Pay for bus, train rides by tapping your phone

Photograph illustration showing a compatible smartphone with Near Field Communication being used on a bus. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Paying for bus and train rides has just become easier - all you need is a compatible mobile phone.

A government-backed mobile payment system previously used only for retail, food and taxis was yesterday expanded to cover public transport, too.

Industry observers said this is the "killer application" which will encourage more people to use this system, which has had a relatively slow take-up since it started in 2012.

Like tapping their ez-link cards, commuters simply tap their handsets at MRT and LRT fare gates, and on card readers on buses.

It is currently compatible only with Android mobile phones - specifically 19 phone models from makers LG, Samsung and Sony, with more to be added.

To use the system, commuters need to buy a new SIM card compliant with the system. Current users need to upgrade their existing SIM cards to newer ones which have an embedded ez-link purse.

M1 has started selling the SIM card at $37.45, including GST. StarHub will start from Saturday, and Singtel in "late April".

With an ez-link mobile app, users can check their stored value balance and transaction history, and make top-ups with a credit card.

Top-ups can also be done at MRT stations and bus interchanges, with users placing mobile phones on the readers like ez-link cards.

Mr Cris Tran, consulting associate of digital transformation at market research firm Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, estimates that less than 3 per cent of smartphone owners here use this system, which involves Near Field Communication (NFC) wireless technology. But he expects this to go up, as public transport usage is high here. "In the digital economy, people will try to have fewer items on them," he said.

For the system to be widely used, he said the Government should look into including Apple devices - which account for 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the smartphones used here.

While noting that iPhones are not compatible for now, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it is "happy to work" with firms, including Apple, to certify more phones.

LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong called the new option "a milestone in the use of NFC technology in public transit in Singapore".

Undergraduate Loh Jue Hui, 23, said of the option: "It is good for people like me, who sometimes forget to bring out our ez-link cards."

But actuarial analyst Audrey Tey, 24, said: "Paying an additional $37 for something that won't save me much of a hassle isn't worth it."

•Additional reporting by Rachel Chia

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline Pay for bus, train rides by tapping your phone. Subscribe