Can we keep the cash in cashless?

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On the 16th of April 2018, the National University of Singapore sent a campus wide email announcing a decision to "introduce a cashless campus in the new Academic Year 2018/19, where our retail and dining outlets, including canteens and food courts, will offer cashless transactions". With this announcement, NUS has plans to move toward such a campus in "phases".

This petition serves to counteract this decision and ask for further clarifications and justifications for the push toward a "cashless campus". It also asks whether we really need to have a complete cashless campus, let alone a cashless Singapore? Is a partially cashless campus a more inclusive option? Allowing all students, staff, faculty members, and consumers alike to have both options, keeping the cash while having the option to go 'cashless' too.

It is important to address that a cashless option is not completely negative. Cashless options do offer benefits and convenience, for example, when I forget my wallet/cash, not having the need to carry so much money on me, and for vendors, the hassle to deal with accounting for the day's earnings among others.

However, it should be obvious that to be partially cashless (where canteen vendors accept both cash AND cashless payments) is very, very different compared to being entirely or fully cashless. There are several important issues here that cannot be ignored:

1) This initiative is not inclusive of every member of society. This point is of paramount importance and cannot be neglected at all. The very fact that NUS is trying to transform into a campus that is completely "cashless" excludes those that use CASH as their main form of transaction. These individuals are mostly those who fail to even access such services in the first place. Those that do not have the technology (like phones) that are capable of accessing applications related to the cashless initiative, those that keep more in cash than in banks due to various reasons, those that do not own a bank account, or have problems accessing these bank accounts etc. This does not apply just to those who are foreign to Singapore, or the elderly, but to any individual who are NOT able to access such services or are technology illiterate (no matter who they are, or what age they are). 

2) NUS has plans to 'gradually' move toward such a system in "phases", including using EZlink cards for payment. Cashless payment was introduced at the start of the 2018/19 Academic Year (August). Initially, to encourage cashless payment, a twenty-cent discount was offered to those who used the cashless system. This twenty-cent discount, however, was incurred and absorbed by the canteen vendors. Sometime later in the second semester (January-May 2018), a fifty-cent discount is given to those choosing to pay via cashless system. This cost is incurred by the banks or NETS (if i'm not wrong). This discount will last until May. From May to August, there is a break and majority of students will not be in school (unless you are attending summer school or doing a special term). In this short period of 8-9 months, is it really sufficient adjustment time? To completely rid of such an institutionalised mode of exchange and payment within a year is too drastic a move. Also, aren't EZlink cards being phased out of cash top-ups? How is this a proper solution that addresses the problem of exclusion? What more can be done to accommodate such person who may find difficulty in adopting cashless payment? Is NUS coming up with any solutions? Perhaps keeping both cash and offering cashless options is the solution?

Additionally, many students will agree that the erratic nature of the WiFi in NUS makes it very difficult to get to even USE the cashless option. Perhaps NUS should, before rolling out a completely cashless system, concentrate their efforts to solve the WiFi problems first? How is anyone meant to rely on the unpredictably bad WiFi to eat a meal or two at the canteens (amongst doing other things)? Besides, it is also noted that the ez-link option at Gong Cha in U Town never really works, anyway. I fear these issues will continue to make it difficult for those who can technically access the cashless option, to actually access the cashless option. So if both groups of people (those that do not have access to these options AND those who actually do) fail to actually access it, how is this going to work out for anyone at all?

3) To exactly whose benefit is it? Consumers or big data and banks? Let's face the real issue here. Paying by cash in foodcourts and canteens may have been how the way things have always been, an institutionalised mode of transaction and exchange. Going cashless provides a convenience mentioned above. But the issue is of data. Who is keeping and storing this data? What are these data used for? Who is tracking my purchasing history? and so on. These questions have not been answered by NUS and they should and so, must be answered. Answers to these questions will at least provide some clarification and justification about our terms in engaging in and "embracing" a "cashless campus".

4) Have the canteen vendors been consulted and informed on this? Speaking to several vendors after receiving the email, they have not been informed on this matter. Such a sudden and drastic change will affect the manner in which these vendors conduct their stalls. Moreover, some have complained that it is difficult to check whether or not someone has actually paid, and anyone can easily cheat them off paying full price for something.  

5) The benefits of going completely cashless VS hybrid cash + cashless? NUS should address and point out the benefits and disadvantages of both systems (going completely cashless and remaining partially cashless). Also, why is the university pushing so hard for this?

6) Where are the survey results that showed "60% of our community have embraced NUS' cashless transaction initiative?" Who was surveyed? What was asked? When was this conducted (before or after the fifty cent discount)? Are there any biases?

7) Is paying for my bee hoon + two nuggets + one seaweed chicken + cabbage through my phone really a top priority of NUS? Aren't there more pressing concerns like climate change and plastic usage. Singapore currently has the highest ecological footprint per capita in Asia. In striving to become a smarter, better university, should we not also strive to become a more ecologically friendly university and lead the region toward better sustainability? Isn't this where NUS can come in to think of better ways (through technology) to nudge and encourage its population be more eco-friendly? Or to use less plastic (think of the plastic carriers for that coffee/tea)?

Sign this petition if you feel there needs to be greater and more valid clarifications and justifications made by NUS for a cashless campus and for NUS to address these issues raised above! Sign also if you feel that NUS should conduct a campus-wide survey and focus group analysis to better gauge the opinions of students, staff, vendors, faculty members before fully implementing this system in the Academic Year 2018/2019 to highlight certain issues or benefits that might emerge from this initiative.