Many questions raised about SimplyGo in parliament. Here are answers for you to simply go find out more.


Julia Yee | February 06, 2024, 11:49 AM



Newly minted transport minister Chee Hong Tat answered a slew of SimplyGo-related questions in parliament on Feb. 5, 2024.

Members of Parliament (MPs) filed more than 20 questions, putting the spotlight on Singapore's public transport ticketing systems, both old and new.

Here are some questions you might have about SimplyGo and some answers we gathered from the exchange of Chee with the MPs in parliament.

Why SimplyGo?

Chee explained that about two-thirds of adult commuters had switched to SimplyGo by the end of 2023.

He said many of them chose SimplyGo because of its benefits, including not having to use an additional card for public transport and topping up the card value virtually without having the physical card.

As SimplyGo is an account-based ticketing (ABT) system, the balance information of the card is also not stored in the card itself, so if a registered user loses his SimplyGo card, he can block it and protect the value in his account.

If it's simply so good, why can't we see our balance when we tap at a gantry?

The SimplyGo card's lack of balance information is the reason balance information cannot be displayed at a gantry or bus fare reader in "a very short time. "

Chee explained that the balance information has to be retrieved from the backend system, which, if accounting for latency, might cause delays to commuter flow.

Older card-based ticketing (CBT) systems, such as EZ-Link and Nets FlashPay, store card balances on the card itself.

Are we the only ones using ABT?

Chee shared that account-based ticketing (ABT) is used by public transport systems in Hong Kong, London, and "many other cities".

Can their systems allow card balances to appear on gantries?

Chee said that other cities have also yet to find a way to display fare reductions and card balances in "a very short time" at fare gates and bus card readers.

There simply aren't any current technical solutions to overcome the latency problem for ABT cards out there, according to Chee.

However, most of the other cities have chosen to keep both ABT and CBT systems, said Chee.

Chee said that LTA has also decided to keep the older CBT systems running so that commuters have a choice and can decide which system they prefer to use.

"Delay" keeps getting mentioned, but how long is the "delay"?

Noting that he was able to view the fare charge on the SimplyGo app "almost immediately after" exiting the fate gate, MP Gerald Giam asked Chee how long the "latency" LTA was talking about.

He also requested that the answer be "preferably in milliseconds".

Chee answered that the delay for data transmission back to the gantries or bus card readers is not "milliseconds" but "several seconds. "

He explained that while seconds sounds like it "may be okay" if the flow of commuters is very light, it would cause delays and add to queues during higher peak periods.

Is it then not possible to store card balance information on ABT cards?

NCMP Hazel Poa asked if it was possible to duplicate the card balances on ABT cards so that card readers could retrieve the data faster and reduce the "latency" in displaying said balances.

Chee explained that this feature was not included in the design of the ABT system.

He repeated that this issue exists in the public transport systems of other cities, not just Singapore.

I want to continue using EZ-link. But why must the government spend S$40 million?

He explained that this cost is necessary as the CBT systems are reaching the end of their operational lifespan.

LTA will need the money to purchase new hardware and equipment for operating the systems over the next few years.

Can the S$40 million be used to overcome SimplyGo's technical constraints instead?

Giam proposed that LTA extend the CBT systems by "just one more year" and focus instead on ironing out SimplyGo's usability issues and transitioning users to the ABT system.

Chee said they could have done so, but they are "not very confident" that the solution can be found in such a short time frame, and it was more prudent to let the CBT systems run until at least 2030.

This way, LTA will have more time to explore possible solutions with industry experts and government agencies.

How about using the S$40 million to incentivise people to switch to SimplyGo?

MP Lim Biow Chuan suggested using the S$40 million to "incentivise" people to switch to SimplyGo instead.

He said people might be "happier" if LTA offered them a credit to their account when they signed up for an ABT system.

Chee thought it was a "good idea" and that they would definitely consider ways to encourage commuters to switch to SimplyGo.

However, Chee said they believed it was important to retain the option for communities to choose because of the trade-offs between the two systems, such as the ABT system's inability to display card balances quickly.

Who pays for the S$40 million?

According to Chee, the government will bear the costs of both the ABT and CBT systems, including the estimated S$40 million.

Chee clarified that this cost doesn't go into the fare formula and doesn't affect commuter fares.

Since an ABT system supposedly saves costs, does that mean fares will be lower if SimplyGo is fully implemented?

Chee explained that, in the same vein where the government would bear the S$40 million cost, the cost savings LTA would have from implementing SimplyGo would not be reflected directly to commuters in the form of fares.

Instead, any cost savings would be able to be saved on behalf of all taxpayers, he said.

Is public transport the end-point for SimplyGo?

Chee said that LTA wishes to work towards making SimplyGo a universal card, usable not only for public transport but also for retail and motoring purposes.

How does LTA intend to get more feedback from seniors and those less "okay with technology"?

Chee said that the move to digital solutions must not leave seniors less familiar with the technology behind.

He said that the LTA had included seniors in its consultation with over 1,000 commuters, and seniors were an important stakeholder group consulted early on.

It was then that LTA decided not to sunset the concession cards's CBT system, Chee explained.

Chee added that LTA considers the needs of different demographics when implementing solutions.

He acknowledged that LTA could have done better if they had consulted "more widely".

"But we learn from this, and we hope to do better next time," he said.

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Top images via MCI and Mothership