The push for full adoption of the SimplyGo payment platform for public transport was a “judgment error”, Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat said on Friday (Jan 26).
"I apologise on behalf of MOT (the Ministry of Transport) and LTA for the delays commuters experienced when they tried to convert their existing EZ-Link cards. This could have been avoided with better preparation," Chee had said in a Facebook post.
Chee noted that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had not fully appreciated the value commuters placed on seeing fare deductions and card balances directly at station gates and bus card readers.
The oversight led to a premature decision to retire the older system, a move that was announced on January 9 and promptly reversed by January 22 following public disapproval.
S$40 million to keep old system
Consequently, the older card-based ticketing (CBT) system will remain operational until at least 2030.
Chee admitted that the existing CBT system for adults is nearing its expiration, prompting the LTA to consider its future. Maintenance of the old CBT system beyond its expiration also means the government will have to foot the S$40 million operations expense that comes with it - a cost the LTA had wanted to avoid with the system transition.
Chee added that the S$40 million is “not going to be part of public transport fares”, and that the sum will be borne by the government.
LTA is not shelving SimplyGo entirely
Chee said the government will look at whether it is possible to “progressively integrate” the two CBT systems over time.
"This is something which we want to do, because I think it is important to provide this to our commuters who want to be able to see their fare deductions and card balances at the fare gates and bus card readers.
"At the moment, there is no technical solution for this, both here and overseas. The worry is that if you do this and there is a long delay, it will cause long queues and slow down the flow of commuters," he said.
He added that the authorities will “decide later” whether to extend the CBT system beyond 2030.
Chee Hong Tat's first act as Transport Minister is to apologise
Upon assuming his new role as Singapore's transport minister - a position vacated by his predecessor, S Iswaran - Chee's first act was to extend an apology for the oversight on LTA's part.
Iswaran is presently embroiled in a legal battle, facing 27 charges related to corruption.
Chee's decisive action, somewhat atypical for the PAP government, establishes his governance style as one characterised by transparency and a proactive approach, confronting challenges directly.
Only time will tell if this isn't the start of a pattern of apologies and U-turns.