askST: How will children and the elderly cope with a cashless transport system in 2020?

Reader Lim Kger Liang wrote in to ask how the Government's plan to make the public transportation system cashless will accommodate the elderly as well as school-going children.

As part of Singapore's smart nation push, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced last week (Aug 11) that by 2020, all bus and train rides in Singapore will be paid for using travel cards, with cash top-ups no longer available at passenger service centres of MRT stations.

Since January, payment options such as credit and debit cards as well as mobile payment platforms like Apple Pay have been added to ticketing machines.

"Are the elderly and school-going children going to have to carry a bank card everywhere they go?" asked Mr Lim. "Will using mobile platforms be more of a convenience or a hassle?"

Transport reporter Zhaki Abdullah has the answers.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has promised commuters a "progressive" approach in the move towards a cashless public transportation system, including accommodations for the elderly and "less digitally savvy".

At the 11 MRT stations where passenger service centres will no longer offer cash top-ups from September - Admiralty, Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Buona Vista, Farrer Park, HarbourFront, Hougang, Lakeside, Pasir Ris, Serangoon and Yew Tee - general ticketing machines in the stations will still accept cash.

TransitLink officers will also be on duty at these stations to help commuters learn to use the ticketing machines for both cash top-ups and electronic payments.

The LTA will also work with government agencies and grassroots organisations to familiarise their residents with electronic payment methods, as well as help them with their banking needs.

From 2020, when all bus and train rides here are expected to be fully cashless, cash top-ups will continue to be available at selected areas in the vicinity of transport nodes, such as convenience stores. However, these top-up services currently incur a 50-cent surcharge.

For school-going children, who by virtue of their age are not allowed to have either ATM cards or debit and credit cards, expanded top-up options are being explored.

These include allowing their travel cards to be topped up by their parents or guardians.

The minimum age to apply for a POSB ATM card is currently 15. Those below 15 must have a consent form signed by a parent or guardian, or the principal of the school they attend, in order to acquire a card. Other banks have higher age limits.

Plans to remove the cash option at the 39 TransitLink ticket offices at MRT stations and bus interchanges are also being studied "very carefully" before they are implemented.