Just as we predicted that Google would want to colonise every part of African’s life, the company has now launched a prepaid debit card which is Near Field Communications (NFC) enabled used for purchase of bus fare in Nairobi.
Fearing to launch a direct competition to M-Pesa, the company is testing the waters through the Beba card which is targeted at commuters using the Citi Hoppa buses. Google hopes to help commuters avoid the abrupt hiking of bus fares as is common in Nairobi. The route charges are pre-loaded on to the system so this will mean that either commuters might not enjoy off-peak rates or that the bus conductors will just have to go cash when they feel greedy enough.
The card can be pre-loaded with up to Ksh 10,000 ($115) with every user allowed to have not more than 5 cards. The card expires if not used for more than 6 months. Payment is made by just tapping the card on a read which is carried by bus conductors.
Through the Beba website you can view all your transactions including the amount, date and location where you loaded the beba card with money. You can also view the service you used, amount you paid and the company which offered you the service.
Though this card now targets users of the Citi Hoppa buses, I see Google spreading its tentacles gradually to almost every sphere of our lives. I guess that it is pretending to do only the beba, targeted at commuters, because it fears Safaricom’s reaction.
Reading through the Beba TOS, you realise that there is no service charge for the use of the card but operators like Safaricom will definitely charge you when you transfer money from M-Pesa to the card.