Leong Sze Hian
In December last year, chairman of the Public Transport Council, Mr Gerard Ee rejected polytechnic students’ request for fairer transport fares. Mr Ee said then, “It’s not within our power to force operators to give concessions – that’s up to the operators." (Asia One / TOC)
On 12 August 2009, Mr Ee again rejected calls for cheaper fares – this time for the elderly. Writing as Chairman for the Council for Third Age, Mr Ee's letter to the Straits Times forum page, titled “Cheap fares for elderly not the best way”, said:
“For low-income older workers, putting more financial resources directly in their hands is probably better than further concessions on public transport”.
Calls for senior citizens’ concessionary travel to be applied throughout the day, instead of just off-peak hours, has fallen on deaf ears, over the years.
The income of older lower-income workers has continued to fall over the years. An elderly cleaner now earns only about $650 a month.
Allowing peak hour concessionary travel for senior citizens may go a long way towards lessening the financial burden of all senior citizens. The fact of the matter is that most measures to “putting more financial resources” in the hands of the elderly lower-income, as Mr Ee referred to, has not worked very well.
Citing the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme (WIS) – “For example, a 60-year old earning $1,000 a month stands to receive $2.400 in Workfare benefits, of which $686 will be in cash and $1,714 in CPF top-ups” – may be of little meaning to the debate on concessionary travel, as 71 per cent ($1,714) of the WIS is locked in the CPF which cannot be used to pay for transport fares. The other 29 per cent ($686) is to help the elderly whose low incomes continue to decline.
Public transport operators have generally continued to make record profits almost year after year, even despite the recent reduction in fares.
If we can employ hundreds of additional personnel to fine those eating or drinking on public transport, and increase the number of trains a day by 900 during the F1 races downtown, why can’t we give the elderly full concessionary travel? Let’s “cut all the crap” (pardon my language), but isn’t it simply about money and profits?
Other countries respect their elderly for their contribution to society and the nation, with unrestricted concessionary travel.
Why do we continue to give all kinds of excuses just to deny elderly Singaporeans the respect and dignity they rightly deserve?
Perhaps the transport companies, instead of Mr Ee, should look into granting more concessions to our elderly folks. After all, Mr Ee did say that even his PTC, which is suppose to regulate transport fares, has no power to force operators to give concessions.