The use of Touch ‘n Go (TnG) payment system as the sole cashless payment option for KL trains, specifically those operated by RapidKL, in my opinion has been unnecessary. TnG is inferior to the native cashless system that RapidKL had previously.

Prior to the full migration, the trains accepted multiple payment options, but the superior method to me was the native cashless payment. Topping-up was easy and free. It was hassle-free relative to having to use TnG cards. In case of any problem with the native payment system, the station attendant would be able to help out the users almost immediately. Even the problem would be solved quickly on the spot. In contrast, trouble with TnG cards would require users to put in extra effort to reach out to TnG and their vendors, and their customer service takes time to respond to you.

Unfortunately in July-August 2017, the superior option was phased out in favor of the TnG cashless payment method. The official reason for the migration is most mind-boggling. The whole RapidKL network— the monorail, the LRT, the MRT and the buses — needs to phase out the native cashless system because after billions of public money spent on the MRT, the new MRT line has troubles processing the native cashless system.

But hey, it could process TnG system just okay. Why is that?

Instead of making the MRT line integrated into the existing widely usely system, the whole train network has to be integrated into underused MRT’s line and with weak payment method.

I have yet to come across the explanation the MRT payment method is that bad, and how that was possible. It feels like somebody overlooked the payments side. Just saying the MRT could not accept the native cashless payment and so, the migration had to happen is not enough. There has to be an explanation why the MRT payment method is that bad. It is either somebody overlooked it, or the system has been captured by special interest.

But the train has moved on and missed a station.

So, rather than moving back to the old system and possibly incur additional migration cost (I do not know whether the TnG system is cheaper than the native cashless system for RapidKL to operate; this is something to watch out for), I think the better way now is to improve the current system.

Here is a list of things I would want to see happening soon in order to improve train commuting experience for everybody, except for Najib Razak:

  1. Place TnG reloading machines at all train stations. At the moment, most stations do not have the machines, which offer free top-up services. This forces users to go to other places to reload and incur top-up charges (imagine, being forced to use TnG and then having to pay fees to top-up). In contrast, all stations have many machines that could process the native cashless payments (and even so, places like KLCC had trouble keeping the lines short: imagine the situation with TnG now). Furthermore, all those native machines have now been rendered unnecessarily obsolete by the full TnG migration. How much money has been wasted? Sounds like a job for the Auditor General.
  2. Have more than one machine at all stations. One would have thought for such a high volume traffic network, TnG would place a lot of machines for train users. But no. Even at KL Sentral, the hub of the city’s transportation, I could spot only 2 or 3 TnG reloading machines. The limited availability of the machines, which forces users to top-up at other places like 7-Eleven and incur top-up fee, makes me suspect this is intentional. It feels like a classic rent-seeking exercise, which possibly a case Malaysian Competition Commission should look into (I am toying filing a complaint. I have read the submission guidelines and it is not that hard to digest).
  3. Upgrade the reloading machines to process commands faster. Right now, it takes several minutes to complete a transaction. It is slower compared to RapidKL’s machines, which by the way, are now underutilized and processing cash payments only. One would operate the old native machines for cashless transactions like this: you touch the screen, insert cash and go. It is possible to do this under one minute unlike the so-called Touch ‘n Go machines, which require the patience one would reserve for a dead turtle.
  4. Upgrade the reloading machines to enable it to give refund at point of sale. The slow inadequate TnG machines could only receive cash. There is simply no slot to spit out cash. In case of failed transaction, no refund is possible. For refund, users would have to contact TnG customer service over the phone and such response does not happen immediately. I have been waiting for nearly three hours to get a refund. I complained to the station attendant, who redirected me to TnG’s external vendor. I have also complained to TnG and demanded my refund, which they later redirected me to the same external vendor. The vendor has yet to reply to my request. In contrast, the whole refund process would happen immediately under the old system, because refunding is possible at the point of sale. Transformation indeed.
  5. Until these suggested improvements have been made, TnG must suspend top-up fee charged at other top-up locations. Top-up should be free from the time being.

Suggestion 1-4 are investments TnG should have made when it knows it would be the sole payment option for the high-volume traffic train network. TnG clearly has underinvested in its infrastructure, happy to take in revenue it does not deserve.

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