Technology and the MRT

My philosophy regarding technology is simple: technology should help us solve problems. If that technology is applied to a non-problem, then that is a waste of resources that should have been instead directed on real issues.

The MRT has three modes of entry-exit payment mechanisms. The first one, used since it started operating, uses magnetic cards/tickets. You can buy a single-journey ticket, or if you take the MRT regularly, you can get the stored-value ticket at one hundred pesos. During rush hours, the queue for purchase of tickets can get long. Also, these cards are technically not reloadable, and the maximum amount for the stored-value is one hundred pesos. Because of these issues, the MRT opened the possibility of using third-party payment mechanisms.

The second one, which is a third-party provided service, is the so-called Globe G-Pass, an implementation of RFID technology. You are given a chip enclosed in a circular case, and you tap the chip into a sensor attached to a turnstile (see how it works here). You can reload value via the reloading booths at MRT stations, or via Globe’s G-Cash mobile money solution.

There are inherent issues with this solution. First, not all turnstiles in all MRT stations have G-Pass sensors installed. On a rush hour, you need to know first what turnstile to queue up – it should have a sensor installed. You should know this beforehand. Second, the sensor must be online. Usually when it is offline, MRT personnel just tapes a sign to the sensor stating that it is offline. On a rush hour, you queue up to a turnstile with a G-Pass sensor, and it will be too late before you find out that the sensor is offline – you might have wasted around a minute or two on that. What if all sensors for that station are offline? Third, this solution would be more efficient if you are a Globe subscriber. While you can check your balance and reload at reloading stations, that would mean lining up (if there’s a line); it would be faster if you check your balance via text message, or reload via G-Cash. So if you are not a Globe subscriber – tough luck. Also, they should have instead employed the technology that the Japanese use – tap the phone! If you are careless, you might lose the chip.

The third solution (still experimental at the moment) employs m-codes (or 2-D barcodes). The service is called Juan Card, another prepaid solution. Here, you are sent an m-code, and to enter, you must point the m-code in your mobile phone screen to a sensor attached to the turnstile. As the use of this technology is not yet widespread, I cannot evaluate this solution completely, but some of the problems with G-Pass apply to Juan Card as well – limited sensor installs, long queues during rush hours, and unnecessarily complex loading solution per trip.

(There is another, low-tech solution called the Flash Pass, but I suggest you click on the link and read. It is relatively simple, low-tech, and prone to falsification, so there’s no need to discuss it.)

Again, technology should help us solve problems. In this case, what have we solved? It seems all the solutions are defeated by the fact that the wrong problem is addressed. The problem is that the MRT can no longer efficiently and sufficiently serve the volume of passengers during rush hours, and RFIDs and m-codes will not solve that. Unless they can improve on that area, these technologies are basically useless.

Do you like math? If so, let me give you a problem.

Here are some data to use:
* Car/Train capacity
* Train availability requirement – how many trainsets operate at given time
* Ridership data – most recent is for last year

Do the math. Like how much people are they packing for each train set, etc.

3 thoughts on “Technology and the MRT

  1. What other solutions may you propose, sir? One that is viable from a standpoint where economy and availability of technology dont hamper the realistic reach of being actually deployed? My sense is that public transportation in the metro, be it in the first or third world, is a problem that will never find resolution. It’s a chicken or egg situation, the rate of population growth will always exceed your ability to provide a solution that will service all without encountering the difficulties we are currently facing. That said, there is definitely a lot of room for improvement with the currently convoluted system, i am with you on that

  2. I happen to have two (2) of those G-Pass chips, one of which I use and personally tried to load in February ’09, while the other is used by the staff or colleagues which I asked them to load in December 08 yet.

    Anyhow, I was told by our staff in Dec ’08 that the Q.A. station was ‘out of load’ (it wasn’t made clear to him how that was) and ended up buying a single-journey ticket. In February, I needed to load up mine at the North Ave. station but was told that Globe hadn’t been loading G-passes for quite a number of months.

    Since I needed to get on board soon, I offered to buy a new chip instead but it, too, wasn’t available. From what I remember, I think the seller said G-Passes had ‘not been available for some time to the public…’ and they ‘…hadn’t been supplied G-passes to sell’. When asked whether it applied to all G-Pass booths or just at their branch, she said vaguely, that she could only speak for theirs.

    G-Pass booths look like they have reverted back to simply loading up cellphones or selling call cards.

    I think the G-Pass concept is helpful. I hadn’t tried loading it through my cellphone since I bought it, and have only loaded it 3x in the past at the Globe MRT booths. Despite that, even non-Globe subscribers, like our staff and colleagues, found it useful.

    It’s a pity that Globe has had very little support for the G-Pass. On the other hand, if it is implementing better technology for G-Pass-using MRT commuters like myself, it should at least let us know what to expect.

  3. Pingback: The BLIPS Network » What should be done with the MRT?

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