Guest post by freelance innovation journalist Katya Stead
Every country has its own ways, its unspoken survival codes that seem set in stone. One of South Africa’s is this: don’t sit in the front of the taxi if you can help it, because you’ll have to count the money.
But all that looks set to change – or does it? A Fair Pay card cashless system has been piloted twice now, in both Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg, and it will be rolled out throughout the country in the next four to five years, according to the South African National Taxi Council.
The FairCard will be used in the taxis via swiping, similar to swiping a debit card. The cards are obtained and money put on them at a taxi rank where a FairCard kiosk is found, then commuters simply scan the card or it’s QR code once in a taxi and the fare set by the driver automatically comes off. The card can also be used to purchase essentials like groceries, airtime, electricity and more, making it arguably one of the most ‘ethnic-minded’ innovations in ages designed for African people’s needs, not based on American ones.
Possibly one of the most important if intangible differences is this: cashless payment systems mean, well, systems. This could go a long way to legitimising and reigning in the freewheelin’, gun-totin’ lawlessness the average South African associates with taxis. Because cash in hand is so hard to monitor, ‘bad apple’ taxi driver and bosses alike have been linked to fare and petrol stealing, drug running, overcharging fares based on discrimination and all sorts of other shenanigans. Why is that? Because each taxi will also be fitted with a scanner, monitoring driver behaviour, locations and more.
Taxi fares could even reduce, as taxi owners have commented before on several drivers naming a high fee and pocketing the differences for themselves illicitly.
These sorts of taxi drivers and owners who have profited from the largely unsupervisorable nature of cash are likely to be unhappy about all of this. Expect protests and growing pains over the next while. These, I’m sorry to say, may even involve serious vandalism and violence, even for innocent passersby, as tensions heat up. That’s what happened in Pietermaritzburg when they piloted ths.
Those taxi drivers and bosses who, on the other hand, are just honest guys trying to make a living, a cashless payment system could be a seriously good thing. It could singlehandedly make them recognisable employers and employees and – along with that – open up the possibility of a taxi driver getting medical aid, insurance, employee benefits and more.
Electronic records of money does mean legitimacy and real employment benefits for drivers, it’s true. However, here’s one thing the drivers may not have thought of: wherever there is electronic money changing hands there is also, usually, the taxman. Considering the creative and barrel-scraping taxes put in place in the last couple of years, including sugar tax, tyre tax and even school uniforms, it seems unlikely that SARS will let slip the golden goose of tens of billions of rands in estimated fares generated by the taxi industry in SA each year. Could we see a taxi tax in the near future? I wouldn’t put it past them.
According to Mail & Guardian reporter Niki Moore, more than one attempt in the past to introduce cashless systems in taxis has resulted in violent protests, vandalism and even deaths. She noted that as far back as 1999 “several taxi drivers with rival taxi associations were killed in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, after two rival card payment systems were introduced.” Ouch.
It seems we’ll just have to wait and see what happens…
What do you think? Good idea or bad idea? Let us know!