I first encountered contact cards for public transportation in Singapore when my family went there for vacation in 2012. I was so amazed back then because a single card can be used in their trains and buses. I believe it can also be used to purchase items in stores.
When I visited Bangkok and Hong Kong, they both had their own versions of the contact cards as well. I found the system really convenient because it
A contact card is basically a physical card that you tap in terminals to either pay for your travel fare or purchase items. In contrast with the magnetic card that is used in train systems here in Manila which requires you to insert them in slots, the use of contact card is somehow faster.
It was earlier this year when I learned that the Philippine would be using contact cards, called “Beep” in the three train systems in Metro Manila–LRT 1, 2 and MRT 3– in the context of providing faster service to Filipino commuters.
This begs the question, is a faster ticketing system really the solution we need to ease the travel experience of train users?
As a commuter who frequents LRT 1 and MRT 3, my answer is no.
With Beep, a commuter can purchase a reloadable Stored Value Card valid for four (4) years and can be used in all three train systems. In theory, that seems ideal and seamless. But reality does not even come close.
First off, the implementation of the new ticketing system was staggered between the three train stations. LRT 2 was the first to use the Beep system earlier this year (June, July?). LRT 1 came next around August, but it was first implemented in the Southbound lane of the train system. Meaning, any commuter going Northbound would still need to line up to buy for a ticket (stub) even if they were already using Beep for their southbound journey. The full LRT1 implementation didn’t come until September.
Finally, MRT 3 will be using the Beep system starting October 3. Only then can Stored Value Card users fully use the seamless process of the new system.
As for the Single Journey Tickets, the process of buying is still the same as before. You need to tap the single journey ticket in the terminal to enter the station and insert in in the terminal slot to exit. Single Journey Ticket fares are also a bit pricier compared to Stored Value Card fares.
I’ve used the Stored Value Beep Card for almost two months now and while it certainly allows for faster entry in the train stations, it certainly did not offer a faster travel overall.
Why? Because of the lack of trains, the waiting time inside the station tends to be longer. On average, I wait for around 20 minutes inside the UN Avenue Station of LRT 1 before I can get on a train. And that is on my lucky days. During my last train ride, I waited for almost 1 hour just to get on a run down train with no air conditioning system and seemed to run 20km/hr.
Because of the longer waiting time, commuters are stuck in stations all jammed with each other waiting for the next sauna, err train to arrive.
While I’m not sure if there was proper research done before the government laid out its priorities in upgrading the train systems, it is pretty obvious to me that while the ticketing system needs some upgrading, it should not have been the first priority.
At least on LRT 1, I observed that there are still more Single Journey Ticket users compared to Stored Value users. Meaning, they still line up to buy their tickets every time they ride the train. Meaning, they do not enjoy the “faster” commute.
They should increase the number of trains first, then made sure the tracks are maintained well so that the trains can run on ideal speed.
So until they increase the number of trains in use in ALL train systems (LRT 1, 2, MRT 3 and even PNR), until they religiously maintain the train stations and the tracks, commuters will still continue to endure the demoralizing, slow travel in the country’s most populated metropolis.