 smartcards (to be issued to passengers) and about ten turnstile gates (two of the gates will be dedicated to riders with wheelchairs). Ticket validators are to be installed at each BRT station, with a total throughput capacity of about 400 passengers per station.

More importantly, the AFCS will be maintained by the government, to avoid the challenges experienced with the 2016 smartcard trial.

The reintroduction of smartcards should improve operational efficiency and make the BRT easy and convenient for daily commuters to use. Riders like Olivia will no longer have to wait in long queues to buy a ticket. And there are many other benefits:

  • For starters, this syncs with the Tanzanian government’s overall agenda for digital transformation. With options to top up smartcards through mobile money services, their use will promote a cashless culture in public transport and support the inclusion of more people in the digital economy.
  • DART will benefit from improved data and revenue collection. The current ticketing system, where a user buys a ticket and scans its QR code, collects real time data, but is susceptible to fraud and the leakage of revenue. For example, there have been reports of fake tickets being issued by cashiers. With smartcards, the user won’t need to interact with cashiers.
  • The system will also generate data to help DART’s management understand the volume of commuters in each station. Transport planners will get a clearer picture of a station’s capacity and find it easier to cater for routes with larger volumes of passengers during off and on peak hours. 
  • The use of smartcards will also improve the cleanliness of bus terminals and their surroundings, where it’s common to see paper tickets strewn around. While paper tickets will still be available for students (who pay a subsidized fare) and non-regular users (especially non-Dar es Salaam residents), the durability of smartcard will reduce the amount of trash. Eliminating manual fare collection and cash exchange improves hygiene for both riders and BRT operators, an issue during COVID. 

AFCS has developed a mobile app, the “Dar City Navigator”, which allows commuters to book their tickets using smartphones and provides real-time information about BRT services, bus routes, and service disruptions.

The ongoing expansion of BRT’s network in other parts of the city, including BRT line 2—from the CBD to Mbagala—and BRT line 5 (from Ubungo towards Dar es Salaam port with a branch to Tabata—are supported by African Development Bank and Agence Française de Développement respectively. They, and their possible expansion, hold promise for the future of Dar es Salaam’s public transit system.

Source : World Bank



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