Friday, September 15, 2006

Touch n Go - Lessons from London

London is a bloody big city. In terms of size and population.

It also has a really really really old public transport system. The London Underground started services in 1863. That's probably earlier than civilized KL.

Anyway, after putting much thought to it, from my experience observing a few public transport systems around the world, I would like to suggest the London way. Not because it is really superior in all ways, but because I think it is a good working model that balances private and public ownership of the system.

Here, I am going to focus on London's Oyster system.

London's Oyster Card is like Touch n Go. In fact, according to Wikipedia, both platforms use the same platform - Philips MIFARE. Thus, there is no good excuse for these buggers to say that the TnG can't do this and that because of technological limitations.

If you want to do any serious travelling in London, it is really much more value for money to travel using a pass (or Travelcard). Different passes, at different prices are sold to allow unlimited travel in specified zones, specified hours, specified periods and on specified systems. It's sort of like Rapid KL's passes.

(Travelcards allow travel on all Transport for London systems.)

Traditionally, bus passes and Travelcards used to be issued on paper tickets. Much like KTM Komuter tickets, with the words TRAVELCARD and dates, zones etc. printed clearly on them. On the tube, you just slot it into the turnstile. On buses, just flash it at the driver/conductor (and more often than not, they don't read it).

Naturally, single fares and prices of these passes and Travelcards were structured in ways that would encourage commuters to use the latter options.

In 2003, Oyster was introduced to London. And technology allowed Oyster to do greater things than paper.


Capping is probably the most interesting and useful thing about the Oyster.

Here I am going to explain how "capping" as used by Transport for London can work for Rapid KL. Specifically, I am going to explain it in the case of buses, since Rapid KL has revamped the whole system, especially with regards to pricing.

Under Rapid KL's new bus network the closest thing to a single ticket that is issued are day passes. There are four types of buses, and thus four types of passes issed:
  1. Local - services the suburbs - RM1
  2. Trunk - connects the suburbs to the city - RM2
  3. City - services the city - RM2
  4. Express - long distance travel - RM4
Additionally, there are combined bus passes
  1. Comprehensive - Local + Trunk + City - RM4
  2. Ultimate - Local + Trunk + City + Express + LRT - RM7
Obviously, the advantage of this system is the unlimited use in one day. But what about those people who only need to take trips in one direction? For example, those who car pool to work in the morning but rely on public transport in the evenings. Isn't that a little bit unfair?

Suppose that instead Rapid KL issues single tickets with the following prices (assume we divide the passes by 2)
  1. Local - services the suburbs - RM0.50
  2. Trunk - connects the suburbs to the city - RM1
  3. City - services the city - RM1
  4. Express - long distance travel - RM2
Imagine it'd take a Local, Trunk and City bus to work. That means RM2.50 per direction. But under this current system, the cheapest way to do it was to buy a Comprehensive pass that costs RM4.

With capping, passengers would just pay for what they use under a certain specified limit. In the case of the current bus system, it should be RM4. So while I make as many journeys in a day below RM4, I will pay for what I travel. But the minute my usage touches RM4, it is capped, and I won't be charged for any other bus travel for the rest of the day.

Isn't that a more equitable solution?

Obviously, this can never be done with paper based tickets that are inspected and verified by sight. An electronic RFID system like TnG can allow this to work.

Rapid KL can figure out a pricing system for the Ultimate for themselves. What I would suggest is to either lower prices for all tickets and passes using TnG or raise them for paper ones. Issuing paper tickets is costly, and I have already talked about fare evasion, which is a problem with manual tickets.

In fact, in London, sometimes you can see junkies begging for used Travelcards at the end of the day, and some of them will be seen selling them away. An electronic system such as TnG can enforce this non-transferability, to a certain extent (e.g. lending your card to your mom).

But the bloody card costs...

Now, we can go on banging TnG for the charges fixed on first time users to purchase cards.

Actually, most of us who don't claim to own a TnG already do. We all have MyKads. And MyKads have the TnG component embedded into it. So the infrastructure is already available, the masses are already tech compliant. All we just need is for Rapid KL to make this work.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats the problem in Malaysia. The technology is there, but when it comes to implementation, we are very very slow. I like your idea, and it's fair. From my observation, a lot of people deter from using RapidKL because they have to pay RM4 just for a one way ride to the city. They should have more options. I have sent the feedback to RapidKL via email, with no hopes that they will reply back or that the email can make any observable change at a near future. :( keep up the good work with your blog. :)

11:11 PM  

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