The much anticipated changing of MyRapid cards to the new version to coincide with the launch of the full first MRT line in the country started in earnest from mid June 2017.
No issue with changing of non-concessionary MyRapid cards
As one of the first holders of the original version of the MyRapid card, I went to USJ 7 LRT station and changed this to the new version on June 16, 2017 without any difficulty. The entire process, inclusive of waiting time (with 2 persons ahead of me) was around eight minutes.
Chaos reign in changing of concessionary MyRapid cards
But no sooner that this exercise was announced, the press had been receiving and reporting a severe botch up by RapidKL in the changing of concessionary MyRapid cards. This author’s daughter who holds an original version of the college student’s concessionary MyRapid card, which she just obtained less than two months ago, on hearing the chaos at Pasar Seni LRT station had decided to wait.
The social media was rife with horror stories of people, especially senior citizens having to wait for hours, often without any seats and still could not get their old MyRapid cards replaced. There were also announcements that only 200 concession cards would be issued at Pasar Seni LRT station each day and after the queue numbers are taken up, commuters would have to make another trip and try their luck the next day. Someone announced that there are only three new card processing machines at Pasar Seni. My wife who had been monitoring the social media on this issue also spotted a student whose old MyRapid concessionary card was due to expire soon being told that he must change to the new card, which will carry the same impending expiry date and when this card expires, he will be required to apply for another card.
My wife was fast in spotting the announcement on June 21, 2017 about the setting up of two additional card processing centres, one at Subang Jaya and the other at Awan Besar and alerted my daughter who got her MyRapid student concessionary cards done within 30 minutes. So did a couple of her friends but others were not so fortunate. By then, my daughter spotted chairs being decked out for applicants and RapidKL’s staff even provided free biscuits to her while she was waiting. While these acts of providing convenience to commuters waiting for their new cards to be processed are commendable, they came a little too late, the reputational damage to RapidKL had already been done.
A little maths would have spotted the impending chaos
I wonder if those who are responsible for this entire concessionay cards replacement exercise at RapidKL really employ any simple operation management practices to estimate the size of the job and thus the time needed to complete the exercise.
I had used a simple spreadsheet to estimate the number of days needed to replace all 68,000 concessionary MyRapid cards in Tables 1, 2 and 3 below. It was reported that each MyRapid card processing machine takes around three minutes to process and issue a new card. However, if we take into account the time needed to key in the command (assuming the data migration from the old to the new card would be seamless) and physically handling of the card during the process, this could easily add two minutes to the process, making it a five minutes job. This does not include the actual time taken for the applicants to present the old card, checking of credentials etc. On social media, a figure of 15 minutes was quoted as the “actual” time for a new card to be produced, from the time the applicant hands in the old card. Given that it takes 3 , 5, or 15 minutes to process a new card, I ask a few simple questions:
- How many cards can be issued a day if the machine is made to work 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 20, 24 hours?
- How many cards can be issued if RapidKL has 1, 3, 6, 9 or more machines on seven different total working hours per day?
- How many days will it take to issue all 68,000 concessionary MyRapid cards in each of the different scenarios as given in (1) and (2)?
Note: I have published a Google Sheet containing the data for Table 3. Readers can play around with two of the key parameters, no. of cards to process and how long to process each card to see how these affect the outcome.
Why the rush?
It is clear from my calculation that RapidKL will not be able to complete the issuance of all 68,000 new MyRapid concessionary cards before the deadline of mid July 2017. I think the sooner that RapidKL owns up to this fact and makes an contingency plan, the better it is to salvage its tarnished reputation. I wonder why was the rush to complete all concession cards replacement within 30 days from June 16, 2017 given the estimation in the tables above that even if it takes only 3 minutes (which is just how fast the machine works) to complete the processing of one new MyRapid concessionary card, it would take 9 machines working fourteen-hours-day a good 27 days to complete the job. If we put in extra couple of minutes, the 9 machines would have to work 24 hours a day to churn out 68,000 new cards within one month. If it takes 15 minutes of total processing time (including physical handling of the cards, sorting etc.) as has been reported recently, the 9 machines working 24 hours a day would not be able to complete the job in 30 days. In fact, with a 15 minutes turnaround time, it would take 24 card processing machines and the whole replacement card exercise to run 24 hours per day (assuming applicants and staff will be willing to get this done 24 hours a day) to churn out 68,000 new cards within 30 days! And if RapidKL just stick to 9 machines working non-stop with a processing time of 15 minutes, it will take 79 days to process all 68,000 new cards!
What should RapidKL do?
Here are some of the suggestions I can make to tackle this issue:
- Own up that someone at RapidKL did not do his/her homework and bungled the whole thing.
- Set up an online application system for replacement of MyRapid concessionary cards for students ONLY and drive them to use the online application, thus taking them (I would assume that this group is the largest of all concessionary cards holders) off the queue.
- Continue to process MyRapid concessionary card replacement exercise at the three centres for senior citizens and the disabled. Open up the online application system to these two groups of people so that those who are tech-savvy will be removed from the queues.
- Let all holders of MyRapid concessionary card use their old cards for another two month and continue the “token” system at the MRT system for these commuters. This will also remove the rush for all other concessionary card users to get their cards replaced by mid July 2017, thus removing the long queues at the three designated card processing centres of Pasar Seni, Subang Jaya and Awan Besar LRT stations.
- Let the students nominate the most convenient LRT or MRT station to collect their new cards, thereby further reducing the crowd at the three replacement card processing centres.
With the students all applying online (this group should be the most tech savvy and will not have any issue), the overall processing time of the cards for this group will not be 15 minutes, as there is no need for the applicants to wait and the initial processing/ data crunching and verifications etc. are all done online and upfront. Thus if all the 9 machines (plus staff on shifts) working 24 hours a day, it will take an additional 45 – 60 days (i.e. total of about 75 – 90 days) to complete the exercise.
Why we need to round up the value to multiples of RM5?
In fact one odd thing that I noticed when I changed my old MyRapid card to the new one was the strange request from the nice RapidKL staff at USJ 7 LRT station for me to top up my card to RM45 (from something like RM37). She told me that the system would work better if the migration of data was done with stored value in multiples of RM5! This, I think added to the waiting and processing time, especially if the card holders (of both types of MyRapid cards) are not informed of this. Why we need the tail to wag the dog is one mystery that RapidKL needs to explain.
Have “organizational memory” and not repeat this botch up!
RapidKL could have avoided this botched up if those in charge have done some simple mathematics like what I had done. It does not need a Ph.D. in Operational Management for one to figure this out and plan accordingly.
Having more card processing machines than the 9 at present may help to speed things up, but it may break the budget and may be wasteful when there is another change in the technology that mandated another round of upgrades. Thus planning and using logical thinking is the key!
Why was the MRT ticketing system being allowed to be incompatible with the first version of MyRapid card shall remain a mystery. More intriguing was, why the first version of MyRapid cards were allowed to be issued in the first place since these were clearly not fully compatible with the Touch N Go system which caused the replacement exercise? I think that RapidKL owes the taxpayer an explanation on both counts.
Of course if the intention was to reduce the 68,000 concessionary cards holders substantially, then the chaotic way the whole exercise is carried out and the short processing period are the “right” things to do!