Poly students make inroads for fairer transport fares. Report by Darren Boon.

Listen to us! Student activist group engages the transport authorities

Story by Darren Boon / Video by Mervin Lee, video interview by Koh Yi Na

Student activist group The National Petition for Fairer Transportation Fares for Polytechnic/Tertiary Students has made inroads where its predecessors failed to, collecting 5,300 signatures for fare concessions, and engaging the Public Transport Council (PTC).

The group met with senior management representatives from the relevant stakeholder groups including the PTC, Transitlink, and the two transport giants SBS Transit and SMRT Corporation to present their petition and proposal for fairer transportation fares for polytechnic and tertiary students. 

The dialogue with the authorities proceeded much better than anticipated.  Polytechnic student Bernard Chen who organised the petition described the session with the PTC as “constructive” with an “exchange of ideas and opinions”.  “We managed to achieve mutual understanding and hopefully benefits for each other,” Chen said. 

“They understand where we’re coming from.  They’ve got a better perspective of students’ concerns.  And from what I gather, I believe they’re considering the proposal.  So in the meantime we’re hopeful,” Chen added.    

Chen speculates that there might be something sweet in the pot for concession fares when PTC studies the upcoming fare reduction exercise. 

SBS Transit has indicated to The Online Citizen that it is working together with the PTC on this matter with details due out later. 

Fairer fare mechanism please

The petition which begun online in November 2008 has so far amassed 5300 signatures inclusive ofsignatures collected from Singaporeans in the public areas of Bugis and Plaza Singapura/Dhoby Ghaut.

The group alleges the practice of discriminatory pricing in concession fares amongst the similar aged peer groups – between JC/ITE students and Polytechnic/Tertiary students – whereby the latter group pays up to 89 per cent more than the former is unfair.  The group is also hoping that a reduction in the current concession fares will bring about some expenditure relief to households.

The group proposes a three-step approach to help local students.  The first step involves an immediate reduction two times that of the adult percentage cut to offer some temporary respite during the tough economic period.  The second step sees the implementation of a price bandwidth for each group of students in the polytechnics, universities and private institutions which can be adjusted accordingly to the economic climate.  The final step involves the refinement of the fare mechanism similar to that of the adults. 

“We are more concerned at how they (the transport operators) arrive at the number than the number itself.  Numbers can change anytime, but we need the mechanism to regulate it,” Chen said. 

Informed and effective activism

Meanwhile, Chen looks forward to further dialogue and engagement with the authorities over the implementation of a fare mechanism and hails the progress of the group. 

The image which Chen expects his student grouping to portray – responsible and constructive. 

“I think is a very positive step for society where a small student grouping which comes across as responsible and know what they’re talking about…and they will get the attention they want in terms of the issue.”

Chen’s group, which, comprises mostly of students from Temasek Polytechnic also boasts members from Singapore Polytechnic and the Singapore Management University.

The results of the campaign have so far exceeded expectations.  Chen is surprised that their efforts caught the attention of the PTC who went as far as to initiate a meeting with them. 

Lena Ng, a final year polytechnic student who is onboard the petition agrees that the campaign took off to a “pretty good start”.  “Nobody has gotten such a big outreach other than us.”

Looking back on the campaign so far, Chen commented:  “We’ve basically achieved our objectives so far.  We got their attention.  We put this issue on the radar screens of the decision makers, and they’re considering the proposal.  We managed to let people know about this.  So these three objectives have been achieved.”

Looking forward, Chen hopes to build on the group’s credibility and partner up with existing student groups in MDIS and Singapore Institute of Management to further their cause.