## Friday, September 18, 2009

### EZ-Link Giro top-up - Part 8 (EZ-Link top-up far from easy)

New scheme, called EZ-Reload By Giro, charges 25 cents a top-up
The Sunday Times SEPTEMBER 20, 2009, HOT, 3
By Akshita Nanda, akshitan@sph.com.sg

Giro scheme for new cards is not only more costly, but it is also less convenient, say frustrated commuters

It may be called ez-link, but the updated travel fare card that replaces the old one from next month has got commuters feeling decidedly "un-ez".

The "old" ez-link cards cease to be valid from Oct 1 and commuters have been able to exchange them for new ones since January.

However, several of the new card's features introduced in stages over that time have prompted complaints - particularly its Giro top-up system, which users say is more costly and less convenient.

Under the old system, Giro top-up was free. Users could apply ,for this service Instantly at general ticketing machines in any MRT station.

But the new scheme, called EZ-Reload By Giro, charges 25 cents a top-up. Applying for the scheme also involves filling in paperwork and a wait of up to three weeks for the request to be processed.

Frustrated commuters have written in to The Straits Times with their gripes.

Insurance adviser Albert Lim, 60, says: "I find it very unfair. No merchant has charged for Giro before.'' He has opted out of EZ-Reload and will now do his top-ups via machines or ticket offices at transport hubs.

Retired teacher Lim Pok Beng, 70, fears that charging for Giro top-ups will open the floodgates. He asks: ''Will others follow to charge for Giro also?"

He is eligible for a Senior Citizen Concession Card, and happily for him, the Giro top-up fees do not apply to his card. All concession cards, including those for students and children, are still being handled by TransitLink, the transport firm that managed the old Giro top-up system.

The EZ-Reload scheme is being managed by a different transport firm, EZLink.

Another irate commuter is 24-year-old Fiona Seah, who is used to automatic top-ups from her bank account costing her nothing. The marketing executive was a faithful user of TransitLink's Bank Giro Top-up Scheme, which topped up her card every time it was empty adding $20 each time. This would happen about four times a month for her. When EZ-Reload replaced the old system late last month, she queued at a ticketing office to switch over - and then quit the queue on discovering the new charges, which do not stop at the Giro gyration. Apart from the 25-cent fee, a refundable deposit equal to the top-up value a commuter chooses will be deducted from his bank account under the Giro scheme. They also pay a$1.50 application charge, but EZLink is waiving this until February. No such fee was charged under the old system.

If Ms Seah were to opt for EZ-Reload now, she would have to pay an extra $12 a year for automatic top-ups, plus a one-time$20 deposit. She makes the point: ''Is it necessarv for tne refundable deposit to be equal to the reload value?"

EZLink told LifeStyle that it pays first when the top-up value is added to a fare card. Tha. amount is collected only a day later from the customer's account. The one-time deposlt of the reload value is required to manage the risk that it may not be able to get back the cash it paid out.

Automatic top-ups have become more important to users as the new card requires a minimum cash balance of $3 before it can be used to travel on the MRT. The old one did not, as it stored$3 deposit could be used for travel.

Ms Seah is now considering switching to Giro top-up via credit card. There is still a 25-cent fee for each transaction, but she says: "At least I'll get rebates."

Some credit cards give users points for ez-link top-ups that they can use for rebates, discounts or gifts. Commuters who use their credit card to top-up their fare card need not put down a deposit.

On the other hand, the new ez-link card does have some attractive features in that it is Cepas-compliant, which means it can be used as cashless payment for a range of services from bus and train rides to retail purchases and paying Electronic Road Pricing fees. Cepas stands for Contactless e-Purse Application Standard.

After reader's complaints, EZLink defended its charges, saying that the 25-cent fee is to recover the processing and operating costs of the Giro service. It told LifeStyle that 98.5 per cent of the commuters use "free top-up channels" such as ticketing machines to add value to their cards.

"The Giro top-up facility is thus a value-added service offered to commuters to give them more choices", its spokesman said.

However, Mr. Seah Seng Choon, executive director of consumer watchdog Case said: "The 25-cent charge is unnecessary as we believe EZLink should be able to cover this cost through returns generated from float which consumers top up, like TransitLink was able to do before."

He added that the 25-cent "convenience fee" is unfair because commuters need not pay the fee under the old system.
akshitan@sph.com.sg

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