NCMP Dennis Tan proposes major improvements for the public transportation system

Speaking at Parliament yesterday (15 January), Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan suggested crucial improvements must be made to the current public transportation system, which include enhancing incentivisation and monitoring of reliability and service quality as well as adding service quality in the Fare Review formula.

In his speech titled “Putting Commuters First in Public Transportation”, he mentioned that rail reliability used to be a major issue in the past few years where MRT breakdowns were often, bus services were inadequate to fully run parallel to train systems and private bus operators had to be called in for assistance. However, the government managed to roll out schemes to expand and upgrade its public transportation infrastructure.

As such, the Mean Kilometres Between Failures (MKBK) improved from 180, 000 train-km to 666, 000 train-km between 2017 and the first three quarters of 2018. But, train delays continued to happen late 2018 and early 2019.

“MKBF measures delays of more than 5 minutes. Notwithstanding their exclusion from the internationally used MKBF benchmark, commuters may still have lingering doubts on the reliability of our MRT systems if we completely disregard delays of not more than 5 minutes,” he explained.

Besides that, application of the Network Capacity Factor (NCF) also led to fare hikes of 4.3% and this garnered many negative responses from citizens.

Upon this hearing this news on the hike, one Straits Times reader expressed that this factor is akin to taxing commuters twice. The current Nominated MP, the honourable Associate Professor Walter Theseira opined that the factor makes a rise in fares more likely, as capacity will rise faster than ridership in the short term. In addition, Straits Times’ Senior Transport Correspondent Christopher Tan also pointed out the irony that a negative NCF will imply more crowded buses and trains, an outcome that no commuter wants to see.

“Our public transportation system needs to deliver on quality, most important of which is the punctuality of services and the minimizing of all delays. Beyond that, it will also require timely and accurate information to be delivered by operators on matters of relevance, such as service disruptions, minimising bus bunching, ensuring a comfortable ride and cost-effectively improving physical comfort such as improving ventilation on our open-air MRT stations and bus interchanges,” he added.

Based on all these problems, MP Tan suggests a few methods to improve the system and the first being to enhance incentivisation and monitoring of reliability and service quality.

“Firstly, we can do more to incentivise better monitoring of reliability and service quality by PTOs. Beyond and alongside the traditional measure of MKBF for more than 5 minutes only, I would suggest having other categories of MKBF for all incidents such as less than 5 minutes, between 5 – 30 minutes and more than 30 minutes,” he suggested.

On top of that, MP Tan also recommended engaging third party evaluators like the Institute of Service Excellence (ISE) who run independent surveys to provide less bias results. By doing so, collected scores can then be directly factored into the Fare Review formula where positive commuter experiences can be rewarded while stagnant or negative commuter experience can be factor against fare raises.

“The inclusion of service quality as perceived by commuters themselves, realistically measured by an independent body, can help mitigate the risk of operators raising fares as a result of pursuing other goals at the expense of service quality. I should emphasize that service quality should be merely one of the factors and not the only or predominant factor,” he noted.

The next suggestion that he made was to include the profits of public transport operators as one factor in the Fare Review formula.

Currently, 5% of additional fare revenues earned by the public transport operators are transferred to the Public Transport Fund to subsidise vulnerable groups. Therefore, a further step can be taken in this regard by putting back more profits into the public transport funds.

In addition, he proposed to include multi-channel, multi-platform and multilingual approach to send out broadcast messages on service disruptions.

Lastly, he suggested the government to have renewal plans for the old lines that are reaching their age milestones.

“I call for the Government to commit to major renewals for rail assets under the New Rail Financing Framework at every 15 year milestone,” he concluded.