Rwanda began easing lockdowns at the beginning of May. By July, international airlines like Brussels Airlines are expected to resume flights to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. In the time between these events, motorcyles will return to the streets of the East African city.  

However, it won’t be business as usual. According to an announcement by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) on Wednesday, cashless payments will now be the only way for motorcycle taxi operators to receive payments from customers.

“All motorcyclists in Kigali are required to use meters and cashless payments such as MTN MoMo or Airtel Money,” the directive said. Drivers and passengers should carry hand-sanitizers but they must wear face masks. 

The requirement to have meters will be extended to provinces in the country at a later date but collecting cash for trips will effectively become a thing of the past.

The norms will go into effect on June 1, about 80 days after the country confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 14. 

In the weeks that followed the index case, moto taxis were banned from carrying passengers as a measure to control spread of the virus. There are about 37,000 registered taxi-moto drivers in Rwanda with 22,200 of them operating from Kigali.

Rwanda’s moto taxis return to passenger service as African governments – from Nigeria to South Africa – begin contemplating the economic pains of sustained lockdowns. However, the government appears to see a sizable opportunity to finally get motorcyclists to go digital.

[Read: Small businesses in retail and food delivery lead SA economic recovery]

Previous attempts have been fraught with enforcement difficulties. Last year, the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure declared a July 1 deadline for the two-wheelers to “go digital or quit” by installing meters. The rationale at the time was to eliminate haggling between passengers and drivers, increase access to transport and track reckless driving.

In February this year, the deadline was set for May but couldn’t take effect as the motorcycles were already suspended due to the coronavirus.

With the pandemic influencing current thinking around close human contact, RURA is emphasizing limiting “hand-to-hand” in its directive urging cashless payments. That builds the narrative for an objective measure of billing for trips, which is where the mandate for meters rests on this time.

Rwanda has a national motorcycle transport strategy to introduce a cashless based payment system for taxi-moto operators. It is based on the “Tap-and-go” payment system used in public commuter buses in Kigali.

The country’s tech firms like Yego Moto, Pascal Technology and Mara Group are rolling out the technology and the 146 moto co-operatives in the country are set to install GPS-enabled devices in their vehicles to calculate fares from distance, the New Times reports.

RURA’s announcement directly mentions MTN and Airtel, acknowledging both companies’ leading roles in the country’s mobile money space. Of the 5 active mobile money operators in the country, MTN and Airtel have about 85% market share, with three banks making up the rest. 

MTN waived mobile money transfer fees in Rwanda for 90 days beginning March 23. The telco took similar steps in the other countries where they operate including neighboring Uganda where efforts are also in high gear to digitalize the motorcycle taxi industry.

Alexander Onukwue Author

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox