Do not forget the NSFs

By Keith Lim

The recent measures implemented to allow commuters to travel free should they exit an MRT station within the CBD before 7.45am has illicited a good mix of responses across the island, though probably more positive than negative.

This trial comes as a surprise to me, as it uses the carrot approach to entice commuters to leave their homes earlier and regulate crowds. And I definitely welcome it because the savings are ultimately passed on to us – the commuters, that is those who choose to leave their homes early enough to enjoy the benefits. This is the opposite of the situation on the roads, and ERP as most of you may know charges motorists for using certain roads during peak hours, the stick approach. However, it is arguable that the authorities may be trying to promote public transport as opposed to private cars, which ownership is highly discouraged here by their exorbitant prices.

I trust that the relevant authorities have done their calculations and found such spending justifiable. Which if that’s the case brings me to my next point. Full-time national servicemen (NSFs) sacrifice 2 years of their lives contributing to national defence, enduring much hardship along the way. I believe that one way the authorities can show some form of recognition to this group of people is by working out a possible scheme to offer them free or subsidised public transport.

Most NSFs get by on a small allowance, and transport can be a significant expense. Some NSFs stay out due to vocational requirements and have to travel to and from camp on a daily basis. But even then, most NSFs do travel frequently on weekends, be it to go home or to go out and spend time catching up with friends and relaxing. I think it would definitely help many NSFs financially. Many NSFs use NS as a time to save up for university, while some NSFs from poorer families use their allowance to supplement their low family incomes. If the authorities can subsidise commuters working in the CBD, most of whom are earning many times the salary of an NSF, then I think definitely some form of support can be given to NSFs in this aspect.

Transport is a necessity, just like healthcare, which should be free for all NSFs. We fall sick, and we need treatment so we can be fit and healthy again. Same concept, we need to get from place to place, especially on weekends which is the only time most NSFs are free given they stay in camp from Mondays to Fridays. Most will have to run errants, or visit their friends and relatives etc. If healthcare can be made free, then transport should definitely be up for consideration too. Even if it can’t be made free, it should at least be subsidised to the level of subsidies students are receiving.

I don’t think we are an uncaring society, and we have many capable leaders too. If we can provide scholarships to foreigners to study for free in our local schools, then I don’t see why we shouldn’t do something to recognise the contributions of these unsung heroes who are the very reason we can sleep peacefully every night. And while I am sure many NSFs appreciate the recent 50 dollar mall vouchers given out, I’m sure they will prefer to see something more tangible being done, that can potentially improve their monthly financial situation in this case. I am surprised nothing has been done till this day but it is never too late, and I feel it is timely to bring this up.