Public transport operators now face Sh20,000 fine for failing to provide passengers with contact-free fare payment option such as M-Pesa in the latest rules for curbing the spread of Covid-19.
The measures are contained in the Public Health (Covid-19 Operation of Public Service Vehicles) rules 2020 that also outlaw serving food or drinks to passengers while on board.
The use of digital fare payments is aimed at cutting down on the handling of cash to help contain the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 34,057 people in Kenya and killed 574.
“A system for contact-free payment shall be put in place by the operator,” reads the regulations which were gazetted on July 24.
“A person who commits an offence under this rules shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh20, 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.”
This means that public transport operators will have to show evidence of the cashless payment system or risk the fines and jail.
Matatus and buses must observe stringent rules in the wake of Covid-19, setting stage for reduced profits margins and pressure on fares.
The rules demand that the operators keep half of the seats empty under the social distancing rules imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
They must measure the temperature of all passengers upon entry, provide hand sanitisers approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and disinfect the interest of the buses after every trip.
The rules also offers the national and county government powers to ground all vehicles belonging to a particular Sacco in breach of the Covid-19 rules.
Previously, this right was granted to the transport regulator-the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).
The use of contact-free fare payment methods is aimed at limiting physical contact between the passengers and the crew.
The rule comes in the middle of NTSA tendering for a digital fare collection system that will also have the technical capability to contact trace passengers.
The authority bids invited tech companies to install mobile software and web applications for the nearly 200,000 matatus in the country, setting the stage for the ban in use of cash in matatus.
Once the system is in place, all passengers could be required to pay their fares via mobile money platforms, giving the government access to their identities and personal contact information that is needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
An earlier cashless fare payment platform fronted by the government, and which was launched in November 2014, flopped following strong opposition from matatu operators who felt that it was a ploy to monitor their daily earnings for taxation measures. The digital payment system required passengers to get pre-paid cards or use mobile money for payment of fares in PSVs.
Safaricom has assigned M-Pesa paybill numbers to willing matatu operators in a service it called Lipa Fare na M-Pesa where travellers do not incur any transaction charges and matatu owners pay a one per cent commission based on the value of total fares collected through the mobile platform.
Buses that covers journeys above 50 kilometres will also be required to collect and keep passenger information for at least six months to ease contact tracing.
Contact tracing, a disease control method that traditionally relies on patients’ memories of their movements, identifies people they might have infected so they too can be isolated either for monitoring or treatment. Currently, the government uses oral information provided by patients during the tests to track those who turn positive, something that has been blamed for the growing number of patients outside isolation facilities.
Passengers’ information include their full name, nationality, national identification number, telephone number and permanent residence.
Passengers who give false information are also liable to the Sh20,000 fine.
“The operator shall provide, without undue delay, the manifest to the relevant public health authorities upon request,” reads the rules.