SINGAPORE: After facing public backlash, Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat announced the cancellation of the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) original plan to transition to SimplyGo and replace older public transport payment cards.
Following the LTA’s initial announcement two weeks ago, numerous commuters have voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed changes, questioning the necessity of the transition.
Addressing the issue on Monday (22 January), Minister Chee apologized on behalf of the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and LTA for the delays commuters experienced when attempting to convert their existing EZ-Link cards.
He acknowledged that this could have been avoided with better preparation.
“LTA has worked to address this issue. It has updated the SimplyGo app and speeded up the card conversion process.”
Holders of older EZ-Link cards not on SimplyGo, an account-based ticketing platform, will no longer be required to update their cards by 1 June for public transport payments.
Nets FlashPay cards will also continue to be accepted for adult fare payments, with no need to exchange them for a Nets Prepaid card by 1 June.
Minister Chee announced an additional investment of S$40 million (approximately US$29.8 million), but did not elaborate on what it will be spent on, to enable commuters to continue using EZ-Link and Nets FlashPay cards.
Both payment methods maintain the card-based ticketing system (CBT) that stores transaction data on the cards, unlike SimplyGo, which processes fare payments at the backend.
“We have decided to extend the use of the current (CBT) for adult commuters, and not to sunset the system in 2024 as originally planned,” Mr Chee wrote.
Those who upgraded their EZ-Link cards to SimplyGo between 9 and 22 January, or purchased SimplyGo-compatible EZ-Link cards during that period, can exchange their cards for those relying on the older ticketing system for free if they prefer.
LTA in a separate statement on the same day said details about this card exchange will be made public by the end of February, allowing preparation time to minimize inconvenience to passengers.
Concession card holders, such as students and seniors, will also be able to revert to non-SimplyGo cards as part of this exchange.
Minister Chee said he has directed the LTA to explore enhancements for account-based ticketing (ABT) cards, particularly seeking solutions for newer cards to display fare deductions and card balances at fare gates and bus card readers.
Nevertheless, he defended the advantages of ABT cards such as SimplyGo and bank cards (e.g., credit and debit cards).
“If a commuter misplaces his registered ABT stored value card, the balance can be protected because the value is stored in the user’s account. Whereas if they lose a CBT card, the value stored in the card will be lost. ”
Mr Chee highlighted that some individuals purchase ABT stored value cards for their family members, facilitating more convenient top-ups using the SimplyGo app. Additionally, ABT enables commuters to use bank cards and mobile wallets for paying public transport fares.
Accompanied by an infographic on his Facebook post, Mr Chee justified the growing popularity of ABT cards, with around 40% of adult commuters now utilizing bank cards or mobile wallets.
Acknowledging that ABT cards do not store fare and card balance data on the card itself, he explained that it takes a few seconds to retrieve information from the backend system for display at fare gates and bus card readers.
He said similar to SimplyGo, account-based transit cards used in London and Hong Kong also do not display fare deductions and card balances at fare gates.
Responding to media queries, LTA had earlier explained that while it was technically feasible to show fare and card balance information with SimplyGo, it would take a few seconds to retrieve this data from the backend system, potentially slowing down passenger entry and exit and leading to longer queues.
With SimplyGo, the concept was to allow users to view fare deductions and balances using a smartphone app, with notifications once they tap out from a bus or MRT stop.
Alternatively, users could obtain fare information at ticketing machines in MRT stations and bus interchanges.
Other promoted benefits of SimplyGo include the ability to block further transactions through the app in case of lost cards and the convenience of topping up travel cards on the move.
However, many users of older EZ-Link and Nets FlashPay cards expressed frustration over reduced functionality after switching to SimplyGo.
For instance, updated EZ-Link cards can no longer be used to pay for motoring expenses such as parking and Electronic Road Pricing charges post-transition.
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