SMRT Train C151 / Photo: Wikipedia

Transport Ministry rebut public’s concern over profitability of local rail operators by stating HK and Tokyo metros charge significantly higher fares

A member of the public, Paul Chan Poh Hoi, wrote to ST Forum on Thu (18 Jul) arguing that profitability should not be main concern for the rail operators in Singapore.

Given the “public” nature of public transport, a rail system should be measured by its ability to serve the people, and not its ability to generate additional wealth for the operators of state-owned assets, Mr Chan said.

“It is the fiduciary duty of public transport operators to plan for adequate preventive maintenance and remedial work, failing which costs are covered by the public purse, as with recent projects and rolling stock procurement,” he added.

Mr Chan also noted that in 2016, the Hong Kong MTR achieved a high score of 124 per cent and Tokyo Metro 119 per cent, while SMRT only achieved 101 per cent (2017). Obviously, the Hong Kong MTR and Tokyo Metro operate their rail system much better than Singapore does.

In any case, Mr Chan wants the rail operators not to raise fares, “It would be unwise to raise fares until the economic situation recovers. If rail operators cannot get by without a few dollars more, neither can commuters.”

MOT: Rail operators can’t deliver safe and reliable services if they keep incurring losses

The Transport Ministry quickly responded to Mr Chan’s letter today (20 Jul) “assuring” that profitability of rail operations is, indeed, not the main concern.

Senior Director of Corporate Communications at the Ministry of Transport, Christine Yap, said, “We agree with Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi that profitability should not be the main concern for rail operators. Their primary objective is to provide a safe and reliable MRT service.”

“But if they keep incurring losses because revenue does not fully cover operating cost, they will not be able to deliver safe and reliable services,” she added with a qualification.

With regard to Mr Chan’s view that Hong Kong and Tokyo metros as possible financing models for Singapore, Senior Director Christine Yap said, “They are indeed good operators with healthy bottom lines and they run their trains well. They also charge fares which are significantly higher than in Singapore.”

“Nevertheless, we do subsidise public bus and train services heavily to keep public transport affordable. We will continue to do so, but it has to be done in a sustainable way,” she concluded her letter.

So, it looks like Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan would be expecting the Singapore rail operators to raise fares too, so as to help “sustain” them.

Whatever happened to the billions of dollars made by Temasek from the rail operators in the past, especially during Saw Phaik Hwa’s time when she was in-charge of SMRT?