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Chee Hong Tat: Initial SimplyGo transition aims to avoid CBT extension costs

Transport Minister defends the primary rationale transitioning to SimplyGo, citing cost avoidance in extending the current ticketing system. Yet many questions unanswered, including anticipated yearly savings with exclusive SimplyGo use versus simultaneous use with CBT.

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Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat defended the primary rationale for transitioning to SimplyGo, emphasizing the avoidance of costs associated with extending the current ticketing system beyond its 2024 end-of-life.

He assured the public that the extension of the current ticketing system will not impact public transport fares, following the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s U-turn last month on its original plan to transition to SimplyGo and replace older public transport payment cards.

“We will also find ways to integrate the two CBT systems over time without affecting commuters, and to reduce overall costs where possible,” he said.

However, many questions were left unanswered in Parliament on Monday (5 February),  notably regarding figures sought by WP MP Gerald Giam.

He specifically sought details on the expected yearly savings associated with exclusive SimplyGo use compared to the simultaneous use of SimplyGo and CBT.

S$40 million for “hardware and equipment” to extend operations until 2030

During Monday’s Parliamentary session, Minister Chee reiterated that the government needs to spend S$40 million (US$30 million) to prolong the lifespan of the adult EZ-Link card system, which operates independently from the concession card system.

While the system for concession cards can continue functioning, the adult EZ-Link card system is set to reach the end of its operational life this year.

Mr Chee said LTA will need the money to buy “new hardware and equipment” to allow the system to run until at least 2030.

20 Parliamentary questions (PQs) were filed by fellow Members of Parliament from both sides, critically examining the government’s strategies in implementing the transition to SimplyGo and the subsequent reversal of the decision to phase out older public transport payment cards, prompted by widespread public discontent.

On 26 January, Mr Chee apologised and admitted LTA’s oversight in underestimating commuters’ preferences.

In response to MPs’ PQs, Mr Chee clarified that LTA currently manages three distinct systems: SimplyGo, an account-based ticketing system, one CBT system for adult EZ-Link cards and NETS FlashPay cards, and another CBT system for concession cards.

These two card-based systems were developed at different times.

Upon consulting various commuter groups about transitioning to SimplyGo, seniors expressed unfamiliarity with the SimplyGo app and a preference to continue monitoring their fare deductions and card balances.

“Based on this feedback, LTA decided not to shift concession card holders over to SimplyGo and instead retain the concession CBT system for these commuters,” said Mr Chee.

Regarding adult commuters, LTA initially considered phasing out the CBT system, as a significant majority had adopted SimplyGo.

Mr Chee also defended the increasing adoption of SimplyGo over time.

As of December 2023, 41% of adult commuters opted for bank cards and mobile wallets for public transport, while an additional 23% utilized SimplyGo Account-Based Ticketing (ABT) with stored-value card (SVC), totalling 64% of adult commuters using SimplyGo.

However, the announcement in the preceding month triggered strong reactions, leading to a reversal of the decision.

“We therefore decided not to proceed with the earlier decision to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters, so that commuters who prefer to have the option of using CBT EZ-Link cards or NETS FlashPay cards to pay for public transport can still do so,” said Mr Chee.

Mr Chee added that the proportion of adult commuters utilizing SimplyGo continued to rise after the announcement on 22 January.

Between 23 to 31 January 2024, approximately 9,000 adult commuters, averaging around 1,000 per day, transitioned from CBT cards to the SimplyGo system.

Mr Chee highlighted, “As of the end of January, close to 70% of adult commuters are using SimplyGo, with 44% opting for bank cards and mobile wallets, and 25% utilizing SimplyGo SVCs.”

Mr Chee emphasized the government’s commitment to preserving options for commuters who prefer using CBT EZ-Link cards or NETS FlashPay cards for public transport payments.

Enhancing SimplyGo’s features and user experience

He also conveyed his directive to LTA to enhance the features and user experience of SimplyGo, addressing technical challenges that currently hinder the display of fare deductions and card balances upon tapping out of an MRT station or a bus.

Mr Chee emphasized that no decision regarding CBT systems beyond 2030 needed to be made at this juncture.

“In making the decision subsequently, important factors would include whether we can overcome the current technical limitations of the ABT system, and which system commuters prefer to use.”

Minister Chee: Initial plan to transition to SimplyGo to avert extension expenses beyond 2024

Joan Pereira, PAP MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, queried whether during LTA’s initial announcement on June 15 last year regarding the consolidation of EZ-Link and Transit Link under SimplyGo, it was already known that the EZ-Link system would be phased out, and if so, why was this not publicly disclosed at the time.

In response, Minister Chee clarified that the merger of the two card systems aimed to facilitate closer collaboration between the organizations and was not directly linked to the decision to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters.

He said the key consideration behind the initial plan to transition to SimplyGo was to avoid the expense of extending the system beyond its 2024 end-of-life.

He added that by December 2023, approximately two-thirds of adult commuters had already transitioned to using SimplyGo’s cardless payment method.

Mr Chee acknowledged that there had been an underestimation of commuters’ strong preference to continue seeing fare deductions and card balances at fare gates and bus card readers.

Consequently, after considering this feedback and understanding commuters’ concerns, the decision was made not to proceed with the original plan to phase out the CBT system for adult commuters.

“After hearing this feedback and understanding the concerns, we decided not to proceed with the original plan to sense CBT system for adult commuters.”

Mr Chee acknowledges the need for broader consultation with commuters

During a supplementary question, Gerald Giam, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, emphasized his experience as a frequent public transport commuter, expressing that the immediate opening of SimplyGo tap fare gates should logically extend to displaying fares.

He underscored the dissatisfaction among many commuters regarding the perceived downgrade in user experience and the inability of SimplyGo to be used for motoring.

Mr Giam questioned the intended use of the estimated S$40 million expenditure to upgrade the SimplyGo system and overcome these technical constraints.

He further questioned whether the Minister can share how much cost savings will be gained by having a fully account-based ticketing system and whether it can return these cost savings to commuters in the form of rebates

In response, Chee Hong Tat reiterated the existing technical challenges, explaining the process where users can tap out, but the fare display is delayed until the backend computation is completed.

He clarified that the card would be blocked only if the user did not top up the card, and stressed that the whole purpose is to ensure a seamless experience for commuters without causing delays.

Acknowledging the lessons learned from the consultation process, Mr Chee emphasized the importance of wider consultation to include the perspectives of a diverse group of commuters, especially those concerned about the removal of the fare display feature.

Mr Chee eludes figures on SimplyGo vs full account CBT system’s costs saving

However, concerning LTA’s anticipated yearly savings with the exclusive use of the SimplyGo system compared to the current simultaneous use of SimplyGo and CBT, Mr Chee appears to have omitted the specific figures sought by Mr Giam.

Rather than divulging the figures, Mr Chee reiterated that the S$40 million extension of the CBT system would be covered by the government and would not factor into the fares formula, thereby having no impact on the fares paid by commuters.

“I think in the same vein, if there are some savings that LTA can have through some cost avoidance, some cost savings in implementing the project, I think we also would not then flow it back directly to commuters in the form of fares.”

“Because it didn’t affect the fares in the first place, so any cost savings we would then be able to save on behalf of all taxpayers.”

WP MP Louis Chua highlights Japan’s seamless integration of travel cards and mobile wallets 

Louis Chua, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Sengkang GRC, proposed to the Minister the idea of studying Japan’s public transport system, which seamlessly integrates travel cards with mobile wallets for both locals and foreigners.

Drawing from his firsthand experience in Japan, Chua highlighted the convenience of using a mobile phone integrated with a mobile wallet, allowing instant access to detailed fare information.

Chua further inquired whether LTA had plans to enhance the SimplyGo system to incorporate features supporting a universal card.

This card, he suggested, could be utilized for public transport, retail, and motoring, and potentially be compatible with the new on-board units for vehicles under ERP 2.0.

In response, Mr Chee outlined LTA’s vision, expressing their commitment to evolve the SimplyGo card over time to encompass retail, transport, and motoring functionalities.

He expressed interest in exploring if Japan’s system holds solutions for instantaneous fare and balance display.

Gathering information from observers at the session, Gutzy understands that the Speaker proceeded with the questions even though WP MP Dennis Tan intended to ask a follow-up question with his hand raised.

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They just simply open the Reserves Vault door, walked in without PERMISSION, TOOK the 100s of $1,000,000’s and OWNSELF ANSWER OWNSELF, ok this is For Simply Go, Let’s spend it and we have a Survey to back up.

Million $ minister can’t conduct a proper survey on a daily used tpt issue?

These PAP ministers are just out of touch with the ground!
Or was there even a survey?

So many flip-flopping, different stories and questionable excuses since the shit hit the fan, only means our million$ monkeys had been sleeping to let the shit hit the fan in the first place. Aiyoh, just pay 40m of public monies to save their faces – cheap hor.

If they had took my feedback seriously many years back and work on it then, wouldn’t this U-turn not required and $40 millions saved? If this money not charged back to commuters and bared by Gov, where did our Gov money come from? Shouldn’t it be paid for by Pappy for their screwed up?

From the above, we can clearly see that Pappy don’t take feedback seriously but just for wayang and for winning votes. To make them really take it seriously requires an outcry from the public.

VTO. VTO.

Unanswered: 1)the cost of SimplyGo.
2)the creators of SimplyGo. (in house or outsourced)
3) Any tenders called for this technology? As an invitation for tenders globally would have brought in a variety of ideas.

Your problem easy to SOLVE.

Simply give the $40million in coins to the citizens and prs ( since you always lumped the no’s together) so that they can put them in the bus money box each time they board a bus.

U can then throw the existing system n cbt far away.

Cut OFF All Bs’s.

Save Sheeps from torment, nightmares eviscerated from all these fairy tales sanctioned by a desanctimonious BS Parliament populated by Millionaire Scums.

Just release how this scandal took place, germinated, who are punished under this No Blame Culture – so as to restore Sheeps faith in PAP that which isn’t the PAP wish to continue to win votes?

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