RapidKL’s cashless plan is thoughtless, say critics

RapidKL buses will soon go entirely cashless, but not everyone welcomes the plan. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: An expert in transport economics has panned RapidKL’s decision to go entirely cashless with its buses, describing it as a demonstration of bad judgement.

Rosli Azad Khan, managing director of the MDS group of traffic planners and consultants, said the decision appeared to have been made without consideration for tourists and others who travel on buses only occasionally.

RapidKL, the largest bus operator operating mainly in the urban areas of Klang Valley, Penang and Kuantan, announced recently that it would eliminate, in stages, the traditional method of having drivers collect fares in cash. Passengers will have to use the Touch ‘n Go card or myRapid’s Unlimited Travel Pass. The exercise begins this Monday.

“This is a poorly conceived plan,” Rosli told FMT. “It will discourage people, especially tourists, from using public transport.

“The mechanism is obviously designed by people who don’t or haven’t travelled by bus before.”

He noted that myRapid’s pass would cost at least RM50 and questioned whether occasional passengers would want to buy it for “a trip that costs only RM2”.

The RM50 pass gives a commuter unlimited bus rides for 30 consecutive days. There is also a RM100 pass, which gives unlimited rides on RapidKL rail networks, also for 30 consecutive days.

Rosli Azad Khan.

Those who prefer Touch ‘n Go can buy the card on board RapidKL buses. A card costs RM10 and is preloaded with RM4.80 of credit.

Rosli said passengers should be given the option to go cashless or to pay their fares in cash. The cash option would be welcomed by those making one-off journeys, he added.

He noted that in London, Paris, Tokyo and other big cities, users of public transport still have the option to pay in cash.

Goh Bok Yen, who has 30 years of consulting experience in urban-rural transportation, said rural residents visiting the cities might find it difficult to adapt to a cashless system. Some of them might never have heard of Touch ‘n Go, he added.

He spoke of an “already low demand” for bus travel and said RapidKL risked creating further resistance with its decision.

“It is interesting to see the study carried out by RapidKL that led it to arrive at this measure and also its contingency plan for passengers with no cards and for tourists and senior citizens,” he said.

“Don’t create problems now and try to find solutions only later.”

Roger Teoh, a postgraduate student at the Centre for Transport Studies in London, lauded RapidKL’s decision, describing it as a move towards efficiency.

“Perhaps the first few months would be challenging as certain segments of the population try to get used to the cashless system,” he said. “But the benefits are large in the long run.”

In London, he said, contactless payments by debit or credit card had overtaken the use of the more traditional oyster cards, which require top-ups.

“It doesn’t appear to be a problem,” he added.

He said contactless payments had become so common in the British capital that even homeless people seeking donations would carry devices that accept cashless top-ups.

Jacob George, president of the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, also welcomed RapidKL’s move but said the public should be given time to adapt to the change.

He said he did not see the cashless system as an issue with the “young and literates” but he urged RapidKL to consider the possibility that it would be problematic for senior citizens and “other vulnerables” who depend on public transport.

He said RapidKL should indeed fulfil its social obligation of allowing the latter group to ride its buses for free. The gesture would not lead to the “economic downfall” of the company, he added.

FMT has reached out to Prasarana for comment.