Public transport model not key issue

extracts of Minister of State for Transport and Finance, Josephine Teo’s response in The Straits Times, to Gerald Giam’s article “Overhauling Singapore‚Äôs public transport model”.

Mr Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party has argued that Singapore should abandon its current public transport model in favour of a model in which public transport is nationalised. He argues that the current model has produced ‘undesirable outcomes’.

Changing an industry’s structure is a serious matter. Throwing it out without a clear understanding of its intricate workings is not only irresponsible, but would detract from the real issues at hand…

In Singapore, the Public Transport Council (PTC) is the independent body set up to regulate fares for public transport. Service standards are set and enforced by PTC and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) for bus and rail respectively. Because rail licences are valid for only a finite period and operators have to tender for new licences, they cannot take licence renewals for granted. Such contestability is completely non-existent in Mr Giam’s single nationalised operator model…

Should the system be nationalised and run on a cost recovery basis, the operator would lose the motivation to increase non-fare revenues and improve efficiency. Fares would have to increase more. Is such an outcome more desirable?

Let me now turn to Mr Giam’s reasons for changing the structure of public transport completely. He cites only two: the outcry over fare increases and ‘crush loads’ experienced by commuters. Neither is caused by the current industry structure.

The public reactions to fare increases are understandable, but they will not go away even with a nationalised system.

Congestion on our trains and buses came about because population growth over the last few years has led to rapid growth in ridership. This, in turn, has outpaced planned capacity increases. The solution to this is not structural change but to tighten regulatory requirements and increase capacity – adding more rail lines, trains and buses as well as modifying infrastructure to increase frequency.

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