SINGAPORE: Amid its push to make the public transport system cashless, the Government will focus its attention on the “small minority” who will need help with the transition, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said in Parliament on Monday (Sep 11).
About 150 service agents - a quarter of whom are senior citizens - will be deployed at MRT stations over the next nine months, to help commuters learn how to use the ticketing machines.
Other agencies such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will also be roped in to make e-payments more accessible to all. These include people who do not have bank accounts, which is the case for some foreign workers.
As part of Singapore’s Smart Nation push, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and its subsidiary TransitLink announced last month its goal to have a fully cashless public transport system by 2020.
Already, cash top-up services at 11 MRT stations were removed on Sep 1, and the Thomson-East Coast Line will be Singapore's first cashless rail line from 2019.
In response to questions from MPs on what will be done to help certain demographics of the population such as the elderly, Dr Lam said: “We will manage the transition gradually over several years, so that no commuter needs to feel left out.”
He added that LTA’s public consultation was done “widely across a number of demographic groups” before last month’s announcement. Out of the 300 participants across 29 constituencies who were asked for their views, about 30 per cent were seniors. The LTA also conducted a series of face-to-face focus group discussions, of which one quarter of the participants were seniors.
These public consultations remain an ongoing process, and will be "widened and deepened" to engage various stakeholders, Dr Lam added.
ACCOUNT-BASED TICKETING SYSTEM TO BE EXPANDED
Dr Lam said the current public transport system is already largely e-payments based, with more than 98 per cent of commuters using Contactless e-Purse Application Specification (CEPAS) cards such as EZ-Link and NETS FlashPay. Most senior citizens are already using such forms of payment, given that there are almost 700,000 senior citizen concession card holders.
Moving forward, the Government is challenging LTA and TransitLink to make account-based ticketing (ABT) and electronic top-ups "so convenient for commuters that cash top-ups and payments will become the less preferred option”.
One way to make the ABT system more convenient for commuters is to expand LTA's pilot programme with MasterCard to include other payment schemes.
In a separate announcement on Monday, LTA said that the pilot will be extended beyond the original duration of six months, to trial the use of mobile payment modes such as Android Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. This means commuters can simply use their mobile phones to tap in and out on trains and buses.
Other payment schemes such as Visa and NETS 2.0 holders will come on board from June 2018.
The ABT system, which allows commuters to use contactless credit or debit cards to tap in and out of the public transport system, will eventually be fully rolled out, Dr Lam added.
This will help commuters, including tourists, to “avoid the hassle of doing cash top-ups”, he said.
At the moment, two out of three commuters continue to top up their cards with cash, which is a “cumbersome” process, according to Dr Lam. The maintenance of cash facilities at MRT stations and buses also imposes additional costs of almost S$20 million a year, he said.
For commuters who continue to use CEPAS cards, Dr Lam said electronic top-ups will be made more convenient. For example, commuters will be able to top up their travel cards online, through GIRO or using their mobile phones.
Dr Lam added that the LTA and TransitLink will ensure that cash alternatives for the payment of transport rides will remain available near public transport nodes,to cater to commuters who find it difficult to transit to cashless payments.