In Parliament

Oral Reply by Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat to Parliamentary Questions on SimplyGo

05 Feb 2024In Parliament
Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     in the past three years, how many reports of overcharged trips have been received from SimplyGo card users; 

b.     whether enhancements can be made for card balances to be displayed on public transport fare readers; 

c.     what is being done to improve the reliability of the SimplyGo app; and 

d.     whether the mandatory upgrade to SimplyGo can be postponed till it is made compatible with in-vehicle units of motorcars so that it can also be used for motoring-related payments.

Ms Joan Pereira asked the Minister for Transport regarding the SimplyGo public transport fare platform 

a.     what measures are implemented to ensure the reliability and security of the platform and backend system; 

b.     whether LTA will consider integrating an additional function to allow a card’s balance to be displayed at the MRT fare gate or bus card reader; and 

c.     whether LTA is able to continue to accept the use of older EZ-Link cards until such functionality can be achieved.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     to facilitate the transition to the SimplyGo EZ-Link card, whether LTA can extend the validity of the NETS FlashPay card for payment by commuters of buses and trains until the expiry of the card; and 

b.     whether LTA has considered the impact of compelling seniors who are less IT savvy to switch to the SimplyGo EZ-Link card system.

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what is the reason for choosing a transport payment system like SimplyGo that does not show commuters the fares and deductions; and 

b.     what are the benefits that justify this trade-off.

Mr Leong Mun Wai asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     whether the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) has been consulted by the Land Transport Authority before the full transition to the SimplyGo system is announced; and 

b.     whether SNDGO will conduct a review to draw lessons from this incident regarding digital inclusivity.

Mr Don Wee
asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     why is there a need to spend an additional $40 million so that commuters can continue to use the present EZ-Link card-based ticketing system; and 

b.     what is the estimated shelf life of this proposed upgraded solution.

Mr Xie Yao Quan asked the Minister for Transport what is the operational lifespan of the extended card-based ticketing system that was announced by the Land Transport Authority on 22 January 2024.

Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     whether the cost of $40 million to renew the present card-based ticketing system and continuing to run it alongside the SimplyGo system is a one-off or recurring expenditure; 

b.     how much has been spent or committed to be spent in (i) the development of the SimplyGo system and (ii) this conversion attempt, including time, manpower and other expenses.

Mr Xie Yao Quan asked the Minister for Transport what lessons can be drawn from the change in decision to phase out card-based ticketing system on public transport for adult commuters as announced on 22 January 2024.

Mr Ang Wei Neng asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     whether there is a plan to integrate adult and concession cards in the card-based ticketing system; 

b.     how many commuters have converted to SimplyGo cards after 9 January 2024; 

c.     how can SimplyGo be enhanced so as to enable public transport fare readers to display fares charged and card balances; 

d.     whether there are plans to install more fare readers at MRT stations and bus stops for SimplyGo users to check their card balances in the interim.

Mr Yip Hon Weng asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what is the estimated remaining operational lifespan of the current EZ-Link system; 

b.     what specific lessons has the Ministry learned from the reversal of the EZ-Link system phase-out, particularly regarding technology integration and public communication; and 

c.     what concrete steps will be taken in future to ensure similar technology upgrade projects do not incur significant public expenditure waste.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     whether the card-based ticketing (CBT) system for public transport will continue to indefinitely operate in parallel with SimplyGo's account-based ticketing system; and 

b.     if not, when does LTA plan for the CBT system to be fully decommissioned, including the concession cards for students, seniors and people with disabilities.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what is the total government expenditure to-date in developing the SimplyGo system for public transport; 

b.     what are LTA’s projected annual savings from the use of only the SimplyGo system on public transport as compared to the current simultaneous use of both SimplyGo and card-based ticketing (CBT) systems; and 

c.     whether LTA plans to pass these cost savings on to commuters in the form of fare rebates when the CBT systems are eventually decommissioned.

Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what lessons has the Land Transport Authority (LTA) learnt from the rollback of the decision to transit to the SimplyGo system; and 

b.     how long will the current card-based ticketing system be maintained before the LTA considers another system transition.

Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what are the learning points from the reversal of the initial decision which mandated that SimplyGo will replace the card-based ticketing system in mid-2024 for fare payments on public transport; and 

b.     what steps will be taken to ensure that similar issues will be avoided in the future.

Miss Cheryl Chan Wei Ling asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what were the decision factors used when considering a switch of the public transport ticketing system; 

b.     how will the cost of maintaining or enhancing any future systems be viewed in respect of administrative efficiency and ease of convenience for commuters.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what enhancements has LTA made to SimplyGo since its launch in 2019; 

b.     whether LTA is aware that SimplyGo does not display fare deductions and card balances since 2019 and how has LTA tried to address this; 

c.     what public consultation was done before LTA’s initial decision for public transport fare payments to transit to SimplyGo by 1 June 2024; and 

d.     how do the public transport payment options in Singapore compare to those of other developed countries.

Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     whether plans to enhance the SimplyGo system will include the functionality to support a universal card that can be used for public transport, retail and motoring, such as that of the current EZ-Link and NETS FlashPay cards; and 

b.     whether such cards and the SimplyGo system will be made compatible with the new on-board units on vehicles under ERP 2.0.

Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what are LTA’s longer term plans for the SimplyGo system, including in conjunction with the continual operation of the non-SimplyGo EZ-Link and NETS FlashPay cards; and 

b.     with the latest change of plans, what is the period of time for which LTA is expected to utilise the $40 million estimated expenditure for hardware replacement and system maintenance.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked the Minister for Transport 

a.     what are the additional features of SimplyGo compared to the EZ-Link and NETS FlashPay cards; 

b.     between 2019 and 2023, what are the number and percentage of commuters that utilised these additional features; 

c.     how many commuters have switched back to card-based ticketing (CBT) cards free-of-charge after the Ministry’s announcement on 22 January 2024 to operate CBT cards in parallel with the SimplyGo system; and 

d.     what efforts will be made to educate commuters more about SimplyGo going forward.

Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked the Minister for Transport in view of the extension of the card-based ticketing system which allows the use of NET FlashPay cards on public transport, whether motorists and drivers can expect to still use NETS FlashPay cards in parallel with NETS CashCards for carpark and Electronic Road Pricing charges.

Reply by Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat:

1.     Mr Speaker, may I have your permission to take Questions 2 to 22 together? My reply will also address Written Questions No. 56 to 59 for today’s sitting, and related questions from Mr Christopher De Souza, Mr Edward Chia, Mr Mohd Fahmi and Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim for subsequent sittings.

2.     I will first provide a background on why we implemented the SimplyGo account-based ticketing (ABT) system since 2019. Next, I will go through the considerations for LTA’s announcement on 9 January 2024 to sunset the card- based ticketing (CBT) system for adult commuters. Finally, I will explain why we decided on 22 January not to proceed with this original plan and how we move forward from here.

3.     Before we had SimplyGo, commuters used stored value cards like EZ-Link cards and NETS FlashPay cards to pay their public transport fares. These cards work on a CBT system, where information like the card balance is stored on the card itself.

4.     In 2016, LTA observed that more commuters were using contactless bank cards and mobile wallets for retail payments. Other major public transport systems were also starting to offer commuters the option of using these payment modes.

5.     Our existing CBT system is unable to support bank cards and mobile wallets because these do not hold stored value, and transactions cannot be processed on the CBT card reader. To enable such payments, we needed an ABT system. In an ABT system, when commuters tap their card or smart device, their fares are computed at the backend, and not at the fare gates or bus card readers.

6.     LTA started a pilot in March 2017 to allow payments by bank card via a new ABT system, which was subsequently scaled up into the SimplyGo system in 2019.

7.     Since its launch in 2019, more commuters used SimplyGo over time. In December 2023, 41% of adult commuters were using bank cards and mobile wallets for public transport, while another 23% of adult commuters were using SimplyGo ABT stored value cards. In total, 64% or about two-thirds of adult commuters were using the SimplyGo ABT system in December 2023.

8.     The proportion of adult commuters using SimplyGo has continued to increase after our announcement on 22 January 2024, when the public was informed that LTA would extend the CBT system for adult commuters till at least 2030. From 23 to 31 January 2024, about 9,000 adult commuters, or around 1,000 per day, have converted their CBT cards to the SimplyGo system. We now have close to 70% of adult commuters using SimplyGo in end January, with 44% using bank cards and mobile wallets and 25% using SimplyGo stored value cards.

9.     Many commuters chose to use SimplyGo because of its benefits. For example, it allows commuters to use bank cards and mobile wallets for public transport, instead of carrying an additional card. If a registered user loses his SimplyGo stored value card, he can block it and protect the value in his account. Users can also top-up their SimplyGo cards for their family members via the app, without having the card physically present.

10.    However, SimplyGo has its limitations too. It operates on the ABT system, and hence it cannot display the fare deduction and card balance information at the fare gates and bus card readers, without causing delays to the flow of commuters. Commuters are able to view their transactions and balance by using the SimplyGo app or the ticketing machines at train stations and bus interchanges.

11.    LTA is not aware of any current technical solutions to overcome the latency problem for ABT cards. Other public transport systems around the world, such as London and Hong Kong, face the same limitation with their ABT systems. Like us, their CBT systems can display fare deductions and card balances, but their ABT systems are currently unable to do so.

12.    I will now explain the considerations for LTA’s 9 January 2024 announcement to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters from 1 June 2024.

13.    LTA is currently operating three systems: the SimplyGo ABT system and two separate CBT systems developed at different times to support the adult cards and concession cards respectively. The two CBT systems are separate, and the cards on each system are not compatible.

14.    Like all IT systems, our CBT systems have a finite shelf-life. As the CBT system for adult commuters would reach end-of-life in 2024, LTA had to make a decision whether to extend the system, or to stop operating it after it reaches end- of-life.

15.    To extend the system until at least 2030, LTA would need to spend an estimated $40 million to buy new hardware and equipment, and then operate and maintain the system over the next few years. This is a cost that LTA wanted to avoid incurring by sunsetting the CBT system for adult commuters.

16.    Between 2020 to 2023, LTA consulted different groups of commuters to gauge their readiness to transit to an ABT system. LTA also issued SimplyGo ABT cards to seniors, adults and students, and gathered their feedback after they used the card for a few months. In total, LTA engaged over 1,000 commuters.

17.    During these engagements, one of the feedback we received from seniors in particular, was that they were not very familiar with using the SimplyGo app and preferred to continue viewing fare deductions and card balances at fare gates and bus card readers. Based on this feedback, LTA decided not to shift concession card holders over to SimplyGo and instead retain the concession card CBT system for these commuters.

18.    LTA also took on board feedback to improve the user experience for the app, such as enabling push notifications to alert app users when they make fare transactions and when their card balance is low. We also ensured that commuters who are not using the app could check their transactions and account balance using the ticketing machines at bus interchanges and train stations.

19.    After observing that more adult commuters were coming on board the SimplyGo ABT system – two-thirds by December 2023 – LTA assessed that it could proceed to announce its plan to sunset the CBT system for adult commuters by 1 June 2024. It made the announcement on 9 January, with the intention of giving commuters sufficient time to make the transition before 1 June.

20.    The 9 January announcement was met with strong reactions from commuters. While many have switched to using SimplyGo, LTA had underestimated the strong preference of some commuters who wanted to continue seeing their fare deductions and card balances immediately at fare gates and bus card readers. After listening to the feedback from commuters, we understood their concerns and respect their preferences. 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.

21.    With this change, there is no need for commuters to convert to SimplyGo. Those who find SimplyGo useful can switch over to the ABT system, while those who want to retain their current CBT cards can continue to do so. Commuters have a choice and can decide which system they prefer.

22.    In making this decision, we will not be able to avoid the estimated cost of $40 million to maintain the adult CBT system till at least 2030. However, we will have an extended CBT system that can serve the needs of adult commuters who want to continue viewing their fares and balances at fare gates and bus card readers. The estimated cost of $40 million will be borne by the Government, and will not affect public transport fares. We will also find ways to integrate the two CBT systems over time without affecting commuters, and to reduce overall costs where possible.

23.    I have tasked LTA to improve the features and user experience of SimplyGo, and to find ways to overcome the technical challenge so that it could display fare deductions and card balances at the fare gates and bus card readers without slowing down the flow of commuters. LTA will work with other government agencies and industry experts to explore possible solutions.

24.    Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked about fare errors. These can occur with both CBT and ABT cards, though the error rate is very low. When commuters encounter fare errors, they can surface their fare disputes to claim a refund.

25.    With the extension of the concession card and adult CBT systems, both systems will be able to operate till at least 2030, and we retain the option for adult commuters and concession card holders to remain on the CBT system if they wish to do so. We do not have to make a decision now on whether to extend these systems beyond 2030. 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. We will consult widely to understand the needs of different groups of commuters, and carefully assess the costs and benefits.

26.    In planning and implementing our next steps, MOT and LTA will continue to spend public funds prudently. In areas where we can save money, we will try to reduce costs as much as possible. But where it is necessary to spend, we will do so.

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