EZ does it on MRT and Buses

I had a story a few months ago on Technobiography about some sensors temporarily installed at the Boni MRT station. I hypothesized that these were sensors would allow passage of commuters with the use of a cellphone. I wondered out loud whether the sensor would use SMS or bluetooth, or some other technology.

Later on, in private e-mails, I discovered more about the technology behind these mysterious sensors that appear and disappear at the Boni MRT station. Now, after trying out the EZ Link card in Singapore, I have a better understanding of how these sensors could work.

EZ Link card

The EZ Link card is a stored value ticket for commuters using Singapore’s MRT and buses. The EZ Card looks very much like a plain plastic card. It doesn’t have a visible SIM (like the PLDT phone cards) nor does it have a black magnetic strip (like our ATM cards and credit cards).

EZ Card at MRT and Buses of SingaporePrior to entry in an MRT station gate, a commuter needs to “œtap” the card on an EZ Link card sensor. The card need not leave the comforts of the commuter’s wallet or handbag. What most people do is take out their wallet or handbag and place it very close to the sensor until they hear an audible beep. Some people sling the card together with their ID for easy tapping.

On the way out, the commuter needs to tap the EZ link card once more upon exit. This is when payment for fare is made and the stored value of the card is reduced.

Commuters can easily “œtop-up” or add value to the stored value card through a vendo machine or through the customer service desks found at every station. Furthermore, I saw advertisements saying EZ link cards can be automatically topped up using a credit card.

What’s more, the EZ link card can be used in almost all of the public utility buses that ply local routes. Although different companies run different bus lines, the EZ link card can be used in any of those buses; Afterall, all bus companies are supposedly privately-owned on paper but “œun-officially” government-owned, we are told.

When we visited the library, we found out that the EZ link card can also be used to pay for borrowed books. Later, we also found out that the EZ link card can be used to pay for goods at 7-11 or McDonald’s. Neat, huh?

On the fourth day we were in Singapore, our EZ link card’s stored value went negative! We had a 3 dollar deposit on the card, so we didn’t really “œowe” anybody. We started using the vendo machines at the train stations. There’s this transaction called “œanalyze card”. And you know what we found out? In that card, aaaaalllll transactions we had using that card were recorded! It recorded where, and at what time we entered or exited a station or bus. Whoa! Big brother has been watching! And this is for a tourist’s EZ link card. Some EZ link cards are personalized, and inlaid with senior citizen cards or student ID’s, if I’m not mistaken.

I guess it was just surprising for me that I felt my privacy was being invaded. But I all is well. Singaporeans are used to this kind of monitoring. They have closed circuit TV cameras all around, more so after the London bombings. I think all this monitoring is part of the security that has kept Singapore’s crime rate virtually zero.

Meanwhile, back in the hall of justice Philippines

Now, back to the Philippines. After experiencing the EZ link, I see how it could be applied here in the Philippines. It’s fast and convenient. I believe this technology, or something similar, is what is being tested at the Boni MRT stations.

But then again, for every new technology, there will always be a hacker or a smart ass who will try to short circuit a system. I’ve seen people at the MRT station who would jump over the gates when their ticket is rejected. And I’ve seen security guards turn a blind eye on some erring commuters.

These kinds of behavioral problems, minor as it may seem, are pogi points lost for our country. For behavioral problems of some Filipinos, technology isn’t the best solution. Maybe media or religion or an iron hand would do better.

Technology can do so much. But technology can only do so much.

ka edong
tech usiyosero

In my next article, I will tell you about the techie taxi drivers in Singapore and how Filipino drivers could become techie too. But Manila taxi drivers should learn first to give back the correct sukli. More on that in my next article.

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  • darksparrow

    now this is the article ive been looking for, technology that benefit all of us

  • This is so true. Talking about public transport system of Singapore, I was also amazed on how high tech they are. You forgot to mention that Singaporean cabs do accept credit card and debit card payment, which is so convenient also! Like Singapore, HK have the same system. They have a card called the Octopus Card, which can be used in trams, buses and trains. One can also use the Octopus Card to purchase anything from McDonalds, 7-11 and other convenience stores!

  • Hi Alma,

    You gave a good summary of what I was going to write for my next article: Techie Taxis. 😉

    That’s part of my Techie pipol series on Technobiography.


    ka edong

  • wow! very informative ka edong!

  • nox

    Card power!

    This kind of technology would greatly help our “sukli” challenged taxi drivers. But hopefully, in the future, resistance is futile.

  • Great stuff, now I got so much cards in my wallet, EZ-link, Cashcard, Debit Card. There are important places these cards are worthless in Singapore, the hawker centres, where great food abounds hehehe.

    Of course these amenities aren’t fool-proof, sometimes they become inconveniences but these are exceptions not rules. Like one time I had to photocopy something on a weekend and the nearest I can go to is a Community Library, the xerox copier accepts only Cashcard and I only have coins with me waaah. I also once paid my cab faree using my debit card and it’s oh so slow.

    But this is a nice-to-have stuff in the Philippines. But I don’t want to put our “konduktors” out of job. That would be my material on my future post, “The high-tech konduktor”

  • If technology will be rolled into our public transport systems, fares will increase to breakeven from the cost of equipment for a high-tech gadget. The masses will be very pissed. When MRT was first introduced, I remember their prices used to be almost double the current fare scheme. However, they had to reduce the price to create the demand and compete with the public utility buses.

    So it is not only because there are several “naughty” pinoys who will do anything to get a free ride. I also think Philippines is not mature enough to introduce the technology to the masses until our economy picks up and the people wisen up.

    My two cents lang po. 😀

  • I think it will take creativity in costing and marketing. I’m told that a card for the system proposed at the Boni station can be embedded in a cellphone case and costs less than a hundred pesos. This will allow the user to just slip by the MRT gates by tapping the card (like the article above).

    although there are costs, there should also be benefits. I see, as a benefit, the opportunity for the MRT lines to be reduced. People might be able to add value to their cards via G-Cash, Smart Money or maybe through ATMs or vendo machines.

    Nevertheless, I understand your two cents, monicai. And I agree, it takes some maturity in users for some technologies to work for us.

    kaya rin it’s not just technology. it’s also attitude.

    ka edong

  • hmm…. not a bad idea. Smart cards inserted at the back of the battery may work….. well maybe. I can imagine the smart cards used for ID entry in companies can also be used for public transport. Cute din siguro pag pupunta ka sa MRT tapos music nila walang katapusang beeping ng mga sensors. Hehehe.

    Embed na rin ang cellphone sa kamay natin para pag nag purchase tayo via G-cash or smart money, may kasama na rin thumbprint para mas secure and ID at foolproof. Lol!

  • johnny mnemonic na ang labas natin niyan! ;-p

    today i was at a office of a coop. They do their login/out via fingerprint scanning.

    ka edong

  • anon

    great technology, but i’m afraid there’s lack of discipline among pinoys for this to be implemented succesfully..have never been to singapore, but HK’s Octopus system for me is also one that’s very admirable

  • I’ve been to both HK and Singapore. It’s much the same in both countries. But the time we were in HK (2003), the cards were used only in the trams/buses/trains and not in stores like 7-11 and mcdo.

    Do you know of any improvements since 2003 in HK’s octopus?

  • nic

    hk’s octopus card is one of the most popular case studies of a prepaid contactless smart card project that’s in operation. while originally meant for transport, they tried to expand its use first in retail chains around the mtr stations, but the biggest boost was 7-11 which is practically everywhere. it can be used basically on every form of transport in the territory (except the small ferries/kaidos and taxis – more on that later), and transport still makes up for the bulk of the transactions (although they’d like to see non-transport use go up because of the commission).

    why was it successful? a major stumbling block for widespread adoption of a single card would be the different companies/entities that own transport systems. this is the case in tokyo (if you’ve been there, you’ll notice that sometimes you have to have different tickets when transferring train lines – this is because different companies own these lines), and most major cities in the world.

    what they did in hk was these transport companies (primarily the MTR corp, plus the bus companies, etc) established a consortium that deployed the octopus cards. By doing this, they all had a stake in the system, making it easy for widespread adoption. why are taxis not using the octopus card yet? you guessed it. they’re mostly private, and obviously they’re not part of the consortium. it may be possible for them to accept the octopus cards eventually, but as of now, there’s no real incentive to them.

    most of the time, it’s really not a question of technology, but of people. the technology’s there, and who’s to say that we can’t afford it? if there’s enough value proposition, people will use it. but as far as seeing a real contactless smart card being used for transport in manila, it’s probably not very likely in the near future. it’s hard enough implementing it on one transport system (most likely the mrt), what more extending it to include all the privately owned buses, taxis, jeepneys, and the like. but maybe i’m wrong?

    disclaimer: i work for a smart card company in manila, so i *may* be biased. *wink*

  • Long story short, Personal Area Networks combined with a database engine simplify our lives greatly. There’s a technological solution to pretty much everything; the major stumbling blocks being outside of the (information) system itself. It’s not the system at fault for logging transactions; it was certainly designed to do that. What happens to the logs afterwards is a different story, however. The freedom from pocket change and ability to transact anywhere should be weighed against the possible misuse of the data gathered. Blind trust in anybody (especially politicians) is bad, but so is holding back progress… a contentious issue? You decide. 😉