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Technology 101: Cashless Touch ‘n’ Go – Outdated and Must Go?

touch n go

Do you still remember the time before Touch ‘n’ Go was widely used for public transportation, parking and highway tolls? Image source: Compare Hero.my

I still remember the days when I had to queue up at the bus companies’ counters to get my bus passes –sometimes more than one, depending on the year. KL, Klang & Port Klang Omnibus and SJ Kenderaan had their own dedicated counter for the bus passes – different colours for adults and school children (which is half of the price of the adult total fares). Toong Foong one was a bit different – you have got it from their office which was located near Puduraya where it is usually packed with bus conductors also queuing up to get their stacks of new bus tickets.

Then one day, KL, Klang & Port Klang Omnibus introduced something called Touch ‘n’ Go and all we need to do is to tap when entering the bus and tap again when exiting. The reload counter was the same counter where I used to buy my bus pass.

The only shortcoming that I encountered when I used Touch ‘n’ Go back then was the need to tap at the entrance – sometimes the bus is so jam-packed, there is hardly space at the front to jump in. There are times when the reader is unable to detect the card so you need to retry a few times before it detects (by then you have a queue forming behind you).

We have come a long since then – now the usage of Touch ‘n’ Go is almost everywhere, especially for highway tolls. There are no more cash collection counters and on some highways, they even had shut down the top-up counters.

PLUS Malaysia Berhad (PMB) will no longer provide Touch ‘n’ Go reload facilities at all toll plaza exit lanes beginning Nov 5.

According to PMB, the move is aimed at reducing congestion caused by reload activities at all toll plazas in the northern region (between Hutan Kampung and Ipoh Utara) and the southern region (between Seremban and Skudai).

It is also to ensure the safety of PLUS customer service agents, as there have been several cases where heavy vehicles crashed into toll booths at the toll plazas.

“To date, there have been 81 cases of heavy vehicles crashing into toll booths between 2016 and 2018,” it said in a statement on Friday (Nov 1).

(Source)

Seriously I don’t think the Touch ‘n’ Go top-up counters are the main cause of heavy vehicles crashing into toll booths.

Everyone has to slow down at the toll booths irrespective you are topping up your Touch ‘n’ Go. More so even in the Smart Tag lane, you will notice that there will be queues mainly because the first car has a problem with the Smart Tag reader. So what has this got to do with heavy vehicles crashing into toll booths? Nothing!

The reason why heavy vehicles crash into toll booths is simple – greediness, laziness, stupidity and basically carelessness! The other reason quoted was to reduce the congestion caused by reloading activities – this one makes more sense than the reason that it causes heavy vehicles to crash into toll booths.

Those who complain about the removal of the reload lane at the toll plaza, are just plain lazy and don’t plan ahead.

There are many options to reload the Touch ‘n’ Go way before reaching the toll gates – there are reload kiosks at R&R, convenience stores, Tesco hypermarket, auto-reload via credit card and Petronas petrol stations. I often reload my card at Petronas once it reaches the RM15 limit – sometimes even before that. For longer journeys (like on PLUS highways), I will estimate the toll charge needed and I will then reload (with an extra RM20 – RM25 to spare).

Presently I use Touch ‘n’ Go exclusively for toll charges although the card can be used for so many other things including paying parking charges. Paying at The Chicken Rice Shop and Tesco is another option although I don’t use it.

I don’t use it to pay parking charges in the shopping malls with Touch ‘n’ Go (which attracts additional surcharges) if there is an option to pay cash. Why pay more for the same parking slot & time? After years of complaining about additional surcharges, the Government decides to do something about it:-

Touch ‘n’ Go users will no longer have to pay the 10% surcharge at parking lots soon, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Deputy Minister Chong Chieng Jen said today.

Chong told the Dewan Rakyat that new agreements signed with merchants will exclude the surcharge while that in existing agreements will be eliminated in stages.

He said the government could not eliminate the surcharge yet because it was prevented from doing so under existing contracts. The surcharge is passed on to customers.

Apart from the surcharge, Touch ‘n’ Go card users also have to pay 50 sen every time they top up the value on their cards.

(Source)

This is good news indeed but unfortunately, that is long overdue!

Of course, when it comes to paying toll charges in Malaysia, there is more than one option at the moment than just using Touch ‘n’ Go – Smart Tag and RFID. Of course, technology is ever-evolving and new methods are being developed for payments which include this from down south:-.

Singapore is moving forward with a plan to implement satellite road pricing, a wireless tolling plan that charges vehicles for distance travelled rather than passes through a toll booth.

The technology requires vehicles to carry tracking devices that charge tolls to citizens’ accounts directly, thereby rendering physical toll booths useless, freeing up road space and maintenance costs.

The tracking devices can be easily configured to set up pay for parking systems, as well as to beam traffic updates or route guidance to citizens via a mobile app or vehicle console.

(Source)

Of course, the best way would be to abolish tolls altogether so that one does not worry about reloading. But this is not possible, personally, I don’t think Touch ‘n’ Go is outdated if one looks beyond just paying the toll.

When I was in Hong Kong, I used Octopus card which works similar to Touch ‘n’ Go but I feel that the usage of Octopus at the merchant level was at greater use. I paid for the bus fare, morning snack, breakfast, lunch, and dinner and even did my sundry shopping using the Octopus card. And this is where I think Touch ‘n’ Go is lacking and where there are allowed usage, the operators are imposing unnecessary surcharges that actually cause even lesser usage of the card.

Yes, monopoly is bad but then again, what’s the convenience of using a pre-paid debit card when the usage is limited? The problem in Malaysia is compounded by the fact that there are too many options of pre-paid cards, e-wallets, e-payment apps (like the terrible Petronas app Setel) and even loyalty cards – in the end, one needs to bring a dozen cards & apps to pay at different merchants. This needs to stop and the various cards need to be consolidated OR merchants need to allow certain cards to be used to pay for goods and services.

Presently Touch ‘n’ Go is widely in use especially in the Klang Valley for one key reason – it is the default payment option for the highways – one of which Klang Valley residents cannot escape. Thus it should be allowed to be used in greater use. Instead of using an e-payment app like Setel (which does not work), I should be allowed to pay using Touch ‘n’ Go.

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