That’s right. You’d be able to whip out your good ol’ EZ-link card when you take the transport system in any of the ASEAN + 3 cities (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam + China, Japan and South Korea).

This may be made feasible when the Japan study on the integration of all the transport system completes. Targeted to complete by 2011, Japan – backed by industry partners, hope to make this a reality. There are however issues of currency conversion and remuneration from the local banks when this is indeed realised.

For now, I probably still have to keep all my Octopus, T-money and EZ-Link cards in my “universal travel wallet” when I go overseas. Oh wait, why am I still having my cashcard, EZ-link card and ATM (one for the POSB/DBS network, one for the rest of the banks) cards? I thought we planned for total integration some time back? Hmm…

NO MORE scrambling for loose change while performing mental gymnastics, as you try to buy a bus ticket in an unfamiliar city.

In three years or so from now, you could be whipping out your good old ez-link card to catch a train from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, or to transfer between a bus and a subway train in downtown Tokyo.

That — on paper, at least — is the plan of Japanese electronics giants such as Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi. Backed by the Japan transport ministry, they are spearheading research to integrate card standards and introduce seamless travel on railways and domestic transport between Asian cities by 2011.

Under the “Asean Plus Three” regional framework, South-east Asian countries have agreed with China, Japan and South Korea to study such a system. A Land Transport Authority spokesperson confirmed with Today that it is involved in the “technical study” with Japan.

But even as Singapore yesterday rolled out a new national standard for smart card identification — which could eventually reduce the number of cards one has to carry in a wallet — plans for single-card travel within Asia remains a pipedream, says one leading expert on integrated chip technology.

Mr Lin Yih heads a technical group at the Singapore IT Standards Committee and was one of the brains behind the city’s automated immigration clearance system — a world first.

He told Today that a pan-Asian commuter card system “won’t work”.

“The basic demand for inter-Asian city travel is not there. How often would you want to use a Singapore ez-link card in, let’s say, Japan?” said Mr Lin, director of Digital Applied Research and Technology.

A Financial Times report in September quoted a spokesman for Octopus Cards, which operates Hong Kong’s smart card system, as saying the company was open to regional integration, given the similarities of the “contactless” systems in Japan and Hong Kong.

According to Sony, its smart cards are already in use in Hong Kong, Singapore, New Delhi, Bangkok and Shenzhen, and integration would be “a matter of unifying underlying data systems”.

But Mr Lin pointed out the plethora of issues involved, including exchange rate conversion and business buy-in. “Engineering-wise, it’s doable. Financial clearinghouse-wise, it’s not easy. You use your card there, they must somehow get your money from the banks here.”

While major international banks have come together to provide ATM service across borders, Mr Lin doubted the same feasibility could apply to the transport sector.

But Associate Professor K Raguraman, a transport specialist, felt that technology, driven by the potential “significant commercial returns”, would be able to overcome such challenges. Said the National University of Singapore don: “There are different seamless solution providers who are keen to explore the potential.”

There is also the critical matter of “politics” — allowing countries “to take ownership and control in such a joint project”.

Concurring, RadianTrust’s general manager Tang Weng Sing said: “A unified system like this may be easier in the European Union where there is already a unified currency, but even that is not without its complications.

“South Korea alone has 11 card issuers for its subways and they have highlighted issues pertaining to getting the operators to issue one standard subway card, even though they all use the same currency.”

He added: “What if a passenger buys cards from Operator A but uses most of the card’s value on systems run by Operator B? This example takes on a different magnitude when you involve cross-border travel.”

Meanwhile, Spring Singapore has introduced a standard for smart card ID which it hopes will bring about “significant savings” for the industry, said Spring’s group director Teo Nam Kuan.

With more than 26 types of ID cards in use and about 40,000 card readers deployed in the public and private sector, the new standard “allows one smart card reader application to read personal identification smart cards by different issuers”, said Mr Teo.

So far, the PSA and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore have adopted the national standard for its employee ID cards.

A one-time migration of all card readers would cost $12 million. Without a national standard, business costs could pile up each time a new non-standard compliant ID is introduced, said Mr Teo.

This national standard could find its way into the ez-link card. Mr Silvester Prakasam, LTA’s deputy director of fare systems, said the card has the capacity to store personal information.

“We have allowed for other applications … on the same card which should prove useful to organisations that wish to implement electronic identification,” he said.

Loh Chee Kong

Article obtained from on 28th November 2007

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