Trying alternatives instead of flogging the dead train.

By Terry Xu 

A Straits Times Article report “Year-long trial on weekdays at 16 stations aims to cut peak-hour crush” writes,

Currently, around 99,500 commuters pass through these stations every day during the 8am to 9am peak hour, while some 23,000 travel before 7.45am. Mr Lui projected that free rides could move another 10 to 20 per cent of commuters away from the peak period. This translates to between 10,000 and 20,000 train users. 

A modest 10% shift of the peak hour crowd would come to be about 10,000 add together with the 23,000 passengers who have already been travelling before 7.45am, we would be looking at about 33,000 passengers who would be subsided under this trial program.

Taking a modest $1.50 per pax for their ticket fares to be paid towards the transport company, that would be about S$49,500 per day or 990,000 per month (33,000 x 20 weekdays x $1.50). And all these expense just to try to convince 10,000 passengers to go to work earlier?

So why is there a need to pay SMRT to subsidies passengers to reduce peak hour congestion when it is the inability of the transport operator to accommodate the increased population that it is suppose to service?

There is a price for taking up a monopoly… or is there any to begin with? On top of the announcement during the Budget 2012, that a Bus Service Enhancement Fund of $1.1 billion will be given to transport operators to buy and run 550 more public buses. This further move to subsidise the transport operator to relieve the peak hour congestion does pose a serious question as to the level of support the government provides for the private operator.

Given the allowance of S$49,500 per day to trial run a program that would see to a reduced number of passengers in the MRT network. It is still remains a wonder on how the government have been conducting national-wide trial and error policies using public funds without much consultation with the general public.

The report also writes,

Nearly 60 per cent said they would not want to sacrifice sleep to get a free ride, according to a straw poll by The Straits Times. Executive Felicia Cai, 25, said that travelling earlier will just mean longer hours at the office. 

Instead of addressing the issue at its root which is the limited capacity of the transportation system, the government is touching public funds to pay for citizens to get to work earlier so that the network will get less congested. It is quite insulting for some to know that an hour of their time is worth just the price of a MRT ticket.

Given that the current Singapore population is now about 5.2 million. Would this measure work the same way with an increased number of passengers? If the crowd before 7.45am becomes as crowded as the 8 am – 9 am crowds, would the subsidies be still in effect then? Or the free period would be pushed forward to 6.45am?

As hard as the rail operators might try, there are ultimately constraints in the rail system which we have to acknowledge. The SMRT system was built with 6 carriages instead of the 8 carriages which the Hongkong train system uses. This greatly affected the expandability of the train network and its capacity. Even with more stations and lines built, there will be bottlenecks at interchange and various densely populated areas. This is furthermore amplified during breakdowns of trains or signaling faults of the system resulting in delays.

Rather than trying a carrot approach on passengers to entice them to travel way earlier than what they would normally do, the government should be seeking for alternatives for citizens to get from one place to another.

Like what have been proposed countless times, private transport operators should be given a chance to come up with new innovative transport arrangements to relieve our congested transportation system network.

On alternatives, there should be no lack of companies in Singapore, which would offer a better solution to transport the citizens from the neighborhoods to the city areas with a budget of S$49,500 per day.

Many commuters have expressed their preference to travel without the need for numerous stops along their journey and to be given a seat to catch some sleep during the ride.

We could look at having private transport operators to provide a non-stop express bus to the designed spots in the city from various bus interchange in the neighborhood heartland areas during the peak hours from 7am to 9am.

True that there are existing express bus service by the two transport operators but the effect of the buses is apparently not felt from the persistent congestion of the rail system.

So instead of paying the SMRT to ferry the passengers at an earlier hour which they are not really keen on waking up at, why not offer local companies to come up with ideas on how to solve the problem and also in the meantime offer job creation opportunities for locals to take up?

After the trial run period is over, companies will take up the routes at their own cost with the public paying for their services. (Though having the ezlink card to work with the private operators would be an issue.)

And if this works for the morning peak hour crowd, the companies could then opt to propose to offer the same arrangement for the evening peak hour.

We have all grown passed the “government knows best for you” era, so rather than thinking that the civil servants have all the workable ideas with them, solutions of how to address national issues should be opened to the public feedback. Examples such as the government initiated “National Conversation”,  should tap on all the good ideas of the concerned citizens how to move the country forward, and the government should not waste their effort contributing to the initiative.