SINGAPORE - Cash top-up services at the passenger service centres (PSC) of train stations will be completely phased out next month (March), completing the first step by authorities to wean commuters off cash to pay for public transport.
With the change, cash-paying commuters can no longer rely on staff at PSCs to help them reload their stored-value travel cards, like the ez-link, but have to use self-help ticketing machines.
Since September last year, MRT stations have been progressively ceasing cash top-up services at PSCs, kick-starting the Government's quest to have a fully cashless public transport system by 2020.
To date, 89 stations have discontinued the service and from Wednesday (Feb 21), another 24 stations - including Orchard, Somerset, Raffles Place, Bugis, and Aljunied - will do likewise.
The remaining 25 stations on the MRT network - such as Chinatown, Eunos, Tampines, and Jalan Besar - will do the same from March 21.
A TransitLink spokesman told ST that it currently has a pool of more than 150 service agents, who will be deployed for up to two months at the affected stations, to help commuters to use the ticketing machines.
TransitLink said there is at least one service agent at each station, between 8am and 8pm daily, and it will deploy more staff during peak periods.
By 2020, all ticketing machines at train stations will only accept top-ups via electronic methods, such as Nets or debit and credit cards.
Buses will also stop accepting cash payments by then.
The authorities have said that cash can continue to be used at convenience stores and TransitLink ticket offices to top up travel cards.
Some are concerned that the drive to go cashless could leave certain segments of commuters behind, such as the elderly.
Mr Rahmat Mawa, 71, who is semi-retired, said he mistakenly added $50 to his travel card once because he thought the machine would return change.
"Now I have to make sure I prepare the small change of $10", said Mr Rahmat, who does part-time landscaping and cleaning work.
Mr Low P.K., 71, a retiree, said: "I always go to the PSC. Now, we have no choice but to learn how to use the machines. It's not difficult, but there were times I took the card from the reader too soon, before the transaction was done."
Meanwhile, other commuters like Madam Tan Bao Di, 73, have turned to topping up their travel cards at convenience store as staff there sort out the transaction for them.
Madam Tan, a retiree, said: "The (TransitLink) staff showed me how to use the ticketing machine. But I have forgotten the steps as they are complicated."
Convenience stores imposes a 50-cent charge for each top-up transaction, but Madam Tan, who worked in the hotel industry previously, said she is resigned to paying the levy.
A 7-Eleven spokesman said there is an average of 180,000 such transactions a month made at their stores. There is "no noticeable increase" since MRT stations started removing PSC cash top-ups, 7-Eleven said.
NTUC Fairprice, which runs the Cheers convenience store chain, said it saw an increase of about 5 per cent in monthly ez-link card top-ups at Cheers outlets, during September to December last year. Cash top-ups were removed from some stations in September.
Fairprice, however, said that it would review the surcharge.
"As a responsible retailer, Cheers is currently reviewing our ez-link card top-up services and charges to better serve the interest of our customers and the community," it said.
Mr Lee Khin Jin, 70, a TransitLink service agent, as part of an initiative to help senior citizens, is handing out tissue packets to them printed with intructions on how to use the ticketing machines.
"At the start of the initiative, some of the commuters were surprised to learn that the PSC would cease top-up services. However, over time, most of the commuters are now getting used to going to the general ticketing machines to top up their travel cards," Mr Lee said.