On 11 Aug (Friday) the LTA and Transitlink announced a series of “initiatives” to push Singapore “towards a fully cashless vision for public transport by 2020″.

Think it sounds revolutionary?  Think again.

Zoom in on what they are going to do to make this nation so smart and cashless, they are going to remove cash top-up services at Passenger Service Centres. The bulldozing will start with 11 stations –  Admiralty, Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Buona Vista, Farrer Park, HarbourFront, Hougang because you voted in Workers’ Party, Lakeside, Pasir Ris, Serangoon and Yew Tee.

Waaaait a minute.

So the counters where you queue up to top up, with a real human sitting behind the glass to help you with the top-ups will be gone???

While the LTA and operators are trying to play it down by saying they will have their staff at train stations to assist commuters in the transition period (means not permanent), and will work with grassroots etc to help residents to “upgrade” themselves from paying with notes and coins to cards, we really think this is a case of force-feeding technology to the public.

What we want to ask LTA are these:

Ø  How much man hours and money will removing cash transactions save? Is this just being efficient and maybe less manpower-intensive for the rail operators but at the expense of commuters? Already netizens are complaining that you have tourists and those who are unfamiliar with the self-top up machines hogging the queues

Ø  What will happen to the counter aunties and uncles now? Retrenchment packages waiting for them?

Ø  Are we forcing tourists in Singapore to buy their ezlink cards and top-ups with credit card? (Eh, when we go overseas, we also use cash you know?)

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Ø  Did you consider the impact on the poor and the elderly? Are you trying to tell all the Ah-gongs and Ah-mas not to take public transport if they can’t figure out how to top-up their cards in a high-tech fashion?

The last point is the greatest concern personally. We have parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who belong to a generation where they are comfortable with keeping things simple. Today, 11 MRT stations will do away with the counter top-up services. by 2020, they will all be gone, and so will the machines that accepts cash.

This may not be a big deal to most of us. However, the pioneer generation and even some who are younger do not see the need to swipe credit cards, or press the ATM for money. They have been forced to say goodbye to the coin phones, and using coins to pay for their bus fares. They had no choice, they had adapted. And now this. One must admit, it must surely be more and more painful to live in Singapore as an elderly, where technology advances so fast, everyday, this place just gets a little more alien to you with all these machines, gadgets and what-nots that their generation simply could not grasp, nor see the need for. And you have policymakers who do not really care that they alienating the old and the poor, all in the name of efficiency and wanting to fulfill Singapore’s vision of being a Smart Nation. Honestly, what is the real issue with paying for things with cash, in fact, it actually reduces one’s chances of falling into debt. 

 For the elderly, if they have children or grandchildren who don’t mind getting them those supplementary credit card that can double up as ezlink cards and will auto-top-up, that is all well and fine, but think about it, sometimes Ah Gong doesn’t want to open his mouth to ask us to do it, and make him feel like he is inconveniencing his children and grandchildren. Can we let Ah Gong have an ounce of his dignity left?

What about the old, penniless and childless? The cardboard collectors, tissue paper sellers, kerbside cobblers, ice-cream cart uncles probably live from hand to mouth with what little cash they earn from their humble livelihood. Do we really need to force them to go and acquire a debit card? Even POSB wants a minimum $1,000 average monthly balance. Could we give some consideration to those who may not even have that pittance in savings? Or is the government saying, we don’t really care, let the social workers sort it out on the ground and just wave it off as “growing pains”? 

The implementation of change often brings much pain to those who cannot grasp it. We are not saying cashless is no good. We are simply asking out loud if the Government could consider the needs of the poor and elderly. Even if they do not form the majority in society, they are the ones who need the least disruptions to their lives as they struggle to get by and just live out the rest of their retiree lives. 

Can we for once, have a government who asks itself, “What do we gain, when we render our elderly helpless and alienated in the only place they know as home?”

Perhaps you may consider making these services less widely available, but to take it all away? Think again, civil servants.Think again, Government.

Sacrificing “heart” for “efficiency” may save money, but it is acts like this that chip away at the confidence vote of all Singaporeans. Or does the Government not care until the next General Elections?

And on a final note, here’s a shoutout to LTA – Do your job and just fix the persistent train signaling issues and breakdowns, rather than using your resources trying to be so SMART here.