Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor
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Calling it a “sustained and concerted campaign on all fronts”, 10 students from the polytechnics are leading a “national initiative” for more affordable public transport fares for polytechnic and tertiary students.
“We are displeased that polytechnic [and] tertiary students are unfairly required to pay as much as 89 per cent more in terms of transport fares than their peers in JCs and ITEs,” says Bernard Chen, a student of Temasek Polytechnic and one of the 10 students leading the campaign. In a time of rising inflation and cost of living, he says that this places an unnecessary burden on their parents too.
“We are surprised that transport operators choose to discriminate based on a "man-made" label; tertiary and non-tertiary,” says the group of 10, referring to the different level of fares for students from different educational institutions.
The campaign, called “National Petition for Fairer Transportation Fares for Polytechnic/ Tertiary Students”, has an ambitious target – to get between 30,000 and 100,000 “actual signatures” of support. “Anyone from students - past, present and future - parents, educators, and ordinary Singaporeans, young and old, can participate in this student-initiated petition,” says Bernard, who is 23 years old.
So, what is it exactly that they are so unhappy about?
In its petition, the group compares the fares paid by students in the junior colleges and the Institutes of Technical Education, with those paid by students in the polytechnics and the universities. Under the Travel Concession Scheme for students, they can choose between three choices of passes - the Bus Concession Pass, the Train Concession Pass and the Hybrid Concession Pass.
These can be used subject to different conditions. For polytechnic students, they are as follows:
Bus Concession Pass - $52/month, unlimited bus concession travel on basic fare bus services for one month.
Train Concession Pass - $45/month, up to 4 rides per day on the MRT/LRT for one month.
Hybrid Concession Pass - $97/month, unlimited bus concession travel on basic fare bus services for one month and up to 4 rides per day on the MRT/LRT for one month.
For JC and ITE students, the same concession passes cost $27.50, $25 & $52.50 respectively.
“The percentage difference in prices ranges from 80 per cent to 89 per cent,” they say. And therein lies the unhappiness for the polytechnic students - the issue of fairness between different groups of students.
“On some months I even have to ask [my parents] for extra money as I do not have enough for transportation fees,” says Lena Ng, 19. For 18-year old Ashraf, who has four siblings in a single-parent family, the burden is especially heavy. “My dad passed away a few years ago leaving my mum as the sole breadwinner in the family,” he says. “We spend a minimum of $350 a month just on transportation alone - and that's a lot!”
“We feel it is grossly unfair for polytechnic/ tertiary students’ to pay as much as 89 per cent more in terms of transport fares than their peers in the JCs and the ITEs,” the students say. “This also constitutes a heavy financial burden for families; especially those lower, middle income ones with at least a child in a polytechnic or tertiary institution.” They added that “at a time of belt-tightening in expenditure, every little concession will go a long way to cut expenses for households already strapped with high living costs.”
The group, in an interview with The Online Citizen, said that the issue had been brought up before – with a minister.
Students at a polytechnic forum had previously raised this issue with Dr Vivian Balakhrishnan, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports. "It was even reported in the news,” says Bernard, "but nothing changed.”
This time, the students intend to take the issue up with the Public Transport Council, the Ministry for Transport, the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, Members of Parliament and even the Prime Minister, once they “have achieved a critical mass of signatures.”
“We are proposing that Transitlink look into establishing a concession price bandwidth from which a concession fare is established, of between 0 - 60% for the various student groups respectively; polytechnics, universities (NUS, NTU, SMU, SIM) and private educational institutions,” the group explains. If the authorities accept their proposal, polytechnic students will pay between $13.75 and $31.40 less for their concession passes (based on the 25 per cent fare bandwidth). University and private educational institutions students will also see reductions in their fares.
To achieve their target of between 30,000 to 100,000 signatures for the petition, the group intends to fan out in the various institutions to spread the word. The students are calling for support from their peers in the five polytechnics – Nanyang, Ngee Ann, Singapore, Republic and Temasek – and the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Institute of Management to join the initiative. “We would also like to enlist the assistance of parents in this endeavour,” say the students.
The petition drive, which Bernard describes as "a unique and creative feature of this campaign", will be a bi-monthly or monthly event.
“Furthermore, we will be circulating the petition on the Internet to bloggers and among our network of friends,” the group says.
Separately, a Facebook group created by another person dedicated to the issue, on 28 October, has so far garnered 2,376 members and has generated a buzz among students. Another online petition has also been set up and currently it has 26,428 signatures. The group of 10 appreciates the online effort. “What we need now is a concerted, combined online and offline effort to push for change,” Bernard explains.
We are S-T-U-D-E-N-T-S!
“I am quite certain that polytechnic students especially do not mind forsaking the "tertiary" label for cheaper and more affordable fares,” says Bernard.
“We call on the relevant operators to refrain from selectively discriminating [against] groups of students based on their choice and level of academic pursuit and the institutions of enrolment."
”At the end of the day, we are all students,” he says. “[It] spells the same whether you are in JC, Poly or Uni. This is how it is spelt: S-T-U-D-E-N-T.”
To give your support to the petition:
5 simple ways to participate and support this nationwide campaign:
1. Download and read the Petition here and the Signature Document here and circulate it among your friends. (Email the list of signatures/ completed document to [email protected])
2. Email the following information (in the form) to this email address ([email protected]):
- Student? (Y/N)
- Institution of Study (If applicable)
3. Sign up to be an official volunteer to bring forth the petition to your school/ institution of study/ workplace.
4. Spread the word and put up the campaign logo on your blog/website. (The logo will be available in a few days’ time.)
5. Be part of the campaign's numerous petition drives in the weeks and months to come.