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Why the inconsistency in which LTA chooses to fine some incidents but not others?

By Dayan, Failrail.sg

Inconsistency in how LTA choses to fine particular service disruptions while disregarding other similar major disruptions raises questions about how fines deter disruptions from recurring.

Under the Licensing and Operating Agreement (LOA) between the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the service operators, SMRT corporation and SBS Transit are required to adhere to the Operating Performance Standards (OPS) for service quality, safety and maintenance. Most notably, the OPS determines the severity of service disruptions as delays affecting more than 20,000 persons per incident.

Clause 10(2) of the LOA states that if the service operator fails to meet the OPS, it is liable to pay a penalty as imposed by LTA, up to a maximum of S$1 million. In calculating the penalty to be paid, LTA shall consider mitigating factors such as constraints of the relevant working network and infrastructure as well as passenger intervention, which are beyond the service operator's control (Committee of Inquiry report, p. 26, para. 78).

In a statement released by LTA on 21st July this year, announced that SMRT will incur a S$1.6 million penalty for four separate incidents on the North-South and East-West Lines, while SBS Transit will be fined S$50,000 for an incident on the North East Line (NEL).

These five incidents took place between Oct 2013 to May 2014, and  LTA said that the investigations showed that these incidents, and the resulting service disruptions, had occurred due to SMRT’s failure to comply with established procedures and processes.

However there is some inconsistency in which LTA choses to fine some service disruptions, but not others.

This is a list of service disruptions between Jul 2013 and Jun 2014. These were not fined but was serious enough for bus bridging to be activated, or had additional trains deployed to cope with the crowd build-up.

  1. Train fault disrupted NEL service towards Harbourfront on 29 Mar 2014. (see here)
  2. Power fault disrupted Downtown Line service on 7 Mar 2014.
  3. Signalling fault disrupted service between Paya Lebar and Dhoby Ghaut during rush-hour commute on 27 Feb 2014.
  4. Track fault disrupted service between Jurong East and Ang Mo Kio during rush-hour commute on 24 Feb 2014.
  5. Loss of traction power disrupted service between Kranji and Yew Tee on 11 Jan 2014.
  6. Power fault disrupted service between Bugis and Chinatown on 27 Dec 2013.
  7. Power trip disrupted service between Stadium and HarbourFront on 18 Dec 2013. Passengers had to detrain on emergency walkways at Caldecott and Tai Seng stations near midnight. 
  8. Defective third rail disrupted service between Tanah Merah and Pasir Ris on 11 Oct 2013.
  9. Train fault disrupted service between Tampines and Pasir Ris during rush-hour commute on 24 Aug 2013.

Notably, there was a major train breakdown on the North-East Line on 17 August 2012  which affected thousands of commuters as repairs took almost the entire day. After more than 2 years, LTA still has not announced its final investigation results, or whether SBS Transit would be penalised for this incident.

Last update from LTA on this incident was in Feb 2013, pointing to stress corrosion cracking as being the probable cause of the Aug 2012 incident. After that, nothing heard out. (read more)

However we want to note that the point that is made here is not to ask for more fines to be slapped on the service operators. But rather to ask if the fines constitutes an effective deterrence to the transport operators in reducing the numbers of disruptions? Did the fines actually improve train service reliability? This is an issue I have talked about this in a previous article, "A Plea to SBS Transit and LTA" published on TOC.

From Gerald Giam's speech in Parliament on 17 Feb 2014, the fines for the disruptions would somehow find its way back to the service operators in the end.

"Next, penalties imposed by LTA for service disruptions are donated to the Public Transport Fund, which is used to buy transport vouchers for needy commuters. This means that the fines paid are eventually returned to the operators in the form of fare revenue."