Rwanda moves to revive bus Internet service

Sunday April 8 2018

Commuter buses in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Commuter buses in Kigali, Rwanda. Public transport passengers continue to pay for Internet charges in their fares, despite lack of service. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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At the beginning of 2016 when the Internet on the Bus Initiative was launched by the City of Kigali in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and ICT and other stakeholders, passengers were upbeat that the new project would be of great benefit.

More than two years down the road however, the project has hit a snag despite passengers continuing to incur the “Internet charge” in the fare.

Rwanda utilities regulatory authority (Rura) now says it will commission the Internet connectivity on city commuter buses afresh after the project failed to satisfy users under earlier service providers.

Officials admitted the project, initially run by Korea Telecom Networks (KTRN) Rwanda through Telecom Network Solution Provider Ltd (TNSP) as a service retailer, flopped following years of poor service which left users claiming value for their money.

Rura said the Wi-Fi connectivity system failed after the installed wireless devices were incompatible with fleet, among other challenges.

Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, head of transport at Rura told Rwanda Today that AC Group — a smart transport start-up company running the automated bus fare payment system — would soon start vending the Internet system on buses to revive the project.

“It is a decision that has been made already and AC Group has procured new devices that are adaptable to our environment. Some are being tested to confirm their suitability,” he said.

Revamp

In June last, the government institutions that are partners to the project had resolved to revamp the service by allowing KTRN, a 4G Internet infrastructure service provider, to directly deal with the bus operators following the suspension of TNSP’s retail services over failure to maintain the service.

ICT Ministry officials indicated that the move would enable the provider to first stabilise the service prior to handing it to retailers.

Field assessment by Rwanda Today indicated that not a single bus on the Kigali public transport system has Internet connectivity yet passengers continue paying Rwf30 ($0.035) per trip incorporated in the transport fare.

It is estimated close to Rwf124,840 ($144) is collected as Internet fee daily per vehicle, translating into roughly Rwf70 million ($80,500) per month according to sources in the city transport sector

Rura officials indicated they found it inappropriate to tell the public to stop paying the fee which is paid as part of the fare.

Mr Katabarwa said the money was being channelled to an escrow account accessed only by Rura, and would be used to pay for the new wireless devices need by AC Group to revive the service.

“Users will not be required to pay for the new devices since there is this money being collected,” he said but could not disclose how much had been accumulated on the account.

Efforts to get comments from AC Group proved futile by press time.

Launched in 2015, the Internet on Kigali public transport buses project was jointly fronted by the former Ministry of Youth and ICT, Rura and the City of Kigali in a bid to push the Smart Kigali initiative.