User error or system flaw?

Lately, I’ve been seeing these signs at the exit doors of buses:

A transcription of the copy in case you can’t see the image:

“Tap Out For Better Services

You make a difference when you tap out with your travel card (including concession card/pass holders)! How?

By tapping out, you provide more accurate data about bus trips and crowding. That helps us to plan better bus services.

Make a difference!
Tap out now!”

It’s an attempt at a nudge to get concession card users to “tap out” i.e. to tap their travel passes on the card reader at exit doors of buses before alighting.

(By the way , “tap out”, in this context, is a non-standard use of the term #notsayiwanttosay)

Why do I say it’s an attempt at a nudge?

Singapore has been using proximity/contactless cards for its public transport since 2001.

Most commuters have learnt to tap their stored-value cards on the entry reader when they board, and to tap the same card on the exit reader when alighting.

There is incentive to comply.

The maximum fare, calculated from when they board to the bus’ terminal destination, is deducted upon boarding.

If the journey ends before reaching the bus terminus, the card is tapped on the exit reader to obtain a refund of the balance .

To illustrate: A commuter’s journey would cost $1.50, if he boarded at a stop where the maximum fare of $2.00 was deducted, and $0.50 were refunded to him, if he tapped on the exit reader before alighting.

If the latter action were not taken, the sum would be forfeited – though if the commuter so desired, he could make a fare refund claim.

The respective penalty and hassle of the previous two outcomes thus provide a disincentive to non-compliance.

But there is no similar disincentive for concession-card holders – such as senior citizens, students, and national servicemen – who often bypass the exit reader.

This group pays a fixed travel fare, often lower than what adults riders might pay (and rightfully so, because of their relatively limited income as compared to working adults).

Because their fares are fixed, whether or not they tap their cards when alighting has no bearing on fare calculation.

Now that data collection to inform service provision has come into vogue, the behaviour of this group of riders is unproductive for transport planners.

Without knowing where and how many people alight at a certain place or time, it’d be unhelpful for, say, allocating more buses during peak periods or modifying bus routes to better serve commuters.

And that’s where the poster comes in – to remind concession-card holders to “close the loop” on their public transport journeys.

It remains to be seen, though, how much a poster could possibly nudge people to change their behaviour.

As seen from the Free Pre-Peak Travel scheme, it takes a certain approach to encourage people to break certain habits, or discourage them from doing what has been easy for them.

To be sure, not tapping before alighting is not exactly user error; it’s been a good 16 years of habituation for concession-card holders because of how the system was designed.

Yet, to bite the bullet now and apply the same “deduct when boarding, return when alighting” approach to concession-card holders may not work.

It’d entail much more churn, in terms of having to deal with multiple fare refund claims before users settle into the desired habit.

That’d take away a lot of time, energy and effort from the core business of data analysis to improve services.

Perhaps a more middle-ground approach here would suffice: word the poster differently to appeal to commuters’ sense of following behaviour norms.

Even then, it depends on the generosity and altruism of the user to follow suit.

Clearly, this is a textbook case study of why planners should pre-empt system flaws and design processes with the user in mind.

That is: make usage friendly and intuitive, while understanding users’ idiosyncrasies and catering for such quirks.

This creates systems with longer-term sustainability and adaptability to evolve, along with the times, to meet future needs.

That feeling

That feeling when... (PHOTO: Daily Mail)

That feeling when all you need to buy is one – one – laundry net but you are stuck behind Man Who Feels The Need To Buy Everything In The Japan Home Store, in the only check-out queue manned by World’s Most Meticulous And Organised Cashier, who waits patiently for the same man to count out his cash to the cent ($107.90), while you have enough time to write and edit this post, including redundant and extraneous – tautological, perhaps – words, bearing in mind that the genesis of this sentiment took place some five – five – minutes ago…

…was how I felt this weekend when I popped into the shop for what I thought was a quick purchase, but which ended up taking 10 minutes.

No wonder, then, why AI is coming for everyone’s jobs.

A luxury we must afford

A Luxury We Must Afford: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry. (PHOTO: Math Paper Press)
A Luxury We Must Afford: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry. (PHOTO: Math Paper Press)

My poem, “Where The Wild Things Are”, is in A Luxury We Must Afford: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry.

The anthology is edited by Christine Chia, Joshua Ip and Cheryl Julia Lee and published by Math Paper Press.

Details of the anthology launch:

Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2017
Time: 6pm to 7pm
Venue: The Chamber at The Arts House (1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429)

What does the future of Singapore hold?

In 2015, the anthology A Luxury We Cannot Afford commemorated 50 years of man-made myth – 50 years of mysteries and ministries, Marxists and memorandums, the Merlion and The Man – and whether the 1969 assertion that “poetry is a luxury we cannot afford” still held true in the 2010s.

Instead of looking back, this companion volume to the first looks forward to everything SG51 and beyond. It is a collection of bold narratives of Singaporeans shaping their own future, a cornucopia of hyper-modern dreams of robots and aliens, yet also tales of muted despair at a future slipping out of touch with the past.

In the face of a fraught, uncertain future, there is no longer any need to debate whether poetry is an unaffordable luxury. In times like these, writers are the ones who must step up and reimagine possibility, speak out for hope and humanity, and inscribe the circumference of our soul. In 2017, poetry is…a luxury we must afford.

Please go for the launch by signing up here.

Read my poem here.

You can also read “Horrowshow”, which appeared in A Luxury We Cannot Afford, here.