Public transport – addressing some issues

This is a letter which Leong Sze Hian had sent to the mainstream press. It has not been published so far.

I refer to SBS and SMRT’s application to increase transport fares.

In conjunction with the two transport operators’ application to increase fares, it was separately announced at the same time that $10 million has been set aside over three years to help the needy cope with fare increases.

If the same $20 transport vouchers that was given in the past is applied, $10 million which is $ 3.33 million a year, will provide $20 vouchers to 166,666 needy people.

As the bottom 10 per cent of non-retiree households with per capita monthly income of just $160 is already estimated to be about 324,000 needy people (estimated 90,000 households x average 3.6 residents per household), helping just 166,666 people, may not be enough.

As the reason given for raising GST is to help the needy, I would like to suggest that this amount be more generous.

$20 transport vouchers despite increasing fares

Over the last 5 years, fares have increased 4 times. Transport vouchers were only given in the same amount of $20 to offset the fare increase for just one year. Shouldn’t transport vouchers be increasing at $20 per year to offset all the years’ increases, instead of just one year ?

Since the PTC has yet to make the decision whether to approve the fare increase, how is it possible that an announcement can be made separately on the same day of the fare increase application, that $10 million has been set aside for three years to help the needy cope with fare increases ?

I was somewhat amused by two different media reports on the same day, about improvements to bus services.

Waiting time

Instead of the current 15 minute intervals standard during peak hours, buses will have to arrive every 10 minutes, at least during weekday peak hours, 80 per cent of the time. This revised standard will be phased in two years from now. Also, fines of between $100 (per day per bus service) and $ 10,000 (per month per standard will kick in from October, if operators fail to comply.

The other improvement is that the Land Transport Authority has rolled out a pilot project to provide real-time bus arrival information at selected bus stops.

Since bus operators will have to re-schedule buses to 10 minutes or less intervals during peak hours, what’s the point of spending over $1 million just to let commuters know whether the bus is coming in say 5 or 10 minutes, or the occasional over 10 minute wait which may be quite rare because of the penalties imposed ?

These improvements may actually cause more problems for commuters, because the problem is not so much that every bus service number must arrive within 10 minutes, but rather whether the bus is full when it arrives.

By requiring all bus service numbers to arrive within 10 minutes, less buses may be deployed for those service numbers that are always full.

Which is more important to commuters ?

Being able to board the bus when it comes, or knowing when it is expected to come ?

For the majority of commuters, what difference does it make ? When the bus is late, most would still have to wait, because if they can afford to take a taxi, why would they be waiting for a bus in the first place ?

How do you know whether walking to the taxi stand may not be an even longer wait for a taxi?

Will fines and penalties be passed to commuters?

Fines of $100, $10,000 may really be “peanuts” to bus operators. A more effective measure to raise service levels maybe to include service standards in the PTC’s fares increase formula, which now only takes into account wage increase, inflation and productivity.

Will the cost of adding 100 plus buses to meet the 10 minute interval standard, fines and penalties be passed on to commuters by way of higher fares in the future ? In this connection, both transport operators cited rising costs as the main reason for their application to increase fares this year.

I wonder whether the people who made the decisions for these two improvements take buses regularly.

How about improving the transparency and accountability of the decision making process for bus services, by telling us?



Referring to Straits Times report of Aug 15 pg h25:

ComfortDelGro has been ranked 29 out of 389 companies that have reported
their half-year results ended June 30, 2007.

Why is a transport operator which is essentially a monopoly of essential
services so profitable? – the above ranking is in order of the “biggest

Will SMRT’s results be as profitable when their equivalent results are

Why is it that the results are normally announced shortly after the fare
increase application deadline?

In view of this timing of the results and fare application, will the
PTC take into account the latest data that I believe were not
submitted by the transport operators in support of their application?

Are the reasons of rising costs (which affect profits?) still justified?

Visit Sze Hian’s website for more of his writings.