Monthly Archive: May 2012

Newest transit card, “BEBA” by Google.

Several years ago, a friend told me, the very wealthy people do not walk around with cash. Most walk with wallets full of Gold, Platinum and Silver Cards. Then i did not believe him. Now i have a Beba card :)

These past few weeks have proved to me that you can actually save money when using cards more than cash at most points. In my previous post about my trip to Brazil, one of the things i picked from there was the card based economy.

This week, i have been very excited about the new entrant to my card-full life, the BEBA card.

This is a transit card based on the Near field communication (NFC) technology that has been introduced by google (yes, i only got to know that when i read the terms and conditions (i am impressed)). The way this card works is, you get a free card from one of the many agents in designated locations and top up from between KES 200- KES 10,000 (a minimum of about $90) and every time you travel by the Citi Hoppa Bus, the conductor uses the NFC device to charge you. The most impressive part of this technology is its integration with M-PESA for refunds (although they need to work on the debiting too) and that then you get an SMS confirmation receipt. How about that to saving trees!

Each user has an online profile that is accessible by a gmail account to check the remaining balance and to track the transit trends. Now speak of Big Data in the making.

Unfortunately, in my excitements of being billed on my Beba Card, I still have my credit intact, there are a few :( things about the Beba card:

  1. It is also affected by the “weather changes and traffic conditions.” Matatu touts are notorious for changing travel pricing according to the weather conditions. This card unfortunately does not protect a user against these harsh conditions. The NFC device allows the tout to indicate what price they want to charge.
  2. The users have to register using GMail email address. Now for those stuck in the yahoo age, you know what i mean. The NFC devices are android phones, yes i took time to look around.
  3. The distribution and use of the NFC devices is not very well managed and as a result, I got a free ride this morning because the agent told me if the conductor does not have the device, i just dont pay. Ok, that is a plus for me as i really save money but its not a sustainable model for business. The buses that should accept a beba card have a sign that shows they do.

    A beba sticker on the bus



While in UK, I used the Oyster Card

and from my UK visit Post, a reader Posted this Useful comment:

Kenton: “The Oyster card system uses NFC technology by MIFARE, the first time I saw this system was in Hong Kong in 2001, my friend had the NFC transit chip inside his Swatch-branded watch. Amazing for its day. My favourite part of Oyster is that once I’ve registered it online and linked it to my credit card, it tops up the balance automatically whenever it gets low, so I never have to remember to top it up nor queue at the ticket office to do so – and if I lose it, I get the card replaced and keep the balance. Not sure where you saw the QR code – if on an overground train, it’s by a company called Masabi but it’s actually not a QR code, it’s a different type of 2D barcode because it’s easier to read quickly at the barriers than QR codes.”

My recommendations are to use a system like what has been implemented by the Double M buses

A circle graph for transit charges

where they have fixed pricing for different locations, according to distance, rain or shine. Something other operators have really not tried at all to implement.

All in all, thumbs up to google and whoever brought this smart idea into the market, we are not there but we are looking at the right direction. Keep walking :)


University of Cambridge and UK Visit.

A hanging in the train to Cambridge town

Last week i was in UK, at the University of Cambridge, Judge School of Business as a keynote speaker at the Cambridge Business in Africa Network.

This was an event organized, mostly by African Students studying in Cambridge and the idea was to discuss “Unlocking Value in Frontier Africa” and how new investors can find a market in Africa and also identifying the opportunities that exist, the political environment and availability of manpower.


This was my first time to use the tube. I needed to break off my tourist habits of using taxis. It was scary having to figure the way around on my own but by the fact that this post is up, means i made it :)


On the front page of the Kenyan plan Vision2030 is a very pretty underground train which to be honest after this experience i cant wait to have in place. The tube is one of the most effective systems i have ever used in my life, next to a few things that i will name once i remember them.

I got myself an Oyster card that allows you to simply top up and be on the move. It is a cashless transit plan where you pay for all transit upfront and there are also systems in place to ensure than only legit card holders use the system.

Maps detailing the transit journeys are also provided at the terminals so you are sure to get lost at your own fault.

The infrastructure looked a little complex but i also appreciate that it was never built in a day.


The most amazing thing for me was the fact that someone actually presented a QR code in place of a card. Ok, what is my excitement here? I am a techie and should not have accepted any less but HEY! That is precisely it, the fact that technology has been easily adopted and integrated into the public systems.


Well going back to the agenda of the event and just a little of it, most of the attending crowd was female, most of the students were also from west Africa, so were most of the invited and attending guests with people like H.E Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria. In attendance was also Dr. Guy Scott, the Vice president of Zambia among many other CEOs, Mds and entrepreneurs from other parts of Africa.


Now, I wish events like these would actually be held in Africa but again, I wish events like this would be held by African Universities. Frequently. Invite top delegates, people who have a deep rooted business understanding, leaders of nations, and top market players. People who can open or spark the thinking at student level.


Now most might think this should be a Universities led initiative but i disagree. As i said, this was actually organized by Masters and PHD students. Well most cases, these classes are busy with their day jobs and only a few hours in the night for studies with a family to back home to. Its all about sacrifice my friends.


All in all, i also enjoyed London, a very beautiful city with lots to offer and to see. I was here on tourist status so i am not very entitled to keep typing…