Sunday, 13 August 2017

Public transport system to go fully cashless by 2020; Pupils go cashless with smartwatches

Drive to go cashless on public transport
All bus, train fares to be paid using travel cards by 2020; no cash top-ups at stations
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2017

Singapore's public transport system is set to go fully cashless by 2020, with all bus and train rides to be paid for using only travel cards and top-ups with cash no longer available at stations.

The first cashless rail line will be the Thomson-East Coast Line, which will open from 2019.

The goal of going fully cashless, in line with the Smart Nation push, was announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and subsidiary TransitLink yesterday.

To nudge commuters on board, rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit will not offer cash top-ups at passenger service centres at 11 train stations from Sept 1. They are: Admiralty, Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Buona Vista, Farrer Park, HarbourFront, Hougang, Lakeside, Pasir Ris, Serangoon and Yew Tee.

Cash top-ups will cease to be available at passenger service centres of other stations sometime next year.

Currently, about 27 per cent of commuters rely on staff at the passenger service centres to help reload their cards with cash. Service agents will be deployed at the 11 stations to help these commuters switch to using the general ticketing machines, which accept cash.

These machines will not accept cash by 2020, when self-service ticketing machines at stations and bus interchanges will accept only cashless top-ups such as with Nets.

LTA's group director for technology and industry development, Mr Lam Wee Shann, said: "When we relieve PSC (passenger service centre) staff from handling cash and doing top-ups, their attention could be more focused on train station operations, which is their core job."

He added: "There are also costs that are not small in maintaining cash transactions. By going cashless, cost avoidance can be re-invested into the public transport system, to improve and maintain it."

LTA and TransitLink said they have been adding payment options at ticketing machines since January to accept credit or debit cards and mobile payment platforms such as Apple Pay and Android Pay.

They assured commuters cash top-ups will continue to be available come 2020, but in limited forms, such as at convenience stores.

While cash is currently accepted at 39 TransitLink ticket offices located at stations and bus interchanges, the agencies said they are working towards removing this, but will study this plan "very carefully".

As for bus fares, only travel cards will be accepted by 2020. While less than 2 per cent of all bus journeys are paid for in cash, the LTA said it is "still studying" what to do if a commuter comes on board without a travel card.

The LTA said it is also working to extend an ongoing pilot that allows Mastercard holders to use debit and credit cards directly to pay for rides.

How the new system is expected to work
The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2017


• Cash will no longer be accepted.


• By 2020, all ticketing machines at MRT stations will accept only cashless top-ups, such as by Nets, debit and credit cards.

• TransitLink ticketing offices at bus interchanges and train stations could also do away with cash top-ups, although this is being studied.


• The Land Transport Authority and TransitLink said they will ensure there are avenues to use cash to top up travel cards, such as at convenience stores.

Fully cashless public transport system: Some need help to adapt, say observers
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2017

While the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) target to have a fully cashless public transport system by 2020 is a right step, observers warned that particular groups of commuters must be taken care of.

These include foreign workers and senior citizens, who may be dependent on or accustomed to using cash to top up their travel cards.

Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport Sitoh Yih Pin said the authorities should "be mindful to make the (cashless) transition as smooth and painless as possible for all Singaporeans".

According to LTA data, around 27 per cent of commuters still pay cash to top up their travel cards at MRT passenger service centres. A quarter of them are senior citizens. Next year, LTA and TransitLink will remove this payment option entirely.

Singapore University of Social Sciences senior lecturer Walter Theseira said: "I believe the vast majority of Singaporeans would adapt quickly, but I do have some concerns for a small number of people, like the elderly who live alone."

Dr Theseira said they may be uncomfortable using electronic methods to top up their travel cards, although they are familiar with using ATMs to withdraw cash. He said grassroots helpers and volunteers could be roped in to teach them.

Retiree Veeraputhiran Rajoo, 70, for example, said that he was initially "hesitant" in using his ATM card at ticketing machines, but later found the steps easy. He suggested that staff be on hand to guide elderly commuters.

The LTA and TransitLink said it will ensure cash alternatives are available come 2020. Currently, travel cards can be topped up at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, but with a 50-cent fee.

Transport GPC deputy chairman Ang Hin Kee said he hopes that such fees will not be levied.

Migrant Workers' Centre executive director Bernard Menon said the majority of foreign workers here have bank accounts, and a "small group will be marginalised". He said the centre will work with the authorities to educate this group.

Asked how tourists will cope, LTA said it is looking into setting up manned ticket counters in areas that tourists frequent and at gateways such as airports.

Some seniors worry about cashless top-ups at MRT stations
Find ways to help them adapt to new public transport payment methods, say observers
By Shayna Toh and Clara Chong, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2017

Madam Heng Ah Leh walked to Rochor MRT station and, having memorised the exact buttons she needs to press on the ticketing machine, fed it a $10 note to top up her ez-link card.

But she will soon have to learn a new order of steps when Singapore's public transport system goes cashless.

From next year, passenger service centres at all train stations will no longer do cash top-ups for commuters.

By 2020, all ticketing machines at MRT stations will accept only cashless top-ups such as Nets, and debit and credit cards, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) earlier this month.

Madam Heng, 75, a part-time hawker, lamented in Mandarin: "I am not highly educated and do not know how to use machines. Not allowing cash top-ups is definitely more troublesome.

"But young people today are very helpful, I might ask the person in front of me to help me top up and repay the person in cash."

Several senior citizens The Straits Times spoke to expressed similar concerns.

Retiree Theresa Choo, 82, said: "I am not confident of using cashless top-up methods but this measure will force us to learn. I am sure there will be people around to ask if we need help."

Figures from LTA show that 69 per cent of Singaporeans use cash as their preferred top-up method, implying that the impact of the new measure will extend to young students and working adults.

Ms Moh Su Jin, 21, a National University of Singapore student, said: "I use cash because it gives me some form of privacy. Our retail landscape does not really support cashless payments as some shops accept only cash. It is hard to navigate this landscape if only certain aspects are cash-free."

Mr Ang Hin Kee, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said his constituents have had a mixed response to the move to go cashless.

Some cited the additional cost of topping up their ez-link cards at convenience stores, and the lack of a universal card for multiple purposes such as transport, shopping and food.

"We shouldn't stop progress and forget about technological solutions because they (the elderly) won't come on board. Let's find a way to convince them to," he said.

Likewise, Dr Lily Neo, a member of the GPC for Social and Family Development, said some elderly people construct a barrier when tasked to learn new things.

"We will go all out to help and hand-hold them, letting them learn slowly until they realise it can be done," she said.

Acknowledging that many senior citizens and low-income families primarily use cash to make transactions, Mr Ang suggested directly transferring a partial value of rebates or vouchers to travel cards or PAssion cards that can be used for public transport.

Dr Neo suggested introducing a system for children similar to POSB smartwatches, where primary school pupils tap their watches on payment terminals.

She also proposed installing top-up stations at community centres and conducting classes at these centres to teach people how to adapt to the new system.

Ms Normala Manap, a senior associate director at the Centre for Ageing Research and Education at Duke-NUS Medical School, said efforts to engage and educate the elderly must remain a top priority.

"If we don't actively help seniors make this transition, we run the risk of them not getting onto transport and not being involved in society," she said.

Put people first in cashless push
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Aug 2017

As with everything, the devil is in the details.

By 2020, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) wants the public transport system to go fully cashless.

Commuters will not be able to use cash to top up their travel cards at MRT stations and bus interchanges, and the LTA is also evaluating a system that allows credit and debit cards to be used to tap in and out of the station fare gates.

Removing the costs of handling and maintaining cash transactions means savings which could be pumped back into improving the reliability and service levels of buses and trains, said LTA.

But would the move, announced last Friday, leave some commuters behind, such as the elderly?

And how would schoolgoing children be able to top up their travel cards when they currently do not even qualify for ATM cards?

The LTA and TransitLink said they will work with agencies and grassroots organisations to inform residents of the changes, or to help them set up banking facilities.

They said that while cash top-up services at the passenger service centres of 11 train stations will be removed next month, staff will be deployed on-site to assist commuters.

Come 2020, cash can still be used to perform top-ups, but only at places such as convenience stores, said LTA.

But this service currently incurs an administrative charge of 50 cents for every transaction.

While many may have no trouble going cashless, care must be taken to ensure that no commuter is left behind.

They need more options for cash top-ups, or a waiver of fees for such a service.

Public transport, like any other essential service such as healthcare and education, has to be inclusive.

Programme launched for primary school pupils to pay using smartwatches, manage their spending
Pupils go cashless with smartwatches
By Daniel Ong, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2017

Some 6,000 pupils from 19 primary schools can now use smartwatches to make cashless payments in their schools and at selected retailers such as Cheers and Popular.

By signing up with the POSB Smart Buddy Programme, their parents can also monitor how much the children spend and even the type of food they purchase.

POSB yesterday officially launched the savings and payments programme that utilises wearables linked to the parents' bank account.

A pilot programme was introduced in February last year.

The free smartwatches are paired with a mobile app that parents use to remotely allocate their children's allowances and track their spending.

By tapping the smartwatches on payment terminals in the schools, which include Bedok Green Primary and Henry Park Primary, the pupils can pay for things like canteen food and books.

The smartwatches can also be used at retailers that accept an updated version of Nets' contactless payment technology.

"POSB Smart Buddy is hassle- free, and makes life as parents convenient... I am able to immediately give my son additional allowance when required," said housewife Nurejah Rabian, 49, whose son is a Primary 5 pupil at Admiralty Primary.

The bank also aims to educate pupils on money management basics and help parents manage their children's daily expenses through the programme.

Using the mobile app, parents can monitor their children's spending patterns and set savings goals. They can opt to automatically transfer their children's savings into their ePOSBkids Accounts every month.

Primary 4 pupil Bosco Wong, 10, of Admiralty Primary, said he did not track his spending before he received his smartwatch in May. Now, he thinks before each purchase.

As parents are able to view their children's food purchases, they can also monitor thechildren's eating habits. If pupils misplace their smartwatches, their parents can immediately disable them remotely.

POSB hopes to extend the programme to the remaining primary schools in the next two years. There are about 200 primary schools here.

Speaking at the launch at Admiralty Primary, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said the smartwatches would be useful for children in making electronic payments as not all of them own smartphones.

But he added that while Singapore should pursue its aim to be a Smart Nation, "it is a process we must manage carefully". There are concerns for certain groups of people such as the elderly, who "did not grow up" with mobile phones and need help to be familiarised with the new technology.

POSB said it intends to develop a separate programme for students of secondary schools and tertiary institutions that fits their needs.

Joint News Release by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) & TransitLink - Towards a Cashless Public Transport System by 2020

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