Bebapay was a ticket-payment system in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. It was a collaboration between Google and the Kenyan Equity Bank.
The service used NFC (Near Field Communication) for transportation payments. Users had prepaid cards with the bank and could wirelessly pay their bus-fair by tapping their card to a handheld Android device.
To understand why Bebapay wasn’t successful, you first need to know the reason behind setting the system in the first place.
Kenya lacks a government-organized public transportation system, so commuters are left predominantly to the private sector, with mini-buses and vans called matatu being quite popular.
When Bebapay was launched, the government was trying to lessen corruption and theft among the drivers. As a solution, they planned to make all commute fairs go through online payments by July 2014. Enter prepaid cards and NFC technology.
Google and Equity Bank launched the product in April 2013. It was relatively successful with about 700,000 users by the time it was discontinued in March 2015. However, it failed to address some vital parts of its users’ daily reality.
One of the concerns people had with the service was that a prepaid card, such as BebaPay, which was used only for one service, was very inconvenient for managing daily expenses. It locks cash in, and disables the person from making a decision to e.g. forego traveling with a matatu in favor of buying more groceries, etc.
Furthermore, the drivers themselves couldn’t very well deal with whatever the change in payment method meant for their budgets. Most drivers relied on a daily cash income for various expenses. Card payments required having to plan a budget for the whole month – something many of the drivers didn’t know how to do.
Finally, the tool had many competitors like ‘MY1963’ by Tangaza Pesa and Safaricom and KCB’s ‘Abiria Card’. Google decided the service wasn’t worth pouring much more efforts in, and Equity Bank promptly replaced the Bebapay cards with a prepaid MasterCard option.