By James Veloso | Published: October 16, 2020
The latest brouhaha at the EDSA Carousel bus route regarding the implementation of cashless fare collection systems has exposed the fundamental problems. The Department of Transportation has pushed for cashless transactions, in general, by the riding public.
It’s true that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced more and more Filipinos to rely on online transactions.
According to online retailer, Zalora Philippines, as many as 91 percent of Filipino Internet users searched for goods and services to purchase during the three-month enhanced community quarantine alone.
But as life slowly returned to (well, almost) normal last June, it became clear that there are sectors where Filipinos still prefer to transact in cash. One of those is public transport.
Public transportation is a mainstay of Filipinos, especially in Metro Manila and surrounding areas.
According to urban architect Jun Palafox, nearly 70 percent of the metropolis’ population rely on buses, jeeps and trains to go to school and work.
With the slow resumption of public transport last June, the DOTr is clearly gearing up for “cashless” transactions such as prepaid cards as part of the “new normal” and a bid to prevent coronavirus contraction.
But there are several issues on the prepaid card system, as the recent incident on the EDSA Busway exposed.
One reason why commuters are still “allergic” to prepaid cards is the perceived prohibitive costs of buying – and maintaining – the cards. Beep cards such as the one used on the EDSA Busway costs around P30 to P50.
In addition, commuters have to top it with, let’s say, P100, just to maintain the validity of the card, although AF Payments, the company running the system, has assured commuters they can load as low as P10 in their cards.
The basic issue here is that many users of Metro Manila’s public transport system are low-income employees who are, more often than not, paid daily. They must ensure that every centavo counts, which makes prepaid cards prohibitively expensive.
The long lines at train stations before the pandemic is a clear indicative example of that scenario.
Another issue hounding the card system payment is the number of prepaid-card systems currently operating in Metro Manila.
First, there’s the Beep card being used in the EDSA busway as well as major train systems and point-to-point premium bus routes.
Then, there’s a similarly-named but an entirely different “Beepshare” now being used in e-jeepneys.
There’s TripKo, currently used by some bus companies in Laguna province, and PeraPay, which is also used in some modern PUVs.
No wonder the average commuter feels like they would rather continue with the old-style “barya-lang-po-sa-umaga” cash system.
Recently, the DOTr, through the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), has embarked on a “toll interoperability” scheme for Luzon’s toll roads.
The main goal is to integrate the two cashless systems – San Miguel’s AutoSweep and MPTC’s Easytrip RFID payment schemes – in preparation for the “no RFID, no entry” system starting November 2.
These means that AutoSweep users can now use it to pass through expressways using Easytrip – let’s say, from SLEX to CALAX – and vice versa.
Just wondering, is a similar plan being crafted to ease the confusion on the sheer number of cashless payment systems in our public transport?