Monday, January 26, 2009

Up and down

What's this I hear? The public transport companies are lowering fares? Well, if this is true, it is indeed good news. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let us wait and see. Not that I doubt it will be done. In Singapore, whenever something is announced (i.e. makes the news without official denial), it will be done. That's the good thing about Singapore. The authorities act like authorities.

And its time they did so too, whether there is a recession or not. This lowering of fares is not about charity or corporate social responsibility. Its economics, stupid. First, the price of oil has tumbled to as low as $40 a barrel. Actually, for us old-timers, $30/barrel was hitting the ceiling many years ago, but I don't want to push this. The age, it shows, you know. Previously they raised fare annually, whatever the price of oil, with the blessings of the PTC. The assumption was that their operational cost will always increase, come what may (read: salary increases, including bonuses). Mercifully, Singapore is too small an island for transport executives to fly in their own jets to meetings. But they don't take public transport either...

Next, commuters are increasingly packed like sardines in the train on their way to work and on their way home, everyday, for all 5 days of the week. Mercifully, the reduction of the work week from 6 to 5 was a godsend. On the other hand, this human congestion does bring us closer as a nation, but I suspect that many citizens would rather that it were in spirit rather than in the flesh. But having said that, I must say that generally, Singaporeans, and even foreigners, don't have problem with body odour. They don't perfume themselves too heavily either, so the packed ride is spared the smell you would normally get in a crowded soccer match. This one thing I can say about Singaporeans, they are a sensible lot, at least on a train or bus. Nevertheless, the public transport companies owe it to the commuters to make the congestion more bearable either by enlarging the trains, or baring this, reducing the fare so our pockets don't keep hurting.

Third, with the money that the public transport companies, i.e. SMRT and SBS Transit, are going to receive from the government in its latest 'giveaway' budget, it will be unconscionable for them to keep it, and worst if they were to give themselves any bonus out of it, like what the insensitive, and might I say greedy Chief Executives in the US are doing even as their ships are sinking. The public transport companies in Singapore have always turned a profit. Their cashflow is quite stable and their de facto monopoly business is probably the best business to be in in recessionary Singapore. They get more business during bad times compared to good times.

The question now is, how much of a reduction will there be?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New ez-link is hard

I spoke too soon. From my use of the new ez-link card these past couple of days, it appears that not every card reader, whether on buses or train stations, are created equal. Some read my card without any problems (of course, I continue to have to use that workaround technique described in my previous blog entry), some have to be 'coaxed' to read it, i.e. the 'last-resort' card sans wallet technique has to be used. The worst performing card readers, it would appear, are in the very busy MRT stations such as Clementi and Sengkang. (Well, I do use these stations quite a fair bit).

I don't understand it. These are contact readers so it shouldn't suffer from wear and tear. The only mechanisms that need periodic cleaning and maintenance are the mechanical gates. Some of them can sometimes be retarded, but that's pardonable.

I hope my rant about the new ez-link card is over. It hasn't been a pleasant experience using it. I am just now getting used to it and I don't want any more unpleasant surprises...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Old is better

Singapore is a place with a reputation for efficiency. So naturally, I took my complaint about the new ez-Link card to the person sitting in the MRT Control Station. I explained the problem and asked, rather rhetorically, if I could have back my old card. He just reached over his desk, retrieve a piece of paper and handed it to me. He said that I should contact the 1800 number on the paper and explain my card problem. That's very efficient indeed, paring away a complaint in less than it take to say, "I have a problem". You also begin to wonder why the Control Station has such a ready stock of these pre-printed slips of paper with instructions to call a 1800 number.

On second thoughts, these people were in charge of ensuring that the trains are running ok, and handle issues related to the train station. Don't ask a cat to produce milk. Hey! you got the wrong guy, right? I took the paper but lo and behold, the listed number to call was for lost or stolen cards. Now, my card is neither stolen nor lost... I gave up with officialese. I had to solve the problem myself. So much for Singapore's reputation for efficiency, and we are thinking big about growing our service economy...

I surmised that the reader might not be able to read my new ez-Link card because it was buried in all my other cards in the wallet. I re-arranged my cards so that the ez-Link card was on its own and nearest the outer back of the wallet. This way, it would be the first card that comes into contact with the signals of the reader. And it worked!

But I have a new irritant. The readers on buses take a longer time to read my card compared to the old one! Previously, it was really 'touch and go'. Now, with this new card, it was 'touch wait hear look hear and then go', taking me at least a second more than I previously took to get out of the bus. Now, you may think that 1 second isn't a long time, so what am I complaining about? But when you consider that when everyone else has to do the same, you are looking at a lot longer to process the queue out of and into the bus. That's not progress.

This new-fangled ez-link card? Well, the LTA can have it back and eat it for breakfast, for all I care. I want my old card back.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Old Card New Card

Since 9 January 2009, Singapore Bus and Train commuters are able to use the new CEPAS-compliant ez-link card on the subway train (MRT/LRT transportation network) and the bus services operated by SMRT and SBSTransit. And since that day, people have been queueing up to get the latest 'gadget' in a one-for-one exchange of their existing ez-link card. The public has up till 30 September to change their existing cards, after which, if I am not wrong, the existing card will no longer be valid.

And in typical Singapore style, long queues have formed to get this latest card. Given that 30 Sep 09 is the deadline, there is really a lot of time to do the changeover, so people really do not have to queue. But I found myself in the queue last week and got mine changed within 10 minutes. Call me kiasu, or whatever, but I have since regretted my haste. This new cards has been an irritant because the fare gates at the MRT stations just refuses to read the card unless I remove it from my wallet. I suspect that the reader might have problems deciphering the various cards in my wallet, as happened with the new NETS Cashcard I bought a couple of months ago. In the case of the Cashcard, I had to put it in my coin and key wallet. I don't shudder to think that I need to carry a third wallet to isolate the new ez-link card.

The odd thing is, the readers on the buses, whether those from SBSTransit or SMRT, have no problems whatsoever with this new card. I continue to successfully 'beep' the card while still lodged in my wallet, as I used to do with the old card. Sheesh. I say again - I now regret changing to the new card. It has no significant added benefit over the old card, at least for now, until some other establishments, such as retail shops, start accepting them from February onwards, as promised. Payment for ERP using this card will have to wait a bit longer as the in-vehicle-units need to upgraded also.

I hope Transitlink and LTA will resolve this problem - err...not by replacing the readers on the buses, mind you. Carrying three wallets will make my pants bulge - I just don't want to be mistaken for being permanently, err, on via***, you know. Right now, this new ez-link card is nothing but a pain in the ass, really.

See also:
SeP - LTA's new generation e-payment system
ez-Link card exchange exercise