Why SimplyGo when you can just backtrack instead

How did the debacle involving the public transport payment system unfurl in Singapore? We imagine what might have transpired amid LTA offices

The Land Transport Authority has halted its plan to transit fully to the SimplyGo public transport payment system. (PHOTOS: Getty Images)
The Land Transport Authority has halted its plan to transit fully to the SimplyGo public transport payment system. (PHOTOS: Getty Images)

As Singaporeans react to the welcome news that they can continue to use NETS FlashPay cards and EZ-Link adult cards past 1 June, one wonders what the discussions between Land Transport Authority and government figures were like in recent days. With tongue in cheek, perhaps they went something like this…

(LTA officials meet in the conference room.)

LTA official 1: This is going to be a memorable day for everyone associated with the transport sector in Singapore. We’re moving forward with the SimplyGo upgrade on 1 June.

LTA official 2: Is that the one that doesn’t show the account balance?

LTA official 1: Correct.

LTA official 2: And you can’t use it for cars and other payment stuff?

LTA official 1: Correct.

LTA official 2: How is it an upgrade then?

LTA official 1: You can use your watch at the barrier and pretend to be James Bond.

LTA official 2: And that’s a key selling point, is it?

LTA official 1: Yah, the tech geeks will love it. Who needs to know their account balance?

LTA official 2: Maybe commuters with a low account balance. Do you think it’s a problem?

LTA official 1: I don’t know. I drive to work.

LTA official 2: Yeah, me too. Maybe we should have road-tested the software a bit more?

LTA official 1: From our cars?

LTA official 2: Good point. But we did conduct some surveys, right?

LTA official 1: Yes, around 64 per cent of commuters already use SimplyGo bank cards or SimplyGo stored value cards.

LTA official 2: These are the stored value cards that store the value without actually showing the value at entry and exit?

LTA official 1: That’s right. It’s brilliant.

LTA official 2: But that means 36 per cent of commuters are still using the old NETS and EZ-Link systems. That’s a sizeable minority.

LTA official 1: Sorry, what’s a minority?

LTA official 2: It’s a smaller number of people within a larger group.

LTA official 1: Nah, never heard of them. Will they be a problem?

LTA official 2: In Singapore?

(Muffled giggling follows. Government official enters.)

Government official: Are we all set for the big leap forward on SimplyGo? What’s your communication strategy?

LTA official 1: What’s a communication strategy?

Government official: It’s how you convey the message to the public. How you explain the reasoning behind the upgrade. Why it’s an important step forward in our digital evolution. Why the new tech is safer. How did you prepare all this dense information for the public?

LTA official 1: We put some aunties by the ticketing machines.

Government official: Hmm, that may not be enough.

LTA official 1: We’ll make some graphics. And then we’ll be ready to sunset the system.

Government official: Sunset the system? What does that even mean?

LTA official 1: Not sure, sir. I read it on a LinkedIn post.

Government official: Why don’t people talk properly anymore?

LTA official 1: We do, sir. Once we’ve sun-setted the card-based ticketing system, we’ll un-parallel the SimplyGo system, remove the balance screen and speed up commuter flow at the point of transaction.

Government official: Are you unwell?

LTA official 1: I’m fine, sir. I’m just reading off the press release that we’re using to disseminate public information in digestible chunks.

Government official: But are we making it clear to the public why this is an improvement on the older ticketing systems?

LTA official 1: Yes sir, they can use their watches and pretend to be James Bond.

(Government official exits. LTA officials rustle their papers).

LTA official 1: OK, we’re all set. Let’s move forward with SimplyGo. There’s no turning back now. The 1 June date is fixed. The public are all on board. And I need to get my car serviced.

Commuters boarding a public bus at Boon Lay Bus Interchange.
Commuters boarding a public bus at Boon Lay Bus Interchange. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

(A week later, LTA officials return to their conference room.)

LTA official 1: OK, we need to backtrack with SimplyGo. The 1 June date is no longer fixed. And the public are not all on board.

LTA official 2: But did you get your car serviced?

LTA official 1: I did, thanks heavens. Have you seen the queues at the MRT ticketing offices?

LTA official 2: Yeah, I was there yesterday, trying to canvas opinion on the compulsory switch to the SimplyGo system.

LTA official 1: What did you find out?

LTA official 2: That I can run really fast. They chased me out of the MRT station.

LTA official 1: I’m beginning to think this is a poisoned chalice.

LTA official 2: Isn’t that the stuff they put in the Bukit Timah canal?

LTA official 1: No! They didn’t put anything in the canal! It’s just that, in the last few days, everything has been a bit blue.

LTA official 2: Yeah, I’ve been pretty miserable, too.

LTA official 1: Why?

LTA official 2: Why? I’ll tell you why. I’ve been accused of being out of touch and not listening to the concerns of the public. At least I think that’s what they were saying at the bus stop. It was hard to hear through the car window.

(Government official enters the meeting.)

Government official: So we’re backtracking now and keeping the old systems because we didn’t communicate with the public properly about the SimplyGo system?

LTA official 1: Yes, sir.

Government official: But we’re not going to call it a backtrack.

LTA official 1: No, sir. But this time we’re going to communicate with the public properly.

Government official: Well, that’s something. How are we spending an extra $40 million to keep the old systems?

LTA official 1: Cannot say, sir.

Government official: And how long can commuters continue to use their EZ-Link and NETS cards?

LTA official 1: Cannot say, sir.

Government official: So how are we communicating with the public properly?

LTA official 2: We’re producing those nice graphics again.

LTA official 1: The ones with the cute ticks and crosses, because no one ridiculed them at all on social media last week.

Government official: So to recap, we scrapped the old system, then brought back the old system, for an unspecified period and at an additional cost of $40 million, to give the commuters something they already had for years and were happy with?

LTA official 1: That’s right, sir.

Government official: And how are we supposed to get the public back on side now?

LTA official 1: Give them a free James Bond watch?

Government official: For heaven’s sake, not all Singaporeans are data-obsessed, app-addicted tech junkies who want to take even more space away from their phones. Clearly, all they wanted was to see their account balances. Was that too much to ask?

LTA official 1: It was, if they wanted to use their James Bond watches.

Government official: If he mentions the James Bond watch again …

LTA official 2: How about a lucky draw campaign? We could give away limited-edition, retro EZ-Link cards. Old is new again, like vinyl records.

Government official: What would you call this campaign?

LTA official 2: Simply Come Back.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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