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First things, first. I voted for President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. 

There, I said it. Just to assuage fears that this will be another “Dilawan” rant from someone who has nothing better to do than find faults in everything the government does. You know, that kind of thinking adopted by people who do not read past the first couple of sentences of a story, or those who do not take a deep breath to comprehend fully what they just read.

Unfortunately, nowadays this is a common behavior whichever side of the political fence you stand on. Lamentably, it has polarized what could have been intelligent and thoughtful discussions of issues that have a great impact on the welfare of people. This convoluted way of thinking has relegated discourse and debate into name-calling, shaming, and partisan mud-slinging. 

Last week, I wrote about the impending disaster the Department of Transportation (DOTr) was setting itself up for with the sudden announcement that the EDSA Busway Service, or EDSA Carousell, will transition to automated cashless payments exclusively using the Beep card system. 

On Monday, September 29th, the DOTr along with other government information agencies and motoring press outlets began running infographics about the “No Beep Card, No Ride” scheme which was to take effect on Thursday, October 1st. The DOTr was expecting that the three-day lead time was enough to reach millions of commuters and get them ready for its implementation. Using social media and broadcast channels, the information came out swiftly. But it did not achieve its intended purpose. 

On October 1, commuters were, expectedly,  caught with their pants down as suddenly they were required to purchase Beep Cards and load them with an amount that many would not even spend for transportation in a day. 

The Beep Cards, produced by AF Payments, Inc (AFPI) cost the commuter a minimum of P180 –  P80 for the card itself and P100 for the load. To add to this burden, commuters were told that a maintaining balance of P65 must be loaded in the card for it to work. This forced them to unnecessarily spend more to top up the cards and lose an additional P5 for every top up transaction.

In 2015, when AFPI began to service the LRT 1 and 2 and MRT 3 lines with the Beep Card system, each card cost only P20 to purchase. It could even store loads from P13 to P10,000. Price adjustments and inflation aside, the cost of production of the embedded chip card has always been borne by the commuter. 

Even in neighboring countries where automated fare collection has been adopted, people were always willing to pay for the convenience the system offered.  According to data compiled by netizen Rolan Tañagras, a product owner for an IT company, the various systems used for tap and go transactions in public transportation have always come at a cost. 

CountrySystemCard Cost (Php)Load Cost (Php)Total Purchase (Php)
ThailandRabbit Card154.54154.54309.08
Hong KongOctopus Card312.04624.09936.13
SingaporeEZ Link/ Nets FlashPay177.98177.98355.96
MalaysiaTouch n Go116.55116.55233.10
IndonesiaFlazz BCA82.0382.03154.06
South KoreaT Money Card104.13 ℅ card holder104.13
TaiwanEasyCard168.34673.38841.72

AFCS electronic chip card costs and load inclusions per purchase in other Asian countries.

Based on the figures above, AFPI’s Beep Card is not really that far off. That is, until customer acceptance is factored in. 

Established touch and go systems have always been acknowledged as a more convenient and practical approach to fare payment. Topping up cards can be done at convenience stores and not just at train or bus stations. The same card may be used whether one is travelling by bus, train or, in some instances, by taxi. Some cards even offer discounted rates versus cash payments in public transportation. While others may also be used to pay for groceries and other services. 

The benefits of automated payment systems are seemingly endless. And on paper, they do offer people a viable alternative to cash transactions, especially now that governments are limiting the use of cash to curb the spread of COVID-19. So why wasn’t the “No Beep Card, No Ride” policy welcomed? Simple. Poor implementation.

The Department of Transportation has the unique opportunity to execute novel and innovative means to improve the life of the daily commuter during this pandemic. Instead, it has chosen to fast track, shortcut and railroad schemes without the benefit of proper long-term study and practical time and motion evaluation. 

Understandably, COVID-19 will not wait for the government to get its act together before deciding to spread and infect the population. Neither will it wait for the right time and resources to align themselves together for a seamless transition to a new normal. Yes, time is of the essence. But is it worth the wasted money, discomfort, added burden and confusion when a project is haphazardly given a go and will only be retracted the moment its intended beneficiaries suffer its consequences?

In a televised briefing with key cabinet officials Monday night, President Duterte was unequivocal in his disdain with the shoddy imposition of the “No Beep Card, No Ride” policy last week. “This is not the first time na nangyari ito sa ating bayan,” said the president as he referred to the unnecessary victims of the newly introduced change in the EDSA bus payment system. 

Emphatically he declared, “Kaya ako nag-puputang-ina, dahil all these things you can avoid. Just a little bit of, maybe humanity in you.” Despite acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with the new payment scheme, he was quite clear that DOTr was lacking when it came to proper execution and information dissemination for the program. 

The Chief Executive even recognized the plight of the marginalized who have no access to information or who lack education to easily comprehend the new measure. He believes that these people, who outnumber the middle class, have no choice but to follow what is being implemented by the government. 

The Presidential rebuke was so right on point that he had to ask if there was even a breakdown of the audience to whom the policy announcement was targeted to. And this was what I was saying last week. 

For a behavior, in this case the adoption of the Beep Card, to be accepted and practiced by a wide percentage of the population,  a long-draw and comprehensive information campaign is needed weeks if not months before the start of the program. Crucially,  this involves knowing your audience. 

Instead, we got hints of its introduction early this year, again repeated a couple of months ago at the height of the pandemic and  with no clear date of start. It was only on Monday, September 28th when we all learned about the exclusive use of Beep Cards for the EDSA Carousel service. And with little message penetration, and no time to prepare or save for the extra expense, the people complained. And they complained loudly. 

Despite the DOTr blaming the card provider for not “playing ball” and giving out the cards for free, in effect forcing their arm into capitulating to the government agency’s whims, in the end it was poor planning and a “follow us or else” attitude that cost commuters extra hard-earned pesos to buy into a system that has now been paused for its shortsightedness. 

“What is really needed is better implementation along with right coordination and discussion between DOTr and Beep Card people,” adds Tañagras as he discussed his point on social media. “We should not remove  the people’s freedom to choose which payment option suits them best. While Beep cards are encouraged, cash or single-journey ticket options should be made available for those who cannot afford a Beep card or those who do not use public transport that often.” A belief shared by many in the social media world and on the streets.

So, let this be a lesson to those in government. Unless you listen to the people, the same people who you serve at the pleasure of, the same people who pay for your salaries with their taxes, then you will never cease to be a target of criticism. Such is the harsh reality of public life, the life you chose to delve in. 

In truth, your job is to make people’s lives better and not just to leave legacy projects that people can attach your names to. You have the best practices examples from the rest of the world to emulate, why should Filipinos deserve any less?

And just so you know, we are not self-entitled brats and instant philosophers. We are not self-proclaimed lawyers and scientists and neither are you the be-all and end all of government. We are the people who suffer because of your lack of foresight and long-term planning. We are the people who always get the short end of the stick despite your belief that we deserve the projects and services you push for. 

As the DOTr is fond of countdowns, remember that in 633 days you will all be gone and a new batch of “experts” will take over. The least you can do now is to make sure your plans, programs and projects are so good, so well implemented and of true benefit to the people, that the next administration will have no choice but to continue them.

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