Fully cashless public transport system: Some need help to adapt, say observers

An elderly man tapping his ezLink card as he alights a bus at a bus stop at Braddell MRT Station.
An elderly man tapping his ezLink card as he alights a bus at a bus stop at Braddell MRT Station.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

While the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) target to have a fully cashless public transport system by 2020 is a right step, observers warned that particular groups of commuters must be taken care of.

These include foreign workers and senior citizens, who may be dependent on or accustomed to using cash to top up their travel cards.

Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport Sitoh Yih Pin said the authorities should "be mindful to make the (cashless) transition as smooth and painless as possible for all Singaporeans".

According to LTA data, around 27 per cent of commuters still pay cash to top up their travel cards at MRT passenger service centres. A quarter of them are senior citizens. Next year, LTA and TransitLink will remove this payment option entirely.

Singapore University of Social Sciences senior lecturer Walter Theseira said: "I believe the vast majority of Singaporeans would adapt quickly, but I do have some concerns for a small number of people, like the elderly who live alone."

Dr Theseira said they may be uncomfortable using electronic methods to top up their travel cards, although they are familiar with using ATMs to withdraw cash. He said grassroots helpers and volunteers could be roped in to teach them.

Retiree Veeraputhiran Rajoo, 70, for example, said that he was initially "hesitant" in using his ATM card at ticketing machines, but later found the steps easy. He suggested that staff be on hand to guide elderly commuters.


The LTA and TransitLink said it will ensure cash alternatives are available come 2020. Currently, travel cards can be topped up at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, but with a 50-cent fee.

Transport GPC deputy chairman Ang Hin Kee said he hopes that such fees will not be levied.

Migrant Workers' Centre executive director Bernard Menon said the majority of foreign workers here have bank accounts, and a "small group will be marginalised". He said the centre will work with the authorities to educate this group.

Asked how tourists will cope, LTA said it is looking into setting up manned ticket counters in areas that tourists frequent and at gateways such as airports.

Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Some need help to adapt to cashless system, say observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe