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Fares, Tickets, and Passes
Very soon after arriving in Singapore, you will come across the city-state’s modern ticketing and fare system. In contrast to the fee zones common in numerous other global cities, the total fare in Singapore depends on the actual distance traveled.
This is only possible with the use of contactless smartcards. You will be issued one no matter if you have to use the system regularly or just want to make a single trip. Tokens or cash payments are not accepted, with the single exception being the bus system. However, if you do pay your fare in cash, make sure to bring the exact sum, as the farebox in the bus will not give any change. So for all intents and purposes, smartcards are a must in Singapore.
The concept is fairly easy. You have to tap the card onto one of the card readers at the MRT/LRT stop where you get on, or in the front of the bus. After you have arrived at your destination, you have to tap again, and your fare will be calculated.
Types of Tickets Available
Similar to other public transport systems around the globe, passengers have a number of choices when it comes to paying the fare. The most sensible one for regular commuters (which includes the majority of expats) is the Season Pass. This is a personalized pass you have to apply for with ez-link, one of two smartcard providers in Singapore (the other one is the NETS FlashPay card).
Once you have been issued your card, you have the choice between the weekly and monthly season pass. These come in two variants each: the basic version allows for four train rides per day and unlimited bus trips, while the enhanced version allows for unlimited trips on both trains and buses. As the difference in pricing is rather marginal (5 SGD per week), the enhanced version is probably the better choice.
The second widespread smartcard option is the stored value card. You can buy one for 12 SGD, which includes a 5 SGD deposit for the card and 7 SGD in stored value, which you can use to pay for your fares. You can top up your card using a wide array of ticketing offices, ATMs, Add Value Machines, and even on your mobile phone with Auto Top-Up. Please keep in mind that you should always have at least 3 SGD on the card, in order to ensure you can pay the fare no matter where you go on the island. In order to help you remember, a warning will pop up once you are below 5 SGD.
The standard ticket is an option for those who hardly make use of public transport at all. There is one big difference between single trip smartcards and stored value/season pass cards. You cannot use single trip standard tickets in the bus system — they are MRT/LRT only.
While the current type of standard ticket introduced in November 2012 allows you to hold on to the card and top it off up to six times within 30 days from the date of purchase, you still have to pay separately for every trip. The only exception to this is the return trip on the same day, for which you simply have to pay twice the fare for your original trip. Be cautious: if the fare for your return trip is less than that for your first one, you will not be refunded the difference.
Which Card to Choose?
Although the smartcard market in Singapore is a two-way competition between ez-link and NETS FlashPay, it is still a rather fierce competition. Granted, if you just need your smartcard to get on and off the public transportation network during the day, you will not see any substantial differences. However, if you intend to enjoy the possibilities for the use of either card to the fullest extent, you should probably compare them more thoroughly.
At the time of writing, only ez-link offers weekly and monthly flat-rate cards. Both cards offer usage in taxis, discounts, and payment options at many retailers around the island. Visit the websites of the respective cards for a complete list of their services and applications.
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