By Leong Sze Hian

mrt

I refer to the articles “Up to 1 million commuters to benefit if fare review recommendations are approved” and “Continued affordability of public transport is key: Lui Tuck Yew“ (Straits Times, Nov 6).

Wait until next fare increase then get concessions?

The latter states that “In a Facebook post Tuesday he said: “We must do this while recognising the need to keep the public transport system in Singapore financially viable. In this regard, we should use the next fare exercise to enhance existing as well as implement new concession schemes for various groups of commuters, with special attention to the disadvantaged groups.””

Since the fare review committee took much longer than the original time frame that it was given, and groups like the disabled, polytechnic students and lower-income have been waiting for years for concessions, shouldn’t the response have been that the concessions will be implemented in say 3 months – instead of  ” we should use the next fare exercise to enhance existing as well as implement new concession schemes”?

When is the next fare (increase) exercise?

Always give and take back?

Why can’t we for once give first and then take increase to take back later, as has often been the case when it comes to paying for practically everything in Singapore? Why must we wait until we increase fares next, then enhance the concessions?

No transport operators’ financial projections?

Why is it that the fare review report does not have any projections of the transport operators revenue, costs and profits taking into account the projected increase in the population and ridership in the future, under the proposed new fare adjustment formula?

Other countries have guaranteed fare increase formula?

Are there any developed countries that have public transport fare adjustment formulae that practically guarantees annual fare increases for transport operators as the formula is linked to inflation and average wage increase?

If you have concessions which say are a discount on the ever increasing fares, the disadvantaged in society may continue to be progressively worse off in the future.

Fair comparison with 4 cities?

Why is it that a comparison is made with fares in 4 cities, but there is no comparison as to the proportion of fares expenditure to income, and wage levels?

Why is it that the fares comparison with the 4 cities on a trip basis, do not take into account that all these cities have monthly or longer passes which reduce per trip travel costs substantially?

Since there was also a comparison that 2 of the cities’ fare increase in the last 5 years were higher than Singapore’s, does it mean that the other 2 cities were less than Singapore’s? – Failure to mention the obvious?

Why only choose to compare with these 4 cities – which are among the highest wage level countries in the world with minimum wages to compare with Singapore which has one of the lowest wage levels among developed countries and without a minimum wage?

Silence on transport vouchers’ issues?

Why is the report silent on the plight of the lower income when transport vouchers were generally only enough to offset the year the fares go up, but ignoring the previous almost annual fare increases?

No lower-income workers’ statistics?

Why talk about helping the 2nd quintile and 2nd decile of the lower-income, without any statistics as to how many lower-income workers there are in the population?

Can spend $1b, but commuters have to co-fund concessions? 

Since the Government can spend more than a billion dollars to help the transport operators in their bus operations, why does the report say that “The Committee feels that having the Government and commuters share the funding of concessions promotes the spirit of partnership. This is supported by the quantitative survey findings gathered by the Committee”?

More concerned about operators’ wage costs or people’s wages?

As to “There have been some suggestions to consider the use of the median Wage Index (WI) instead of the mean WI6 that is currently used. The Committee looked at the correlation of both wage indices with the PTOs’  manpower cost and found that the mean WI has a closer correlation.  In addition, the mean WI was found to be less volatile compared to the median WI. Thus the Committee recommends retaining the use of the mean WI in the formula” – are we more concerned and focused on the operators’ wage costs or the historical low real median income growth of Singaporeans?

Profitability dropped because … ?

Have all the very detailed explanations in the 85 page report about the decline in the operators’ profits, other financials and increase in costs, taken into account the arguably unique recent problems of breakdowns and maintenance, etc – as reflected in say SMRT’s annual report?

– “R&M expenses rose 32.7% to $112.5 million with increased scheduled repairs and maintenance and overhaul of ageing trains

Impairment of interest in associate, Shenzhen Zona, amounting to $17.3 million

Other operating expenses saw an increase of 8.8% to $204.5 million, due mainly to higher legal and professional fees and a $2.0 million penalty imposed by LTA for the December 2011 train service disruptions … higher insurance expenses and increase in security related expenditure

Depreciation net amortisation rose 16.2% to $150.6 million taking into consideration the full impact of the 17 new trains, and a larger bus and taxi fleet”

Same old story, but ignoring the obvious?

In the final analysis, we seem to be talking about and focusing on the same old story about our public transport system, but ignoring some of the obvious questions, issues and problems highlighted above.

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