Matatu conductors at a bust stop. They are possibly among the happiest workers in Kenya. www.businesstoday.co.ke
Matatu conductors at a bust stop. Commuters can now pay their fares through M-Pesa after the company rolled out the service in Nairobi to curb the spread of coronavirus in Kenya. [Photo/NYT]

In what has been a long journey to cash freedom, matatus are now accepting payments on mobile money thanks to the coronavirus outbreak.

For years, the sector has remained rigid and refusing to embrace technology to ensure that the sector transitions to a cashlite economy.

As the virus spreads and with warnings to maintain respectable social distancing to avoid escalating the blowout, Safaricom has rolled out a partnership with the public transport sector players to accept cashless payments through M-Pesa.

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The partnership will see crew from partnering public transit firms begin accepting fares through their phone numbers.

“Many businesses are seeing an increase in demand to accept M-Pesa payments due to the ongoing concerns around the coronavirus and our recent move to enable Kenyans send M-Pesa transactions of Sh 1,000 and below for free. Our partnership with the different public transit players brings the convenience and safety of M-Pesa to this crucial sector given the widespread uptake of public transport across the country,” said Sitoyo Lopokoiyit, Chief Financial Services Officer, Safaricom.

The service has already been deployed to more than 300 City Star Shuttle vehicles in Nairobi and will be rolled out to additional players in the coming days, helping them further comply with the government’s recommendations to combat the spread of coronavirus.

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Passengers paying their fares through the service will follow the standard procedure when sending money to another person, keying the number provided by the crew.

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Among measures to help minimize the impact of coronavirus to its customers and to help them avoid the use of cash, Safaricom has announced all its M-Pesa customers can send money for free for transactions of Sh 1,000 and below for a 90 day period.

This is not the first time that the sector is being sought to embrace the cashless economy.

In April 2013, Google and Equity Bank entered a partnership and introduced BebaPay. The cashless card payment system required just a Google account and no bank account.

To have it working, one would purchase credit and top up their accounts in various locations. But, the idea did not last and it died a slow death.

Another player who ought o streamline payments in the sector was KCB who introduced Pepea card for ease of commute. The debit card which could be used for various payments did not pick up as well and it was shelved.

Many other innovations have come and gone as the matatu sector remains one of the most challenging to streamline in Kenya.

However, with the challenges like the coronavirus, only time will tell if the matatus will continue being ignorant of the need to go cashless. On the other hand, the government could finally manage to tax a sector whose earnings can never be quantified.

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