fbpx
Al Jazeera focuses on the financial crisis in a special programme. TOC's columnist Leong Sze Hian features as a guest.

Free MRT transportation, the solution to congestion?

By Terry Xu

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Janil Puthucheary suggested on Tuesday that MRT commuters should be offered free transportation in order to entice them to travel out of the peak hour period, relieving the congestion issue that the transportation system is now facing. (link)

On Wednesday, a several more MPs rose in support of the proposal to grant commuters free travel on public transport during off-peak periods.

“Everyone benefits. Those that can travel earlier will enjoy free travel. Those that can’t will be more comfortable.” Says, MP Janil.

From a certain perspective, this scheme does seem workable. People are enticed to shift their transportation pattern through means of monetary relief. Like who would miss out something free, especially in the country of “Kiasu”?

This would also stand to benefit those who have already been traveling much earlier than the peak hour period to defray their living expenses.

But some may be skeptical on just how many workers are willing to forgo a precious hour of sleep or that few moments of family time before everyone in the family set out to studies and for work just to catch the free transportation provided? Arriving one hour or more earlier at their workplace when the office is not even opened. Is the workers’ own time worth just that few dollars?

And the question comes here, who pays for the free transportation?

MP Janil said “Instead of using money conducting complex research studies, creating and maintaining smartphone apps or generating programmes with rewards and free gifts, just channel the money directly into free travel.”

Therefore it can be presumed that the government will be paying for this free transportation initiative set out to move people away from the peak hours of MRT commuting.

And answering that, would this proposition solve the root of the issue? Is this even trying to address any issues at all or is this an act of throwing money at the problem in the attempt to mitigate the transportation issues.

So what MP Janil wishes to resolve here through offering of free transportation for MRT commuters is to relieve the congestion during MRT peak hour. And question he should be asking is, “Why is the MRT so congested during peak hour?”

Sounds rather silly but rather than simply blaming the cause on the population growth. The likely reason for the congestion would be that too many people trying to get to work at the same time using the same mode of transportation.

So are there other alternative means of resolving the issue?

One solution that often comes up would be the staggering of office hours, the government has means and ways to find out the standard hours which workers at various sites turn up for work. By offering staggered timing for workers, the number of people taking at the same time might be reduced to a certain effect.

But the staggering of timing might be hard to accept since everyone would want to go back home earlier.

The other possible alternative solution echos to what Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Liang Eng Hwa said on Wednesday in the Budget Debate on Public Transport Operators.

He spoke of how he felt that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the public transport operators (PTOs) have not delivered their duty in providing reliable and convenient public transport.

He also express hopes that LTA would move away from the model of two sole PTOs and allow other private operators help expand the bus capacity.

If other private operators could offer better modes of transportation from where they stay to where they work. For example, a direct shuttle bus from the heartlands to the industrial parks or city area, citizens would be probably more enticed to shift their choice of transportation than just to change the timing they go to work for free transportation even if it means paying a bit more.

Not to mention, the number of jobs created by allowing private operators to provide transportation to the general public. Though it would probably mean lesser profit for the two sole PTOs.

It is true that ultimately, money has to be spent to resolve issues of our country but spending money needlessly without solving the root of problems is unsought for. If this proposition were to be brought up by the oppositions, this would have been another “Nigerian scam” incident.

And this comes to an interesting point. Since MPs could propose such a welfare scheme to entice commuters to relieve congestion during peak hours through the use of government funds.

Why is that there is strong objections and procrastinating of action towards the free transportation of elders and the student concession fare for polytechnic students proposed by various civil groups and opposition parties? Is it because this is not a problem for the government but only for the groups themselves?