The Online Citizen

Protest against public transport fare increase

Protest against public transport fare increase
January 26
09:30 2014

By Tiffany Gwee
Photography by Jeremy Chan

A group of approximately 400 enthusiastic protesters gathered in Hong Lim Park yesterday evening to protest against the recent 3.2% public transport fare hike approved by the Public Transport Council (PTC) and the government earlier this year._DSC8663

Organised by activist Gilbert Goh, the event attracted many with placards that expressed their frustration, with phrases like “We Demand No Fare Hike” and “Why Pay More for Lousy Service” scribbled in bold letters, representing the crux of their anger and their hope for change with regards to public transport costs.

Speakers at the protest touched on what they perceived as supernormal profits that SMRT is already enjoying; the general decrease in affordability for the public; and the substandard quality of public transport as evident in the series of disruptions and breakdowns in recent times.

“Supernormal” profits and lack of accountability

Protesters were unhappy with the fact that the two major transport companies, SMRT and SBS Transit, are making “$120 million and $18 million in net profits respectively” and this is set to increase rapidly with the rise in train ridership as well.

Daryl Tan

Daryl Tan

Speaker Mr Daryl Tan, raised these concerns with the staggering statistical figures and linked the rise in ridership to the White Paper Policy as well. “With the White Paper Policy put in place, train ridership will only continue to increase,” he said. “This means that even without the fare hike, SMRT will still enjoy greater profits.”

This excessive focus on profits drew sharp criticism from another speaker, Mr Osman Sulaiman from the Reform Party, who referred to a quote from Dr Yeo Ning Hong, Minister for Communication and Information in 1986, pledging that the setting up of SMRT to operate train services will be disallowed to “profit at the expense of the public”. Mr Osman added that this is proven untrue presently as the profits made “will not be pumped into the system” and “will not benefit the public”.

“This is not meritocracy!” he asserted, to which the crowd before him broke into rousing cheers and agreement.

Osman Sulaiman

Osman Sulaiman

In relation to the sky-high profits, speakers pressed for the answer to one question: “Where do all the profits go to?”

The media release for the event stated that “Temasek Holdings controls 55% of SMRT and over-time it has collected close to $500 million in dividends from the transport company since 2011”. Mr Goh opined that it was not “viable” for a fare hike unless “the government comes clean” as to where the profits go to.

Mr Osman agreed, adding that the money used to fund the public transport system is “taxpayers’ money” and hence proper accountability was needed.

Decrease in affordability

Speakers also identified that the current unhappiness with the fare increase was in part to do with the lack of affordability of public transport once the fare hikes are put in place. While students, the disadvantaged, the elderly and those of the lower income groups can look forward to subsidies, the middle-income group was deemed to have been neglected, and this creates a major issue in terms of transport cost affordability.

According to Mr Tan, “raising the cost of public transport is fine” but only with a “rise in wages” as well. “Many of our wages remain stagnant,” he explained, citing it as a reason for the irrationality behind the fare hike.

Song Swee Choo

Song Swee Choo

Likewise, speaker Mr Song Swee Choo proclaimed that transport fares were “burning (his) pocket” and this is set to become worse with the ascending transport costs. Mr Song even walked the whole 8km from Serangoon’s Nex shopping mall to Hong Lim Park as his own way of protesting against the fare hikes – by not taking public transport to the venue.

Other than Mr Song, there were others who did likewise to demonstrate how the fare hike was hitting them directly. Mr. Alex Lim cycled from Punggol, while Mr Dennis Khew walked all the way from Hougang, in the spirit of boycotting public transport.

Another member from the audience, Mr Kue, expressed his dissatisfaction over being caught in a bind, seeing that he has “no choice but to take the public transport everyday” as he could not afford private transportation.

Decreasing quality of public transport

The fare increase was also a sore point for commuters as they do not see a current improvement in service standards among the public transport operators (PTOs).

Mr Tan listed all the different train disruptions and breakdowns that had happened since the General Elections in 2011. With the continued delays and inconvenience caused by service breakdowns, he could not see the fare hikes as reasonable. 

A member of the audience, Mr John Loh, agreed with him. He felt that SMRT is “not doing enough to improve the service to the people”. “There are no major maintenance works done. The profits go to Temasek Holdings and SMRT, and yet no repair is done,” he said.

In reference to the PTC’s claim that the breakdowns and fare hike were two separate issues, Mr Tan provided the audience with an analogy that showed just the opposite._DSC8674

“If you are not performing well in your job, you don’t have to worry. Just approach your boss and ask for a pay raise. If your boss tells you, ‘you siao (crazy) ah’ (because of the terrible work performance), then just tell your boss that your work performance and pay raise are separate issues!”

Mr Osman suggested that there should be “more competition brought in to bring the costs down”, and proposed for a complete nationalisation of the public transport system. He also opined that both the SMRT chief executive and Transport Minister “have no experience in the field of transport”, and called for someone “more experienced and capable” to take over their roles.

Standing up for change, and positivity

Despite the anger directed at the PTC, the PTOs and the Transport Minister, the protest did not give in to futility. Mr Song encouraged the crowd to “not be afraid” as the government might “revoke (the) policy if the people say so”._DSC8739

Mr Tan also believed that Singaporeans should be more vocal about what they believe in. “I am a very vocal person and this is my third time speaking in Hong Lim Park. I am not afraid to stand up for my country.”

Protest organiser Mr Goh spoke positively about the “very participative audience”. “They were truly involved and they were also very angry. I am contented that the protest was a success.”_DSC8719

Mr Goh also expressed hope that SMRT will “listen to them” and “buck up on their services”, as they seek to better manage the breakdowns.

And despite having battered an effigy of the Transport Minister, the crowed ended the evening in song, evoking national pride as they sang ‘Stand Up for Singapore’ and ‘Rasa Sayang’. The laughter and easy banter they shared belied the anger and frustration within, as each sought for change in their country.

  • Andrew Leung

    The Government must increase Employer CPF contribution to 20%, Employee to 25% and raise CPFOA to 3.5% interest. Inflation is eating into salaries and the people are unable to meet CPF minimum sum. The Government must give more subsidies and check inflation. SMRT should not just change their Bus livery, they must change their CEO and Board of Directors.

  • Karmic-Retribution

    The fervor on the internet had rumbled with boisterous vitriol when keyboard warriors from
    all fronts of the alternative divide responded with the raising of their keyboards or Smartphone “All for one”. TOC, TRE, TRS, SNA and others had responded to Gilbert Goh’s call. The loud battle cry on the internet was ringing with so much aplomb and gusto as our nationalist heroes and princess warriors prepared for battle to stand as one united people against the proposed and impending public transport fare hike on a cool late Saturday evening on January 25,2014. I was there too with so much excitement in my heart.

    However, if one were to judge the loud voices over the internet, an observer would have perceived rows upon rows of Centurions overwhelming the small patch of green at Hong Lim Park. Unfortunately, adding the overall attendees (not the warriors as I had anticipated) there were not more than 800 to 1000 based on a rotational count of entering / exiting. Some were armed with colourful placards parading the green patch with pride and conviction. Especially the girl in the pink track pants and her green placard.

    As with all past protests organized by the one and only credible activist Mr. Protester
    Extraordinaire, the affable Gilbert Goh, one has to admit that his anti PTC fare hike battle cry became nothing more but a jamboree of socially like-minded enthusiasts. It became a tale of two cities. The urgency to collectively gel the people by the thousands fizzled out to a paltry sum of happy voices. BUT! I had attributed it to the CNY preparations so my disappointment was well justified as I sang along with Gilbert Louis or screamed the anti PTC mantra against Fcuk Yew and their cronies.

    For those who were absent had missed out on the camaraderie of Singaporeans finally coming together to help remove the PAP reins and bridle from a 50 year old captive horse now free to roam with his new counterpart, The Year of the Horse.The stomping of the effigy also played a historical part.

    Perhaps you were engaged or busy with celebratory commitments. However, Mr. Gilbert Goh and friends would like to see you there for the next gathering. Happy CNY everyone.

  • rockabyebaby

    The audacity of Lee Kuan Yew in PAP has NOT abated has it!

    DPM definitely with PM3 LHL’s approval GAVE $1.1 BILLION or $1,100 Million of our tax money to SMRT that they had argued for in privatisation as “Good for xcummuters”? WHY NOT AS LOAN? And isn’t it ANOTHER OF PAP’s BOGUS ARGUED FOR ENDING up IN FAILURES AT NATIONAL LEVEL TOO!

    SO AFTER THAT BIGGY PAYOUT THEY NOW STILL WANT TO HIKE FARES. And Transport MinStir Liu Tuck Yew also got the withall to declare that PAP govt WILL BE spending $50 Mills for the increase subsidy for elder senior Singaporeans. INCREASES by up to 20 cents across the board for the larger portion of non seniors commuters STILLll NO ENOUGh MEH? ANOTHER FAILURE!

  • kelly

    My opinions as to why the revised transport fares would not work for us…we would be forced to buy per-trip tickets just like tourists do:

  • JE$$E