State transport authorities and stored value or “beep” cards provider AF Payments Inc. (AFPI) remain deadlocked over the issue of making the cards free for commuters, as of presstime.
AFPI today issued a statement to the media, effectively saying that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) is demanding for more than an arm and a leg in its request to waive the card fees in question.
The beep card provider has given more than enough, for its part, and can no longer be squeezed any further.
Even if beep card sales continue at P80 for the next 12 months, AFPI will not make any profit and will actually subsidize the operation of the automated fare collection system (AFCS), the company maintained.
The beep cards’ price, at P80 each, covers only part of the cost of logistics, production, initialization, printing and distribution.
In the meantime, to ease the burden of passengers who have challenges buying a beep card, AFPI will issue 125,000 free beep cards to people in need.
The offer has been made possible by company Shareholders and Business Groups, who donated the needed funds to pay for the cards .
AFPI has given much for free in the past half decade, it reiterated.
Back in 2015, under a Public-Private partnership program, AFPI replaced the old magnetic-card-based ticketing system in the three light railway lines in Metro Manila (LRT 1 and 2 and MRT3) with its contactless-based smart card technology – the Beep Card.
At no cost to the Philippine Government or the train operators, AFPI provided ticket vending machines, automated gates and Central Computer Systems.
Furthermore AFPI did not charge for the operation and maintenance of the AFCS.
Up to March 2020, AFPI has issued over 7M cards and processed at least 1 million transactions per day.
To facilitate faster transactions, the growing beep™ ecosystem was supported by various loading options – over-the-air loading and beep™ kiosks, deployed at PITX and P2P terminals.
Over the last five years, AFPI extended its system to Buses and Jeepneys and was one of the first companies to offer its automated fare collection services to Point-to-Point (P2P) bus and jeepney operators.
This June, in response to the DOTr Guidelines for the Road Transport Sector requiring cashless payment, two bus operator consortiums asked AFPI to propose an AFCS that can be used for the Edsa Loop route.
AFPI decided to participate, because we believe that the operation of a cashless ticketing system, limits the risk of COVID-19 transmission and supports the resumption of mass transport operations crucial to restart the economy, the company stated.
After considering several AFCS service providers, the Bus Consortiums chose AFPI because of its business experience and expertise and most importantly the low cost to implement the program.
To support the Bus Consortiums in financial difficulty due to the ceasing of their operations due to the pandemic, and at no cost to the operators, AFPI decided to setup and operate the load and card sales terminals in all bus stops along EDSA.
“In this challenging economic situation, we will continue supporting bus and jeepney operators to restore mass transport that is needed by our citizens and the economy,” the company stated.
Through the beep™ Rewards program in its mobile app, it has enabled cardholders to earn points when using their beep™ to pay.
For every 1000 points, passengers can redeem P10 load.
“In just over a month, we reached 15k card registrations and passengers have already earned 1M points. We encourage passengers to download the beep™ mobile phone application and to register their cards to take advantage of the rewards program.”
In response to concerns that some passenger may not be able to buy a beep card, we have offered to the Operators a system upgrade that will allow passengers who use the EDSA Bus Loop to use a QR ticket (paper or mobile phone) instead of a beep card, according to the company.
QR paper tickets will not cost anything in addition to the regular fare for the desired trip.
After it upgrades the equipment in all buses plying the EDSA loop, passengers will be able to use a beep card or a QR code ticket on all buses.
As soon as the QR code ticket system is in place, AFPI will no longer be issuing free beep cards as it is no longer necessary.
At this time passengers who do not want a beep card can instead avail of a QR ticket, which no additional cost attached and will only require the payment of exact fare between the desired stops.
The new upgraded bus validation will also be able to accept mobile phone based QR tickets that can be generated from bank applications or e-Wallets.
AFPI is inviting all interested parties to sign up and participate as QR ticket issuer.
“We open-sourced the necessary technical specifications and made it available on the Internet free of charge for every interested party to develop the technology to issue a ticket.”
However, yesterday, the DOTr stated it was “saddened by the refusal of AFPI to waive the cost of the beep card despite consistent pleas made by the government”.
This would have made a big difference to the commuters, mostly daily wage earners who are the
most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, starting today, Monday, October 5, 2020, the DOTr suspended the mandatory use beep cards at the EDSA Busway until the issue is resolved.
In the meantime, a dual payment system will be honored for EDSA Busway passengers.
Those who have already bought or have existing beep cards may still use them for the payment of fares. Meanwhile, off board cash payment will be accomodated for those who have no card yet.
Cash payments will be collected by personnel from the EDSA Bus Consortia at the stations.
These personnel will be wearing appropriate face shields, face masks, and gloves to prevent the transmission of COVID-19
Meanwhile, the EDSA Bus Consortia stated that they will look for another AFCS provider who can offer a better solution to the existing problem.
The DOTr is scheduled to meet with other AFCS providers on Tuesday morning, October 6, 2020.