Another Jibe at Public Transport

Once again, I need to take another jibe at the transport. It is reasonable to say that public transport should not be nationalised and the profits of the transport companies should be viewed in context. However, I believe that their profits should also be viewed in terms of how their service has 'improved' over the years. The only reason why SMRT and SBS can consistently earn profit is because they literally monopolise public transport in Singapore. In short, we the commuters are held hostage by them whether we like it or not. I thought about a move to boycott SMRT and SBS for a day to show them how much they depend on us, but then I realise we will have no means to get to our offices other than by walking or taking taxi if not for buses and mrt. Such is the extent of their monopoly over us.

Furthermore, we might as well do away with PTC. I still remember a report by PTC last year stating bus services have improved. I wondered the methodology by which that report was generated. The PTC is like a rubber stamp for SMRT and SBS, and so once PTC says anything in favour of SMRT and SBS, the two companies can use PTC as a front to do anything they want with the commuters. There is simply something too wrong in the public transport in Singapore for this to happen.

In my opinion, contrary to SMRT and SBS' proposal, this is a chance for PTC to redeem itself by severely force the two companies to cut down their fare until the day comes when they are willing to do an overhaul on their services and ensure service improvement. There are a few points of improvement (at least on bus services) which I think compounded together to make an increase in fare unmerited:

1. Irregular frequency of services. The companies like to use traffic conditions as an excuse for the inconsistency of frequencies, especially when the waiting time differs greatly from the information provided at the bus stop. But my argument is that a service planning without taking traffic into consideration is poor planning, there is no excuse why a transport company cannot take traffic into consideration when it plans for its service. Furthermore, if frequency differs a lot, it is tantamount to cheating. And low frequency starts at the bus interchange itself. Ask anyone who takes the bus service 700/700A from Bukit Panjang Interchange and one will know how disparate the bus service is compared to the other bus services. I am sure we can all come out with examples ourselves. (Maybe we should even start a blog that documents theses) It is just simply poor planning in the guise of many things.

2. Lazy bus drivers. This is a problem for bus services that loop around in town. I do not understand what gives bus drivers the right to assume that they can skip bus stops just because they will be looping around town and therefore assume that no one will take the bus from the bus stops before the loop. This happens a lot of time when I tried to take NR3 and 700A back home. This laziness is seen even more when you see bus drivers can't even be bothered to ask commuters to move to the rear (the haunted rear syndrome) when buses get crowded. This is simply ridiculous. They know how to catch people when they forget to tap their ezlink card but don't know how to do these.

3. Lousy bus and train maintenance. It is very frustrating at times to sit in a bus and realise that the bus bell near you can't work when the bus is arriving at your destination. It is also very frustrating at times when you realise that trains sometime are stuffy, only because the air con is spoilt and SMRT can't be bothered to repair.

Now tell me, in the midst of these problems, why didn't commuters see an improvement? After all, SMRT and SBS 'uses' the profits to 'improve' the services, right?

Nationalised public transport won't run well: Lui 
By Kor Kian Beng 
THE Ministry of Transport (MOT) has weighed in on expected fare hikes later this year, saying a process is already in place to ensure that transport operators do not maximise profits at commuters' expense.
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew also rebutted a call by the opposition Workers' Party (WP) to nationalise public transport.
In a Facebook post yesterday evening, he said such a move would likely result in taxpayers and commuters paying more for poorer service.
Transport operators SBS Transit and SMRT Corp announced on Monday that they are seeking a fare increase.
That has sparked noisy debate, with some people asking why the companies are allowed to do so even though they are still making profits.
This year, the two operators have applied for an increase that will work out to a 2.8 per cent rise in total fares collected. That is the maximum allowed.
The Public Transport Council (PTC) has to approve any hike in fares. It bases its decision on a fare adjustment formula that factors in inflation, wage adjustments and productivity. The PTC also looks at the operators' profit levels.
The current formula is valid until next year. MOT yesterday said the PTC would review the formula for subsequent years.
Mr Cedric Foo, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, thinks the review should start this year, to prepare for its implementation next year. He noted that the current formula has been in place for six years.
'We do have sufficient experience with it to evaluate its efficacy in meeting our public transport objectives,' he added, and promised to consult the public and opposition parties as part of the review process.
In their responses, Mr Lui and MOT sought to explain why it was better to have commercial operators provide public transport services, rather than a national corporation as proposed by the WP.
The profit motive spurs commercial operators to be efficient and improve productivity, Mr Lui said. By contrast, a national corporation run on a cost-recovery basis would have little incentive to keep costs down, he said.
MOT said the experience of other cities shows that private operators are more efficient. That is why cities like Melbourne, Tokyo, Stockholm and Seoul either have or are moving towards commercial enterprises providing public transport services, it said in its statement.
It also urged the public not to view the two local transport operators' profits for each year in isolation. The operators need these profits for future investments in new buses and trains, it added.
In his post, Mr Lui also noted that public transport here is 'very heavily subsidised'.
The Government has invested $20 billion in the existing rail infrastructure and will invest another $60 billion in new rail lines by the end of the decade. However, it does not subsidise operational costs.
'What is important is to ensure that commuters' interests are safeguarded even as we have commercial enterprises run the public transport services,' Mr Lui said.
National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said the fare adjustment formula should be reviewed yearly as global and local economic conditions 'may change faster' than expected. He also suggested that the formula factor in service quality, to ensure that fare hikes are tied to better service.
Transport economist Michael Li of the Nanyang Business School suggested a fund to hedge against fluctuations in fuel prices. Transport operators often cite fuel price increases as one of the reasons to hike public transport fares.
Such a fund should be managed by the Government or an independent body, Dr Li said: 'That way, the operators won't have an excuse to raise fares when oil prices are up but not cut fares when oil prices are down, which commuters perceive to be unfair.'


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