More than 700,000 users of BebaPay, an electronic payment card used to pay matatu fares in Nairobi, have been left stranded after the operators announced they would discontinue the service mid next month.
In a message sent to customers last weekend, BebaPay advised card holders to exhaust their balances by March 15, after which the payment system would not be in operation.
The card, launched through a partnership between Equity Bank and global tech firm Google in April 2013, uses Near Field Communication technology so users simply place it next to a point of sale machine to make payments.
It swiftly gained popularity with commuters using the Citi Hoppa fleet, with which the two firms had entered into a partnership, before coming under intense competition from new market entrants and finally caving in under pressure.
REPLACE YOUR CARD
“Dear customer, the BebaPay services will be discontinued on 15th March 2015. You can either replace your card with new Equity PrePaid MasterCard for free or finish your balance by 15 March or get a refund after 28 March,” the firm said in the text message.
Interestingly, Equity Bank had already started marketing its prepaid card weeks before the planned closure of BebaPay was announced, despite the fact that the two cards are targeting the same market.
It is not clear under what terms the partnership between Google and Equity was terminated before the bank entered a separate deal with MasterCard. Officials from both firms could not reached for comment.
BebaPay had signed up close to 700,000 users, according to sources within Equity Bank.
A statement posted on BebaPay’s website said customers could no longer top up at agent locations while top-ups through mobile money platform would come to an end on Friday.
The push by the government to ban cash payment of bus fares has triggered huge interest in the public transport sector from the financial and tech firms.
Already four major banks - Equity, Cooperative. Family and Kenya Commercial Bank have developed products targeting the sector whose revenue is estimated at Sh200 billion a year.
KCB and Equity, on the one hand, have MasterCard branded EMV cards, while Safaricom, with its My1963 payment card while Cooperative Bank, on the other hand, use Near Field Technology.
The result is that the cards have no interoperability as each operator fights to defend the authenticity of what they have brought into the market.
Safaricom director for corporate Affairs Nzioka Waita last week told Nation that its My1963 cards were the ones rightly gazetted by the government.