Zimbabwe’s forgotten commuter omnibus passengers – some solutions

                        *** All Rights Reserved Alex Weir 2013 ***


Zimbabwe’s forgotten commuter omnibus passengers


Since Zimbabwe adopted the US$ (and to some lesser extent the South African Rand) as its currency in 2008/2009, change, and especially sub-dollar change, has been a problem.


This is now in 2013 coming to a head, wherein commuters are being forced to switch from paying US$0.50 per trip (of maybe 7 km) to paying one dollar – i.e. a 100% inflationary increase.  The shortage of sufficient rand or BWP Botswana Pula coins is forcing this change, plus of course the greed of the bus operators and the fact that the 16-seater Japanese minibuses are reaching the end of their useable lifetime.


This is occurring with the background of a general continent-wide (and even global) financial squeeze on hard-working families.  When the breadwinner is making a gross wage of US$ 150-00 per month, he or she is being asked to increase work-related travel costs from US$22 to US$ 44 per month.  This is an untenable situation.


The potential solutions are:


  1. People switch to walking or cycling.  Cycling is regarded as very low status pretty much throughout Africa, and especially in Zimbabwe.  A non-runner.  People who are fit enough will or have already switched to walking when the distance is not excessive.


  1. Botswana and/or South African Governments agree to sell large quantities of BWP or ZAR to the Zimbabwe Government and/or banks to provide enough coin liquidity for bus operators to action a US$ 0.60, 70 or 80 cent fare.  There may be problems however with opportunistic Zimbabwean business people gathering up coins to melt down or to exchange when currency rates move in their favour.  The result of that would be a disappearance of the coins injected into the system.


  1. Zimbabwe and South Africa agree that Zimbabwe shall join the Rand Economic Area, and switches to using ZAR in the wages, tax, bank account and indeed all systems.  Then the availability of small change will not be a problem.  This should also greatly encourage South Africans to invest in Zimbabwe, since currency movements USD/ZAR would no longer be a risk. But the present and even future governments in Zimbabwe may regard this as being too large a surrender of sovereignity.  Especially when the immediate political future in South Africa may be taking a negative or unknown turn.


  1. USA agrees to allow and even to facilitate the use of American coinage in Zimbabwe – i.e. quarters, dimes etc..  A better solution than (2) above.  Someone has told me that the airfreight costs for this would be excessive – so send them seafreight!


  1. Some kind of electronic money which can be transacted inside or outside the bus without excessive charges on these small payments.


I outline below a solution to (5) above.  But probably solutions (3) or (4) are better.



                        *** All Rights Reserved Alex Weir 2013 ***


Zimbabwe’s forgotten commuter omnibus passengers – a possible solution of micropayments


Much has been written about Mpesa the Kenyan e-money/ mobile money success story.  But try to translate that success to micropayments – e.g. under $1 – and it won’t work – the transaction cost is too high – being US$ 0.30 or more, depending  whether an emoney-to-cash or cash-to-emoney process is involved, or whether the transaction is a purely electronic one.


My proposal works as follows:


  1. This is a system for use by all commuter omnibuses (usually 16 seater but sometimes 24 or 32 seater) throughout Harare (or maybe throughout Zimbabwe) – when the fare is typically under US$ 1-00 at todays 2013 prices.


  1. One single system is set up, created, funded and operated by a mobile phone company – probably in Zimbabwe’s case Econet Wireless (since the owner Strive Masiwe is a US$ Billionaire he can probably afford to do this).


  1. The system allows payment by mobile phone SMS by each passenger, using their existing electronic wallet.  These wallets are in 99% of cases tied to the mobile phone of the passenger.  There may be included in the system a mechanism for people without mobile phones to have an electronic wallet, which they can operate using someone else’s phone to send an SMS (short message/ text message)


  1. They buy top-up value inside or outside any CO (commuter omnibus) in units of US$ 1,2,3,4,5 etc.. There is no registration process.


  1. The fee for the top-up is zero.


  1. The charge by the phone company for all transactions is zero.  They write off their costs as Corporate Social Responsibility (and of course get tax relief on that)


  1. Each CO has a unique identifier number, which enable payments to be channeled to that account.


  1. A typical passenger’s SMS may be structured as follows:

            89765  0.75 C2


            This means that the passenger sitting in the bus (CO) numbered 89765 in seat number C2 is       paying US$ 0.75.


            89765  0.75 C2  1  C3  1 C4


            Means that the wallet is paying 75 cents for passenger in seat C2, and one dollar each for the    passengers in seats C3 and C4.  The price difference is probably due to longer distance being            travelled, or could be due to being obese, having luggage, being a schoolchild etc..


9. The wallet is identified by the sending phone number.  The Number to which the SMS’s are sent is a general number which receives all traffic for Harare or even for Zimbabwe as a whole. The CO identifier is prominently displayed inside the CO, as is the General System Number (GSN).


10.  The CO  driver or conductor has a smartphone which displays the seating arrangement and shows who has and who has not yet paid.  When someone gets out then the conductor or driver resets that seat on their smartphone.  And if people move themselves around there may be some way of accommodating that.  In fact, a better system may be that as people enter the bus they get a small cardboard ticket with a number; they use that number instead of a seat reference when doing the e-payment.  And when they exit the combi they hand in their number.


11.  Now here is some clever stuff – traditionally, the bus owner never knows exactly how much his bus makes every day – the driver and conductor are effectively franchise operators who pocket what they can.  The electronic system means that the owner knows exactly what is made from e-payments (but nothing about cash passengers).  That in itself should bring down fares….!


  1. There are different levels of rights in the system –


  1. the conductor can authorise a full or partial refund in the rare case when that may be necessary (but the owner gets a full report on that). 
  2. The conductor or driver can use a percentage of the wallet’s emoney to buy petrol or diesel at participating garages.  That percentage can be set and altered by the owner only.  The garage enters also the odometer mileage or kilometerage at the time of fuelling, and that goes to the owner’s report.
  3. the owner has full control and can stop all fuel buying rights at any time
  4. only the owner can withdraw the emoney into real money
  5. any and all government or local government  taxes can be levied at source inside the system
  6. location data may be included in the system so that the owner can see where his or her bus has been operating
  7. LEGAL traffic fines can be paid in emoney at road blocks, and there will be complete 100% transparency – note that illegal and improper cash traffic fines paid to police by bus drivers are a huge problem in Zimbabwe and in many other Third World countries.



  1. Since the owner and Government are making more money from this system then maybe they can in fact pay the Mobile Phone Provider (e.g. Econet) for providing the service…  Those payments could be deducted automatically daily or as nanopayments with each transaction.


  1. It is important to allow also for cash payments to be made for CO trips, since some people will not wish to or be able to do the e-payments.  This is where driver and conductor can make their small profit on the side.  In fact they will discount cash payment sometimes to short-change the owner and put money in their own pockets.


*** All Rights Reserved Alex Weir 2013 ***


  1. The opportunity to extend this service to the payment for purchases in supermarkets or from vendors is very interesting.  The vendor problem is often not so great since they simply aggregate the quantity of whatever they are selling to make a round $1, but there will also be some scope there.  Especially for the poor who wish to buy goods worth maybe as low as US$ 0.20


  1. There have to be also of course a few maintenance menu options for the traveler / wallet owner, maybe just to check balance.


  1. There will probably have to be a maximum wallet balance limit, to keep the anti-money laundering guys happy…



Mr Alex Weir, Plot 25500, Block 9, Gaborone, Botswana

Sunday 8 December 2013



+26772982005 & +26772233717



            *** All Rights Reserved Alex Weir 2013 ***



About alexweir1949

software developer, inventor and innovator, Fraud Proof Voting Systems Inventor, founder of cd3wd.com. Based in Botswana and Zimbabwe, work everywhere.
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