The future of transport payment?

From the Red Line
Published in
7 min readApr 13, 2024


If the LTA wants to exit the stored value card industry, it has to be less hasty.

Of course, first they need to make a decision on whether they want to stay in the industry or not. Call me a party pooper, but when they’re selling limited edition Powerpuff Girls collab cards, it sends a certain message — a message that you’re kind of supposed to continue using stored value cards, even though the official messaging is trying to push using bank cards instead. With limited acceptance at retail endpoints, it’s kind of questionable what exactly their commitment is.

As always, as this blog has been saying, it’s time for some deep soul searching. Plus, now that I think about it, what is the ez-link Wallet supposed to do anyway, or was it just a “me-too” attempt to ride the SGQR hype?

A clean break

If the LTA decides that it wants to exit the market, then it will probably require a lot of radical change; the kind of change that means people will lose their jobs. Essentially, this means putting a stop to the entire concept of concession passes as we know it. Perhaps they might take some ideas from my earlier proposals — which means now passengers are “bringing their own card” and adding their own entitlements accordingly. It means you can let kids bring around Kung Fu Panda cards and still enjoy student fares, instead of making them always carry around a student ID.

Without concession cards, that also means that Concession Card Replacement Offices — sorry, now “SimplyGo Ticketing Service Centres” — are irrelevant; and they can similarly be closed too or downgraded to Ticket Offices. Or perhaps things go the other way, where Ticket Offices are closed and Service Centers kept open for those who can’t, or won’t, use the online services. When all the paperwork is done online, things can be significantly streamlined.

But since not everyone might want to use banking facilities, who fills in the gap? The GrabPay Mastercard is dead. The LTA can perhaps ink a deal with NETS to allow the LTA’s existing ticketing infrastructure to perform top ups for the NETS Prepaid Card, building on what it can already do with the FlashPay Card. It can also perhaps take over the management systems for adult ez-link cards, essentially turning everything into a FlashPay card; subsequently also adding features to allow public transport ticketing to also “look inside” the NETS Prepaid Card; making it a true replacement for whatever is it we have now.

In Singapore, chances are most payments infrastructure that we deal with are already supplied by NETS — Cold Storage, 7–11, even McDonald’s. NETS can then be the ones to print the Powerpuff Girls collab cards or something. This final state is more akin to Taiwan’s Easycard, accepted by nearly every transport operator in the entire country; as a payments operator, they also supply the required payment infrastructure that can support the full range of Easycard features.

While the Taipei Metro owns shares in Easycard Corp, it’s not the sole shareholder; the bus companies and even several Taiwanese banks are in on it too. And like ez-link, Easycard will even make customised cards that can be used for access control and school ID. Look at NETS’ ownership structure, and you’ll find that it’s quite similar.

Is the door closed?

But of course, whilst the Taiwanese may be able to accept the Easycard’s downsides, they’re also not innovating; compared to what we might have the opportunity to do with account-based ticketing. While the recent TPass monthly unlimited passes can also be loaded onto an Easycard, I presume they work on the same technical basis as the time-limited tourist passes one can get from any Taipei Metro information counter; and Taiwan Railways has had to install additional readers to support the TPass.

If Singapore wants to innovate, the CEPAS technical baseline may quickly become nonviable. My reading of the relevant Singapore Standards shows an awfully case-specific implementation. For example, since the implementation for charging bus distance fares relies on special data encoded by the last transaction, ez-link tells non-Simplygo card holders in its FAQs to pretty please do not top up your card on the bus; if you do so, the transaction data will be lost and you get charged multiple maximum fares. A strict reading of the standards also show that it may be difficult, if not outright impossible, to implement limited refunds to facilitate fare caps.

I will give credit where it’s due — basing on open standards has arguably made our rollout much easier compared to say, Hong Kong, where they have had to replace faregates with models that have significantly more electronics compared to our lightweight gates before they can really enable contactless payment. This made their rollout more complex, both for MTR themselves and the passenger.

source MTR Service Update

But the same question can be asked in reverse, as another example of the kind of innovation the LTA needs to do. The LTA managed to implement a feature to temporarily “block” a card from being detected by carpark IU readers, but not ERP gantries. However this worked, I’m thinking it should not be that difficult to extend this OBU feature to essentially transmit dummy information to get the payment information, and then charge another payment method. Since the CEPAS reader on the ERP 2.0 OBU already has to support the ISO/IEC 7816–4 open standards on which SS 518/CEPAS is built, it should not be difficult to accept bank cards.

If not, I suppose the existing arrangements for backend payment systems can be retained, with the ERP 2.0 OBU essentially triggering a charge for the carpark payment on the backend payment system; instead of however it’s probably done now where they would have fined you otherwise.

Taking the blue pill

Or we could just do nothing. The LTA’s management can wake up on Monday and continue believing what they want to believe; with several different payment methods and many different layers between each of them. They can continue to have an “open ecosystem”, but it will realistically not deliver the kind of value we expect from stored value card systems, as long as they’re still mostly inviting themselves to the party.

They bought themselves six years, after all, so this can make the most out of the six years. With the last of the card-based ticketing cards being issued this year, they should expire in 2029 (edit: the full five year lifespan, though I’m getting mixed signals), with a year to go before the full sunsetting of the system in 2030. The Singaporean is stubborn, so this can serve as a short-term political panacea — by 2030, chances are we’ll have a new transport minister anyway, who may have his own ideas, and there may already be solutions for the technical constraints.

That is of course not to say that the status quo is good, nor is it remaining static.

The proposed Transitlink-ez-link merger was supposed to include a merger of the two apps “by the second half of 2023” — a timeline that has come and gone. It appears that both apps have reached feature convergence, where you can do the same thing with either app, so perhaps it may be time to decide on keeping one app and delist the other from the app stores.

While the Transitlink Facebook page has renamed itself, websites have also still remained separate. There’s and, with each website offering unique features. continues to host information on concession cards, and is the home of the Travel Smart Journeys programme — while it also “hosts” information on concession cards, they simply redirect back to the page. Then, of course, the LTA still has its own transport tools, containing the fare calculation information; same as

As for physical hardware, while ticket offices were built with DTL3 and TWE, many of these offices sit empty, used as additional storerooms for SMRT or something. At Maxwell TEL station, there are no more traditional ticket windows — rather, the Ticketing Service Centre looks more like a shop with a machine outside. It’s also the only one along the whole TEL1–3 for now, though if memory serves there may be space for another at Woodlands TEL, and perhaps closed ticket offices along the rest of the line.

Ultimately, the path the LTA is taking now should result in all these public transport e-services being consolidated in one place; much as it has done for drivers with OneMotoring. If the LTA expects more public transport users to interact with e-services, cleaning up the payment landscape is paramount. Building on the OneMotoring example, service information should also be communicated through a central source (since the LTA’s Bus Operations department coordinates everything anyway) instead of having the four bus operators make their own announcements; though that’s a whole other issue.

But I’m frankly not going to keep my hopes up. It may seem that chaos may just be the order of the day. After all, the state of technology development and innovation in the LTA is essentially (at the risk of being crude) five railway companies and several tech startups in a trench coat. They may not see the case for reform if it means disruption to established interests.

Like what you read? Join the Telegram Channel for updates!



From the Red Line

Sometimes I am who I am, but sometimes I am not who I am not.