The Positives From The SimplyGo Saga
Top Image: Helen Huang / RICE File Photo

We don’t witness reversals on policy decisions in Singapore very often. Once a decision is made, it’s full steam ahead. In the latest case, adult Singaporeans looked set to be stuck with the full transition to SimplyGo on 1 June. 

It was supposed to be a character-defining moment for adult Singaporeans, one we’d look back on and reminisce about when public transport was—ironically—much simpler before SimplyGo. 

“I was there when the card balance was removed from MRT fare gates and bus card readers,” we’d say to any members of Generation Bravo interested in Singapore history, several of whom will have developed an affinity for the retro 2010s.  

But that changed when the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that it would extend the usage of EZ-Link adult cards and NETS FlashPay cards beyond 1 June this year

It’s not a complete goodbye for plans to phase out those cards. Now that the dust has settled, this was what this whole saga was about: a failure to communicate well. Many commuters were left confused by the not-so-EZ (and unexpected) transition to a new system that no one really asked for. The benefits of switching weren’t so straightforward.

Then there’s the incomplete overhaul: SimplyGo cards can be used on trains and buses but can’t be used for ERP gantries, which feels like a step back.

But it’s not a complete catastrophe, we’d say. From certain aspects, this SimplyGo saga is a boon to Singaporeans—it’s 2024’s first incident of overwhelming national unity. What do we want? Display our fares at fare gantries? When do we want it? Now. If anything, it pushed the powers that be to seriously invest in improving our daily lives.

After weeks of angry uproar, let’s take a look at the positive outcomes.

1. How the Land Transport Authority Does Listen

One would have thought that LTA, the statutory board overseeing transport and Singapore’s roads, would be closest to on-the-ground sentiment and gotten it right the first time. But credit should be given where credit is due. 

Admittedly, after some arm-pulling, newly-crowned Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat announced that the Ministry of Transport will spend an additional S$40 million so adult commuters can continue using their beloved EZ-Link adult cards and NETS FlashPay cards beyond the original June deadline. 

This is the second time in three months the LTA U-turned on an announced decision. In November last year, the LTA announced that it had decided to retain bus service 167 at longer intervals instead of shutting the service down completely. 

Perhaps the reversal is (partially) a testament to the LTA’s receptiveness to Singapore’s commuters. Especially important when 57.7 percent of employed residents take public transport to work, according to the latest available data. Not to mention the political cost.

At least now, when that transition to SimplyGo does take place, we can be sure we’re not switching to an arguably worse system. This whole thing might even spark further innovation for a nationwide contactless payment system.

2. Nothing Like a Bread-and-Butter Issue To Unite Singaporeans

The SimplyGo transition, as a ‘bread-and-butter’ issue, united Singaporeans who doubted whether the transition was an improvement from the old system. 

Aside from the card balance display, some complained about how SimplyGo cards could not be used to pay for ERP tolls. One commuter relayed her concerns that the SimplyGo app was an invasion of privacy—her dad used the app to keep tabs on her whereabouts. 

The LTA responded. It aims to improve the SimplyGo user experience and, most importantly, find out how to display those darn card balances at the fare gates—Singaporean commuters’ main concern when the LTA originally announced the transition. 

Image: Chee Hong Tat / Facebook

3. It Raised Awareness About Privilege

The intended transition to SimplyGo raised awareness about the privilege of not having to care about card balance display. When Singaporeans raised their concerns about the card balance display, others questioned why it was such a big deal. 

But one person’s minor inconvenience is another’s financial anxiety. 

For some, the physical act of slotting a $10 note into the top-up machine is how they keep track of their spending. And that card balance display at the end of their trip is how they keep track of their spending. 

Everything’s going digital. The backlash with SimplyGo reminds us that even creating a seamless commuting experience comes at a trade-off. Not everyone is ready or capable for such a switch.

For now, Singaporeans who rely on the physical motion of putting in money and checking their card balance display need not feel so anxious. 

(Perhaps the pertinent question is whether Singapore will ever reach a stage where each and every adult commuter is financially secure/tech-savvy enough to be comfortable with public transport fares. No card balance display needed.) 

4. A Trial By Fire for Singapore’s New Transport Minister 

In a time when the Ministry of Transport finds it difficult to escape the glare of the news cycle, Transport Minister Chee’s reaction and decision is a hint of his direction and capabilities as a minister. Sharing the figures on the trend of adult commuters still using the old cards was an arguably nice touch. 

According to the figures shared by Minister Chee, only 36 percent of adult commuters clutched onto their EZ-Link adult cards or NETS FlashPay cards in December last year. Somehow, this would have been an appreciated showcase earlier on when the switch was deliberated.

In his Facebook post, he cleared the air about the transition and explained the rationale behind deciding on the original transition. There was even an apologetic statement in it.

At the very least, this new Transport Minister was straightforward and transparent about the original decision. 

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