Kenya’s cashless public transport fails to pick, five years on

In Summary
  • The cashless matatu payment initiative was a policy move by government via the ministry of transport to clean up the industry

As a public transport user, it is not uncommon to see one of the commuters taking out their phones to pay the tout using mobile money.

Occasionally, that commuter might just be you.

More often than not, caught up with affairs of the day, public transport users find themselves halfway through the ride, to or from work, without a single cent to pay or with an Sh1,000 bob note that the tout just won't accept because he does not have the change.


With mobile money being the only available option, you end up having to make the cashless transaction, with an extra withdrawal charge on top.

Initially, touts were afraid to accept cashless transactions fearing commuters would reverse the mobile money transfers, sending them into losses. Now, it’s an exchange much like any other.

So the question we are left pondering on is, “What happened to Kenya’s cashless public transport payment system?”

The cashless matatu payment initiative was a policy move by the government via the ministry of transport to clean up the industry.

The regulations were contrived in a legal notice titled National Transport and Safety Authority (Operation of Public Service Vehicles), published in September 2013 with a deadline set for June 2014.

The rules were aimed at formalizing the matatu industry, weeding out inefficiency, corruption and bribing culture by mandating cashless commuter payments.

With their eye on an estimated Sh2 billion in earnings from processing commuter transactions, a number of blue-chip firms including Equity, Google, Safaricom M-Pesa, Mastercard, KCB Bank, and Family bank came up with products for the initiative.


In April 2013, Equity Bank officially partnered with Google to introduce BebaPay, a cashless card payment solution.

Others including the KCB Pepea card in partnership with Safaricom through M-pesa, the Mastercard Fare Card and Family Bank’s Pesa mob.

Even the Matatu Owners Association had their eye on the prize, introducing their own prepaid solution, the 1963 card.

Given Kenya leads in the adoption of financial technology, it raises the question of how such a digital payment system would fail to pick up, more than five years down the line.

Relevant authorities did not return our calls or respond to text messages when we sought to hear from them.