Friday, September 15, 2006

Touch n Go - More Ideas

These are more ideas that I have been toying with:

Variable discounts by time
With an electronic system, why not offer more discounts to commuters who travel off peak hours? It is possible to do it for manual tickets, but it will be confusing with so many paper based tickets to distribute.

Or to stretch this even further, with cameras and proper electronic ticketing, the system operators can estimate how busy the system is. If it is not very busy, they can throw even bigger discounts. Of course passengers should be reminded that when they use the system, they should expect to always pay full fare (minus concessions and fixed discounts for using TnG). But I'm sure passengers would appreciate the goodwill of the operators by offering even bigger discounts. This creates an incentive for users to travel off peak. Anyway, defining "off peak" can be quite troublesome at times.

Market research
With an electronic system, passenger travel data can be fully captured. Operators and planners can identify what are the more popular journeys being made. Unlike currently (if at all that is!) where they will just estimate how many people take Route 505, or enter Masjid Jamek at what time.

With this whole database of usage data, new routes can be planned and others altered.

Of course, in the case of buses, this means that passengers ought to tap their TnGs when they exit also, in addition to while boarding to validate.

Visa has their Wave. Mastercard their Paypass. They all work using RFID technology. Perhaps they are slightly different in their own ways, in complying with different technical standards.

But I'm pretty sure that there is a common technical standard that allows readers to read cards with different technologies.

The point of this is to introduce competition to Touch n Go. If you park using your TnG, you are probably aware of the 10% handling fee that is added to your normal parking charges. Essentially, stingy car park operators pass on the cost to you (which is counterintuitive actually, since running the Autopay machines may be expensive as there is the need to handle lot's of cash).

Or how about MEPS, the ATM network people, coming up with a competiting yet compatible system?

Or all this mobile banking, mobile money business. With these canggih-manggih phones, some with RFID, how about letting these transactions be billed to our monthly statements?

Well, the more, the merrier. But remember, the keywords are competition and compatibality! We have so many choices of credit cards, but essentially, they are supposed to be compatible all the time! Let's hope these jokers don't forget these.

Hopefully it will be as good as cash in the near future.

Itemised billing
How about offering FREE itemised billing and journey histories? Maybe letting users view them for free at ticket counters, ATMs, or online but having to pay RM0.50 to get it printed?

London's Oyster allows you to do this.

Privacy concerns
Some users don't like to have their names and IC numbers associated with their journeys. And undoubtedly, someone is collecting all these data. Whether it is being used for market research (as I would advocate) or for more sinister purposes (think 1984), I don't know.

So maybe we should allow interested users to buy it like how we used to sell prepaid telephone numbers? Of course, offer discounts for registration.

Mandatory usage
Manual paper tickets and traditional magnetic tickets are expensive. Plenty of labour has to be allocated to man counters, when these staff should be on platforms (and ready to evacuate stranded trains, especially under tunnels!) or at bus stops assisting passengers.

Carrying coins and notes are risky, as there is a lot of potential to make mistakes. Coin and notes based ticket machines have to be always emptied and reloaded to prevent the rosak or coins only situations. A lot of time is wasted waiting to purchase tickets, when the better alternative is to have them all prepaid and ready to use.

So I would suggest that TnG become the default and mandatory ticket on the public transport system.

Of course, bank notes and coins are still legal tender. Operators cannot refuse to accept notes and coins.

But we can minimize it by encouraging people to reload and buy their TnG's using credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts, from ATMs, cashless ticket vending machines, banks, ticket offices and online. Throw in a rebate if they pay in certain preferred modes.

Additionally, for the LRTs and rail services convert all single tickets to RFID based tickets and discard all forms of manual tickets and magnetic insertion tickets.

In Singapore, transport fares are higher when not using their EZLink. On the MRTs, their Genral Ticket Machines do top-ups for EZLinks as well as selling single tickets.

These are some of my lain-lain ideas that I have thought of while being inspired by the success stories of EZLink, Oyster and Octopus. I hope TnG, transport operators, retailers, banks and the government read this and get all excited!


Anonymous Rajan R said...

I never heard of Visa Wave (we only had Mastercard PayPass at Starbucks while I worked there), they are both very, very different products. One is a stored-value card, the other is a debit/credit card. Loose your PayPass, your value remain intact (if it is a debit card), where else, loose your ez-link, say bye bye to that.

Plus, it takes a good 30 sec. for the transaction to take place with PayPass - as oppose to the near-instantaneous nature of cards like ez-link and Touch-n-Go.

Besides, I don't we need a compatible system - how many people travel between places like Singapore, Hong Kong, London and KL regularly that would require the expensive infrastructure for a compatible system? Since you like bring up Singapore - Singapore has two cards, a CashCard and the ez-link.

To pay your toll (ERP), you pay with CashCard, as with a lot of things like some vending machines, parking, etc. Then ez-link for public transport and things like 7-Eleven and McDonalds. It's odd two different systems exist - both were created under the auspices of the Land Transport Authority. Stupid, but it works fine (ironically, you can buy in Johore and Singapore Touch-n-Go+CashCards)

1:30 PM  
Blogger commuter said...

Although both are different products (debit/credit vs. stored value), this ought not to limit the potential for innovation.

I guess you are right about the 30sec thing. I've only seen the ads. But Visa and Mastercard also have their prepaid stored value cards. MEPS also had their MEPS Cash.

So I'm suggesting that these TnG infrastructure at stations be opened up for common use. Just like credit card terminals at restaurants and shops accept Visa, Mastercard and sometimes American Express, Diners and JCB. This sort of competition, with compatibality and interoperability issues sorted out, can drive down commission charges.

Right now, TnG is a virtual monopoly created by Samy Vellu and the National Registration Dept.

The technology is good, but the operator has been protected for way too long.

Letting in NETS and LTA's products into Malaysia would be interesting. Of course it won't happen.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Rajan R said...

The thing is - is there any need for competition? The best examples, in fact, the only examples of mass adoption of stored-value cards involve a single type of card issued by a single authority. Places like Japan, there are competing products, however within a single train system by a certain company, only one would be used.

Think about it - why would there be any benefits to competition? There won't be differences in consumer costs- and it being extremely nominal, I don't see the point.

I'll say MIFARE-based Touch-n-Go is good enough - most Malaysians already have it (in the form of their MyKad). It is based on the same technology as Oyster in London. The technology that needs to be rehauled, however, is the reader system - so that the likes of discounts, free transfers and rebates can be easily done, while also allowing the technology to be used for concessions passes (as it is in Hong Kong and Singapore)

5:48 PM  
Blogger commuter said...

1. Do you know who owns Touch 'n Go and Rangkaian Segar? It belongs to a stable of a companies with a not so reputable past - UEM and friends. Would you then suggest that the Government of Malaysia or Bank Negara take over and control directly this "strategic" interest?

2. Systems failure. If we want this to to be as good as cash, having only one infrastructure provider is pretty dodgy. Can you imagine all petty cash transactions in Malaysia being handled by this Sdn. Bhd.? You may say that ATM services also come under 1 company. Wrong. They all come under one network, MEPS, but the money still comes out of individual banks and are cleared daily. Credit cards meanwhile have agreed standards, i.e. the latest EMV. Terminals can accept Visa and Mastercard from any bank.

3. How do you think the 10% surcharge can be dumped onto the end customer, as in the case of parking? I don't think 10% is nominal. It is good enough for me to decide to pay by cash.

4. If you have been reading the press, one of the major reasons of TnG's slow adoption was because of the high fees TnG has been demanding from merchants. It took Samy Vellu to force toll operators to accept TnG. Even now, the ERL still does not accept TnG. I don't think that is a technological problem. It is one of market structure.

5. Look at how competitive the credit card market is? Ok. There are not so good signs such as high interest rates and hidden fees, but in general, if you are reliable, you end up paying nothing and you are rewarded for your loyalty. In fact, I would guess that if it wasn't for the cross-compatible and competitive environment of credit cards, we would be paying even much higher interest and fees.

Well, the business structure of this "electronic stored value contactless solution provider" is irrelevant. In my blog postings, I refer to it as Touch 'n Go only because we are familiar with it and for historical reasons, it is the way to go.

I have had so many bad experiences with TnG (overcharging, spoilt cards, no transparency in transactions, bad customer service), and I strongly believe it is a result of its monopolistic position.

Of course TnG can also overcome those problems even while in monopoly. But it has no incentive to change as long as it is protected. If at all, it's going to be slow and maybe it will require more than just the invisible hand to restore my confidence in TnG.

And in Adam Smithian terms, then we're going to have to rely on the benevolence of the monopolistic butcher to give us the beef.

7:34 PM  

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