The $1.1Bn quick fix

~by: Kumaran Pillai~

"What Singaporeans want are quicker solutions. They don't want to wait so long, “said Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo.

The solution according to her (or them) is to buy more buses. Putting more buses on the road, only addresses the issue of capacity, it does not necessarily mean that the transport companies would become more efficient. Unless, the Government is investing in new technology, for example, electric buses or hybrid buses, some would argue that we will be better off spending the money on something else.

Doling out such huge sums of monies to private or public companies is an anti-thesis to innovation. This is typical of countries with huge reserves or surpluses; invention and innovation takes a back seat because it is cheaper to buy (or transfer technology) than to innovate. In the same grain, it is far cheaper to import talent than to train our locals. So there is nothing new there, this is typical of a rich state.

The key question on my mind is, why increase the capacity by so much and why so suddenly? We are expanding our train network at the same time. There are new train lines in the works and with plans to add more trains in the existing network with a newer signalling system, why expand the bus network?

Unless, the government is anticipating a corresponding increase in population, I don’t see an immediate need to expand our overall transport capacity by so much. I do acknowledge that there are capacity issues with our current transport network and we need to expand our transport infrastructure. But, what the government is budgeting for far exceeds the current or future needs of the current population size. Our government has also learnt from the past that increasing the population before increasing our transport capacity is not the way to go. So it would be safe to assume that the government is investing in the future with a bigger (more foreign) population in mind.

Our elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew has already hinted to us in his recent speeches about the ‘need’ for more foreigners to keep our economy humming. It seems to me that he is the only one telling us what is happening; our population is going to increase, hence the injections into our transport systems.

Which brings me to the statement made by Joe Teo, is the government or the people looking for quicker solutions? Why can’t the ministers come clean and give us the full picture of what they plan to do in the next five to ten years with regards to our target population in the years ahead.

At first pass, it seems like a quick fix to our transport woes. But, the more one thinks of plausible reasons for why the government is doing what they are doing, it is easy to conclude that we are expanding our transport network well ahead of population increases.

The key question remains, if this is what Singaporeans want and if this is what they (Singaporean) can’t wait to have?