By Rose-An Jessica Dioquino | GMA News Online | March 25, 2015

A unified ticketing system for LRT Lines 1 and 2 and MRT Line 3 is expected to be introduced in the next few months, with a tap-and-load card that is expected to shorten queuing time and make transfers from one rail to another seamless.

In a media briefing on Wednesday, AF Payments, Inc., the partner of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for the Public-Private Partnership project, announced that the new service will be rolled out starting "early May" for LRT-2.

The system will then be introduced for MRT-3 in June, and LRT-1 in July.

Formal turnover of the system to the government is scheduled on September 1, with full transition expected by the third quarter of the year.

The total cost of equipment for the project is at about P1.3 billion, said AF Payments CEO Peter Maher.

AF Payments will supply and install a total of 731 gates, 138 ticket vending machines, 221 point of sale devices, and 44 station computers across the three rail lines, he said.

"They need to be all working 100 percent for a certain number of weeks... The entire system has to run for a certain period, the government has to say it's fine before we conduct the formal turnover," Maher told reporters.

AF Payments is a joint venture of Ayala and First Pacific groups.

Parallel implementation

According to Maher, they will begin rolling out the new system by running it alongside the old one before the formal turnover.

"What we're trying to do at LRT Line 2 by early May is to have half of the gates replaced for when we start selling new tickets," he said, calling it a parallel implementation.

He added: "It's the safest way to do it, so if there are glitches in the new system, there's still the old one [for commuters to use]."

For LRT Line 2, where the system will be first introduced since it serves the least number of passengers compared to the other two lines, AF Payments is expected to install a total of 112 gates.

Maher said installation is ongoing and on time, except for Santolan station, where they are still looking for space where they can put the new gates.

Maher asked for the commuters' "patience and cooperation" for the system upgrade work they are doing, saying they're working on keeping it at "minimal disruption."

'Beep' cards

The new card to be used in the system, called "beep," will be available for consumers for P20, and valid for four years. It may then be loaded with amount from P11 to P10,000.

Maher said they're encouraging the purchase of stored value tickets with the longer validity of the card. This way, commuters can go for faster payment process and reduced queuing time.

The system to be used also lessens time on lines since one need not insert the card into the ticket gate, with a detector on top that reads it after tapping instead.

It's a similar system in other places such as Bangkok, Singapore, and Dublin, and has "been around for a long time," Maher said.

The "beep" cards used in this project is the "most updated" one, with a "stronger criptographic system," he added.

Maher also said that they will eventually branch this venture out to other sectors like tollways, taxis, and buses, as well as in non-transportation transactions like convenience stores.

"The biggest challenge for us is in changing the behavior of consumers and merchants," he said, adding that it's designed for low-value items.