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  1. What do you think? http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/penalties-crime-must-reflect-public-opinion-shanmugam Penalties for crime must reflect public opinion: Shanmugam SINGAPORE — How society feels about the punishment meted out in criminal cases has to be something the Government must pay heed to, but this does not equate to bowing to public pressure, said Law Minister K Shanmugam. This is because, if penalties do not reflect the weight of public opinion and people do not find them fair, the law would lose its credibility and would not be enforceable, he added. “You enhance the penalty (for a certain law) to reflect what people feel is the right penalty, what conduct should be more severely punished — that is not bowing down; that is understanding where the weight of public opinion is,” said Mr Shanmugam in an exclusive interview with TODAY last week. He added: “(Paying attention to public expression) is important because these people represent the ground feelings ... Penalties and criminal laws can only be enforced if people believe that they are fair and that certain conduct ought to be made criminal ... Otherwise they lose credibility.” Reviews of laws for a string of offences have been announced by Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, in recent days, including some in high-profile cases that attracted close public attention, and even outcry. For instance, he directed his ministries to relook the sentences for sex offenders such as Joshua Robinson, a mixed martial arts instructor who had sex with two 15-year-olds and showed an obscene film to a six-year-old. The American was sentenced to four years’ jail, which was deemed too light by some — an online petition calling for a harsher sentence has since garnered almost 30,000 signatories. In a Parliament sitting earlier this month, Mr Shanmugam said reviews of the laws relating to the abuse of foreign domestic workers was also being conducted. While he did not cite any specific cases, news of the review came in the wake of a Singaporean couple who starved their maid, causing her weight to plunge from 49kg to 29.5kg in 15 months. The man was sentenced to three weeks’ jail and a S$10,000 fine while his wife was sentenced to three months’ jail. Public outcry over penalties in individual cases do not necessarily lead to a review of the laws, Mr Shanmugam stressed, noting that reviews have been announced by ministries for laws in cases that did not attract any public attention. Drugs, drink-driving, and false and malicious allegations against public officers are some offences that have been flagged recently for review. He said: “Even without public expression, when I see a sentence (and if) I see these needs to be looked at ... (where) I feel need a review, I announce them. And that is our job.” But, he noted: “When there is a reaction to a sentence by the public, as in the Joshua Robinson case, then I think it is important for us as policymakers to sit down and understand why people are upset ... It is important because these people represent the ground feelings — they are mothers, they are sisters, they are people who want their children to be safe.” He added: “But it doesn’t mean automatically you agree with it. You must assess it, whether it is also fair. So, there are two parts to it — one, whether it is fair; two, what does the public believe is right.” In a similar way to how he had urged the public against personal attacks on the High Court judges who recently reduced the sentences of six City Harvest Church leaders for misappropriating church funds, Mr Shanmugam said the announcement of reviews for laws should not be taken as an indictment of the work of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). The Public Prosecutor can only apply the law of the day and it is up to the Government to decide what the laws and penalties ought to be, he noted. “It is the task of the Government to decide what is the appropriate legislative provision. And that is the mixture of ... what is fair, what is right and also where is the weight of public opinion.” A deputy public prosecutor, who declined to be named, had reservations about reviews being announced soon after a case concludes in court. “When the Government says these things, it ties our hands,” he said. A former prosecutor, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that while public perception is a “relevant” concern, it “must not be the overriding consideration”. “Otherwise we may run the risk of undermining the rule of law with mob justice ... In my view, it would help if the AGC engages the public more actively and explains its decisions,” said the lawyer, who is now practising in a private firm. “This way, concerns of bowing to political pressure of public opinion would be allayed to some degree.” Lawyers TODAY interviewed agreed there was nothing wrong with public uproar leading to legislative reviews. Mr Sunil Sudheesan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said: “The Government ultimately is a servant of the people. And if people are legitimately outraged (over a particular court sentence), then it should be of concern to the Government.” He added that the Ministry of Law reviews a whole host of laws, noting “it just happens there has been a number of high profile cases lately”. Legislative reviews are also a “product” of a more vocal and involved citizenry, said Mr Sudheesan. “I hope and trust that the engagement between the authorities and the public carries on for a long time ... The public should continue to speak up.”
  2. Hi all, I seldom post a lot and am currently looking to change my ride. I'd like to seek opinions from bros and automotive aficionados here on the above mentioned 3 models of SUV. I know all 3 are rather different in terms of branding or engine power or even comfort levels, but due to my limited knowledge on the available SUVs in this price range 300k+/-, these are the 3 that I can think of. I'm torn between these 3 for my next purchase and would like to find out more the pros and cons of the above 3. Am currently driving an Audi so thinking of changing to something fresh too. Would like to seek some opinions and reviews from bros here especially those who own the above 3 makes to share a little more into it. And also to find out which would be a better buy. Thanks in advance, and looking forward to your reviews and advise, cheers!
  3. Chinese New Year is coming in 2 days time. A lot of places have put up Chinese New Year decorations since last month to spice up the festive mood. They can be seen in many places, especially shopping malls. Which place/s do you think has the best Chinese New Year decorations this year? What do you think of the modern designs decorations for the recent years?
  4. Hey everybody, I'm thinking of giving the park and ride scheme a shot on an adhoc basis. Have any of you tried it? What's your experience like? How early do you reach the carpark and is it difficult to get lots (since it's first come first served)? I'm going to be working at raffles place for a couple of months and plan to park my car either at the park and ride carpark near buona vista MRT or near queenstown MRT at about 8.15-8.25am in the morn before taking MRT to raffles place.
  5. Scb11980

    Sembcorp Industries - Any opinion

    Sembcorp Industries Last Price: $4.31 -0.92% -0.04 Company Profile: Sembcorp Industries is an energy, water and marine group operating in 19 countries across six continents worldwide. The group has facilities with 5,600 megawatts of gross power capacity and over six million cubic metres of water per day in operation and under development. It is also a leader in marine and offshore engineering, as well as an established developer of integrated townships and industrial parks. The group has total assets of over S$10b and employs over 8,500 employees. Listed on the main board of the Singapore Exchange, it is a component stock of the Straits Times Index and several MSCI indices. What we think: Company has healthy long-term fundamentals within the O&M space (61% stake in Sembcorp Marine). The stability and growth potential of its utilities business and robust balance sheet, which may allow the group to expand through M&A opportunity. Lastly, they are also expected to announce dividend payout of S$0.17 ps on 27 Feb 2012. ELN with 92% strike at $4.30 or lower (Interbank Yield 16%)
  6. Do u guys think its a good idea to buy a 06-08 mark X? After hearing my fren bad experience with his 2nd hand 5 series, im kinda afraid of buying cars tats older than 6 years old. But i heard mark x dun have much issues, maybe standard wear and tear items. Is servicing and replacement of wear and tear higher than normal cars? Im driving a SSS at the moment and everything is pretty cheap. I also heard that mark x is very accident prone, as the car tend to fishtail due to rwd. I always drive my dad's merc around ( also rwd ) and i think the car is still pretty safe to corner etc, however i read around the forums and people are saying that mark x handling is very bad. anyone with experience driving 1 can enlighten me? What is fc like? im guessing 10-11km/hr? I does about 80% highway every day. Last questions, just asking purely for fun, how come never heard of people lup a bolt on turbo onto a mark X? i can imagine the power it could generate...
  7. http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=512815&DL=2742 Is this a good buy? I have tried googling for the problems of this car (or BMW hybrids), but I am unable to find many bad reviews. So why is this depreciation so much lower than a 335? Even activhybrid 5 is cheaper than a 535.
  8. Hi, need some opinion from experts here as I have no experience buying a used car. Right now, I got my eye on a 2009 Honda Civic and have some doubts about the finance and reputation of the deal. I intend to pay full cash without any loan. Understanding that such arrangement would means that the price be mark up in a way. What is the norm market mark up for this case. They mark up my price around $2k. They propose a loan of half of purchase and mentioned for 4 yrs but I make full settlement after the 6th month without any penalty from the bank. But a repayment of unused interest of 70% to 80%. Is it so? I saw this particular car twice on the internet on SGcarmart. The first is sold and now the ad is opened again. Is there any reason for me to be careful of. Heard a lot of scams outside by second dealers a lot.
  9. http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/alwyn-lau/article/my-year-in-singapore This is the personal opinion of the columnist. Alwyn is enduring a doctorate in Political Philosophy. His day job involves making teaching less painful. He also torments Sociology students on occasion. He blogs at wyngman.blogspot.com. MARCH 30 -- It was a dream job. 2001. I joined a banking project in Singapore. One time I was on this flight, there was this anorexically challenged guy bragging about his job in Kiasu-land... someone (stupidly) asked him in what currency he was paid, he answered so loudly even the Changi control tower could have heard it, “I’M PAID IN SING DOLLARS!” Wow. The almighty SGD. That elixir of life every KL exec hopes to drink from. That potion of success which Malaysians can’t wait to “quietly” inform their peers of. It’s like a Rolex which causes us to, uh, roll up our sleeves and wave our hands more often? Anyway, so there I was. A year in Singapore. About 50 weeks longer than the usual fortnightly vacations I’d take to see my cousins there when I was younger. There are many things a Malaysian would greet with relief across the Causeway, and I was no exception. I mean, where do I start? No more policemen hiding under flyovers (Singapore police, so I heard, also “hide” but it’s WAY more clandestine and sexy than the way “Bersih, Cekap & Amanah” does it). No more train or bus queues which stretch to the moon and back. No more roads and corridors with rotten food strewn all over, barely a few feet from the trash cans. No more chewing gum and cigarette smoke. No more waits at government departments during which one could do a Masters degree. No more traffic jams because no need to drive; indeed, no need to even think about buying a car as the very phrase “Certificate of Entitlemeent” is liable to cause brain damage. Voice as symptom So yeah. Nice. But then there were some “anomalies.” I noticed that practically everyone I was dealing with at work… was Malaysian. I noticed that very few people exhibited the natural kind of relaxation (or even joy) one “feels” in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hanoi, etc. As in, most folks in Singapore appear to be either rushing somewhere or stressed out about something. Why? (Seriously—why?) I also noticed that if shopping in KL was rated 4-star, then in Singapore shopping was a bleedin’super-NOVA. Orchard Road makes Jalan Bukit Bintang look like an alleyway in Batang Berjuntai. Also, the “voice” coming from the Singapore MRT trains, the one which announces the next station, sounds like a dude who just crawled across the Sahara with a knife stuck in his back and with barely a drop of water left in his larynx. Dhoby Ghaut sounds like “dubbigot” with the volume turned down and the spirit turned lower. This phenomenon echoed the fact that Singaporeans are (officially?) among the most unhappy people on the planet. Compare this to our Malaysian trains. The way the LRT voice says Kelana JAYA!! it’s like the girl hit a SPM home-run of 14 As and Khairy Jamaluddin just proposed to her… all in the same day. Damn, after hearing that kind of announcement I tell myself I have to get off at this stop. Another problem. To be fair this isn’t entirely a Singaporean thing; it’s really more a Chinese thing, IMO: the crazy late nights. The company I joined had this paradoxical habit, not at all helped by the project being based in what’s affectionately known as Kiasu-land: Everbody knew that if you want to be in the bosses’ good books, you can’t leave a MINUTE earlier than 8pm. People who leave before 6pm have to cover their faces like convicts. It didn’t matter whether you did any work at all between 9am and 5pm; in fact, it would beirrational to slog from the morning because you’d be too tired to carry on till 8pm. The nett result? You had dozens of (relatively well-paid) executives “taking it easy” in the morning and afternoon, only to raise their game between 5pm and 8pm. Why? Because this made them look great for appraisal purposes. Sure, the projects were still on time. Sure, people were still working. Sure, the money was still coming in. But “beneath” it all was a lie; the efficiency was supported by mass deception and feigning. And stress was unnecessarily high with relationship-time, obviously, being unhelpfully low (everyone left after 8pm, remember?). Was this attitude symptomatic of the island-state? Things look great, clean and prosperous on the outside but people keep mum about certain strange things? It’s all great until it’s not Of course we know what else happened in 2001. I was at Morton’s when the first plane hit. And I was sitting in my Toa Payoh condo staring in disbelief as both the towers came crashing down. 9/11. An act of war, literally, out of the blue. The very thought that any nation would bomb the heart of American capitalism was – until that fateful day - funny. Given the US’ military invincibility, its geographical distance from Europe and the Mid-East, was it impossible for a mega-structure like the Twin Towers to be taken down within a few hours? I think there’s a lesson here for Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew’s methods and policies have brought wealth, resilience and stature to the island-state. Education-wise, Singaporeans are in a league of their own. As a financial hub? Heck, it’s playing a different sport from the rest of ASEAN. So everything’s okay – until they’re not okay. It’s like, the United States is safe – until two airplanes get hijacked and used as missiles. Despite an internationally enviable GDP, Singaporeans are by and large still gloomy. I don’t care so much for “happiness” but if we lack joy (not the same thing) then things can’t be that good. In a twisted way, perhaps the island-state’s greatest strength is also its biggest risk. Lee Kuan Yew’s proudest legacy may also mirror his most hazardous one : An obsessive drive for success, both political and economic. I left the island in December 2001. I don’t regret working there but I don’t regret leaving either. In a sense, I’m thankful that my year in Singapore taught me much. One of the best lessons is one I’ve had to relearn over and over again: We can succeed, make money, be respected – but at what price? And most critically, when will the bill arrive?
  10. dear all, whats your analysis of the near future ( next 6 mths ) and long term new & used car prices given the new measures and rulings applied ?? seems like 2nd hand used cars are not likely to hold high price anymore and will dive south inevitably given that people who buy used car are unlikely to afford huge cash downpayment upfront. hear news say dealers now even dangle 10% discount in negotiations to get buyer to bite !! Of cos , new cars will still depend on the COE prices........ comments ???
  11. Hi all Seek some opinions here. Currently driving a 2008 car of overpriced brand. based on the selling price now, if i let go of the car now i should be able to make profit. However if COE continue to slide further of cos i wont be making as much. Was just thinking should i just use the profit and cash out a 2006-7 lower brand car without instalments. Come 2016-17 and just go for brand new. Instalments now is ard 1.5k but its still in my comfortable range, depreciation is around 15k per year. Based on some preliminary sums it seems like a logical thing to do since the depreciation is high, provided COE drops to saner level like 40-50k in 2016-7.
  12. Ahrex

    Opinions On Used Euro Van

    Hi all, I am thinking of getting a eurovan for daily usage and looking at the below choices.. whats your opinion on the following choices with regards to reliability? on a tight budget so can only consider the following.. http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=438473&DL=1288 http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=439962&DL=1000 http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=438474&DL=1000 http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=437395&DL=2717 http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=414364&DL=2615 http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=431120&DL=2286 http://www.sgcarmart.com/used_cars/info.php?ID=437271&DL=1019 will really appreciate your input on opinions..
  13. Kueijie

    Which car is better?

    Hi guys, I'm looking ard to replace my current ride. 2 options i'm considering now, need some "expert" opinion. lol 1) Apr 2006 Toyota Vitz 1.0A 78,000km due to OPC $23,800 to convert to normal plate 2) Oct 2005 Mazda 2 1.5A 79,000km $18,800 I would like to understand, which have better FC and would have better chance to last me till 10th year. Quite interested in the Toyota Vitz, but kind of worry abt the accerlation/horse/drag power if i got full passengers on board.
  14. Strudel-

    Opinion on "New" Cars

    Da Jia Hao, Following my unfortunate accident, my car has been written off by the insurance company which left me with $30k to buy another car. Below are some options which I am looking at but would like to get some opinion from people who got first hand experience of the car 1) BMW 335i (high ks) http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/BMW-335i-2007/SSE-AD-2715401/?Cr=16&sdmvc=1 http://www.carsales.com.au/dealer/details/BMW-335i-2007/AGC-AD-16361523/?Cr=2&sdmvc=1 http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/BMW-335i-2007/SSE-AD-3070178/?Cr=1&sdmvc=1 2) BMW 525i http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/BMW-525i-2006/SSE-AD-2881388/?Cr=2&sdmvc=1 3) BMW 530d http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/BMW-530d-2006/SSE-AD-2753821/?Cr=1&sdmvc=1 4) Honda Accord Euro Luxury http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/Honda-Accord-Euro-2008/SSE-AD-903713/?Cr=0&sdmvc=1 http://www.carsales.com.au/private/details/Honda-Accord-Euro-2010/SSE-AD-3060143/?Cr=14&sdmvc=1 My previous car was a 1995 R33 Skyline GT-R. Apart from the extensive list of electronics/parts in the BMW, I believe I can cope with the service cost. I would think the the straight 6 engine and whole car is fairly reliable. A close friend also confirm that. He runs a garage and work a lot on Conti so servicing should be ok. However he's still quite young (early 30s) so maybe his experience is limited (which is why I'm posting here). The usual water pump replacement is ok (1k+) and I am after is big cost items like 2k or 3k repair cost from private garage (not dealers). I found some oil leak issue but it seems like a cheap and easy fix by replacing seals and o-rings. I would love the 335i and not fussy with old cars but not sure if thats the right choice at that sort of mileage. Please try not to add to the list because these 4 cars already giving me a headache. Will be test driving them all over this week and hopefully I'll narrow it down to 1 or 2. The Euro Lux is really there for cheap comfort with heaps to pocket. Running cost will be low being 4 cyclinders. Australia car rego (road tax) is based on cyclinders, $900 for 6 cyc and $650 for 4. Insurance will be around $1k for any of the BMW and around $650 for the Honda per year. If the 335 is reliable, I will take that silver m sport for sure at that price. Gam xia.
  15. PREVENTION is considered the best approach to modern healthcare. Instead of treating a health issue when it occurs, it is more effective to prevent it from occurring in the first place. The same goes for our rail network. To maintain the health of this vital service, it is important for the operators, Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) and SBS Transit, to take on the role of doctor by checking the network's pulse and reacting swiftly if it misses a beat. Singapore has grappled with disruptions to train services in recent months, including a delay on the North-South Line in January that affected some 19,000 commuters during the peak-hour rush. With an expanding yet aging network that now carries more than 2.5 million passengers a day, it is even more important to undertake regular health checks. SMRT and SBS do undertake regular rail infrastructure upgrades, although often as a result of deterioration and service disruptions. Earlier this year, 120km of the Circle Line's power cables were replaced following power outages in 2011 and 2012. In February 2013, 1,600 U-bolts holding up the North-East Line's power lines were also swapped after corrosion resulted in disruptions in early and mid-2012 and early 2013. But it is encouraging to see that operators are starting to proactively monitor the network's pulse to detect issues before they arise. Implementing a Big Analog Data™ system - which enables physical data such as train speed, vibration and heat levels to be remotely collected, analysed and converted into digital data - will allow operators to identify and fix issues before they even occur. The cost savings from such adaptive learning techniques will also be much more significant compared to post-breakdown maintenance. Plans are in place to upgrade the network to develop a fully integrated, multifunctional monitoring system, which will enable early detection of issues and reduce the risk of outages, with some trains on the North-South and East-West lines already equipped to collect real-time measurements and statistics and identify problems as they run. Real-time data detection devices could greatly support network functionality and maintenance as part of a broader system covering all lines, but like preventative measures to improve personal health will take time to implement and take effect. Issue-specific monitoring In France, the Régie Autonome de Transports Parisiens (RATP) recently renewed its maintenance monitoring process. RATP operates the city metro and the regional express network (RER) which transport around three billion passengers a year, making it one of the most widely used public transport networks in the world. One of the key issues facing the RATP is rail movement, with environmental factors such as changes in temperature impacting the position of the rails. This means that RATP needs to constantly monitor rail position, a cumbersome process which was carried out manually until 2011. Three years later Railshift, a completely autonomous system for acquiring, processing, analysing and reporting data was implemented on a segment of the RER to monitor rail movement. Twelve measuring stations were set up to capture rail positions and monitor movement, using image processing and analytical technology. Track position measurements are analysed and e-mail alerts are distributed when a critical threshold is reached, enabling service crews to attend to issues before they become larger problems that could disrupt services. Automating track position reading has not only made data analysis more regular, but has also made the process safer for operators, as manual interaction with the track is no longer required, particularly when the trains are running. Image processing is also available through the application to take instantaneous measurements of larger areas of infrastructure, saving time and money. The implementation of the measuring stations has proved to be so successful that RATP has planned to install another eight new measuring stations. Holistic condition monitoring Another example of the benefits of using integrated remote access monitoring systems is in Holland where VolkerRail carries out maintenance work across the country's rail network, during which it is required to maintain a minimum railway operating time, or face hefty fines. To deliver the required up-time, VolkerRail installed an online condition monitoring system at the most critical points across the network, including tracks and level crossings. The system has now been running for over two years. A server stores all the data in a database. On this server, queries run constantly to detect event failure patterns, show trends and send text message alarms to surveillance teams. By taking multiple measurements and monitoring them over time, VolkerRail is able to track the current "health" of the infrastructure. Automatic analysis of trends enables VolkerRail to detect potential problems and have the maintenance crew attend to them before they cause service disruptions. Being able to pinpoint the location and time an issue occurs also help in ascertaining the likely cause, decreasing downtime during repair. Within a year, more than 200 complex monitoring systems were installed across Holland's rail network to track the status of rail infrastructure. Singapore's rail network will continue to expand in line with the Land Transport Authority's plan to double the length of the national rail network to 360kms by 2030. We simply cannot miss the train when it comes to service reliability and commuter safety. With proactive planning and investment in equipment that allow SMRT and SBS to monitor its pulse, we too can have a fully integrated, real-time monitoring system to help keep the network's health on track. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG by Chandran Nair The writer is managing director, South-east Asia, National Instruments. Since 1976, National Instruments (www.ni.com) has equipped engineers and scientists with tools that accelerate productivity, innovation and discovery
  16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKI9l8YrhtI&feature=youtu.be what do you all think of this accident ah?
  17. IT SEEMS obvious by now that the Government's handling of housing issues has been the most successful of several outstanding policy issues. At least, this is going by the results of a recent Straits Times survey on key election issues and their progress since the 2011 General Election. By contrast, government policies on transport issues have yet to resonate. What factors have led to the success in housing policy? What lessons can be applied to transport issues? Three points come to mind. They are: Targeting different social groups more carefully, being relevant, and implementing policies that the targeted groups can readily understand and appreciate. The challenge is to fine-tune policies to meet the needs of different groups more closely. For housing, the different groups included the first-time flat seeker, the sandwiched middle class, singles, and marginalised groups such as single mothers and divorcees with children. For first-time flat seekers, for whom a backlog had already built up, focused policies included building a record number of flats. The move was so successful that within three years, a balance was restored. The average application rate for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats fell from 5.3 per applicant in 2010 to a low of 2.9. A special subsidy was provided for households earning $2,250 or less, with eligible buyers limited to two-room or three-room flats. The Government also expanded its Special Housing Grants to households earning less than $6,500 a month. Applicants could opt for a four-room flat and still qualify for up to $20,000 more in subsidies. There was also the slew of policies related to the rental market, which made it accessible to a wider range of households (and not just lower-income groups). Competition for flats from permanent residents was reduced by making the latter wait for three years after getting their residency. Citizens felt good that they had been given priority. The Housing Board also de-linked new-flat prices from those of resale flats to stabilise BTO flat prices. There was a concerted effort to address the cash-over-valuation component. This was removed completely in the resale market. The move was particularly helpful for young couples, who could take only smaller loans and found it difficult to pay out additional cash. All these measures were announced in quick succession. The cooler market that resulted helped meet citizen expectations. Each group felt attended to, and that created a feel-good, positive attitude. But what about the transport sector? Here, commuters are challenged by overcrowded trains and buses. There is intense competition for road space among cars, buses, taxis, bicycles and pedestrians. Vehicle owners are frustrated with the prices of certificates of entitlement (COEs), which vary with market forces and the growth of the car population. Public anger is compounded when public-listed transport companies report profits, while overcrowding, rail breakdowns and delayed buses are the norm. To be fair, the Government has taken action to improve the situation. It announced several concessions for commuters. Plans are on track to have more trains and to build more lines. Bus commuters will enjoy the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme and efforts to make bus services more regular. For car owners, there will be a review of the carbon emissions-based vehicle scheme. Cyclists will see more bicycle racks to secure 3,000 bicycles at 32 MRT stations. Pedestrians can enjoy more sheltered linkways and lifts at 40 pedestrian overhead bridges. And yet, these excellent, far-reaching policies have made little impression on the public. Why? I believe that unlike in housing, where each measure can be seen to be directly linked to a specific group, transport measures have appeared piecemeal. Transport policymakers must clearly define the various groups they need to address and formulate policies to help each group. Policymakers also need to explain how each set of changes will improve the lot of the various commuters or motorists involved. Take one category of disgruntled commuters: Those who travel by taxi. They want changes to work in their favour immediately. Taxi charges in Singapore are among the most complicated in the world. Surcharges often lead to unintended consequences. The midnight surcharge has led to taxis "disappearing" close to midnight. Surcharges and electronic road pricing charges have kept taxis from the Central Business District, where they are most needed, especially during peak periods. And yet, cabbies complain that they often cruise with their cabs empty. In fact, a solution is nigh. Why not allow and promote the usage of mobile phone taxi-booking apps? Taxi apps offered by third parties like GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi, MoobiTaxi and Uber match cabbies directly with commuters. These apps may appear to be disruptive technology from the point of view of existing taxi companies, which have invested heavily in their call centres. But they cater to taxi commuters' needs. Then, there are public transport commuters. One segment that has been marginalised due to accessibility or high fares are the lower-income, the disabled, the elderly and students. The Government has identified this segment as needing help, and has set aside about $50 million a year for fare concessions. But are these measures enough? Besides incremental gains, there should be transformational policies to bring about the tipping point that was seen in the housing issues. Look for a nexus that resonates. For example, why not use money collected from COEs to support bus and train commuters, and to help meet the needs of special groups like the elderly, students and the disabled? COE quota premiums are a relatively stable source of revenue. For buses, why not allow more private operators like City Direct to operate bus services, to compete with the existing transport companies? Building on the growing public acceptance of transport improvements and concessions, look seriously at structural issues to bring on the kudos from commuters. For now, the policy initiatives have yet to come together in a more impactful way to resonate with people. -- ST FILE PHOTO by Basskaran Nair The writer, a retired public relations professional, teaches media and public policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.
  18. Does traffic congestion affect the price of housing? YES, traffic congestion can impact a flat's price but whether the impact is positive or negative depends on how far the flat is from the central business district (CBD). It is well known, by economists and laymen alike, that housing located in city centres is generally more expensive than housing on the periphery. Much of this price differential, or location premium, arises because the city centre is where most economic, cultural and recreational activities take place. Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas, for example, writes: "Production is centred on the city centre, and people live at differing distances from their jobs. In choosing a residential location, households face a trade-off between expensive land near the centre with small travel times, and cheap land farther out with large travel costs. Everyone who has looked for housing in any city or suburb knows the reality of this trade-off." In Singapore, housing in and around the CBD also enjoys an extremely high location premium. For example, for the period 2002-2012, the price of a private resale flat in Clementi was on average about $490 less per square foot than one in River Valley, which is about 9km closer to the CBD. Resale prices were even lower in Choa Chu Kang, which is an additional 5km farther away from the CBD than Clementi and nearly $625 less per square foot than in River Valley. Because much of the location premium is driven by travel costs, it is not surprising that this premium changes when commuting costs, such as the price of petrol or ERP rates, change. For example, one United States study found that a US$1 increase in the price of petrol reduces the value of the average commuter's home by US$5,000 (S$6,300) relative to a home near employment opportunities. Traffic congestion, however, is an area of commuting costs that has been largely neglected by economists. Clearly, the greater the traffic congestion, the longer it takes to get to work. This situation not only imposes a time cost but also a psychological cost. Hence, greater traffic congestion should increase the location premium as the additional costs increase people's willingness to pay more to live closer to the CBD. Differences in average prices in different locations, while informative, do not just reflect the location premium. Many other factors also affect flat prices. For instance, housing near the CBD might be more luxurious than houses elsewhere. Some areas may be more industrialised than others. Thus, to correctly measure the true causal effect of traffic congestion on the location premium, any analysis will have to remove the complicating effects of these types of different factors. In our research, we eliminated these factors by using two specialised statistical techniques. The first technique compares price changes of flats that are sold at least twice in the resale market. Since housing characteristics such as flat size or afternoon facing do not change over time, these factors should not contribute to any price change from the first to the second time the flat was sold. They are thus eliminated from the analysis. The second technique, called instrumental variables estimation, uses variables called instruments that influence traffic congestion, such as the number of expressways in Singapore, but have no direct impact on any other factors that affect housing price. Because the instruments move independently of the confounding factors, we can be sure that any co-movement in traffic congestion and the location premium are not capturing any effects of the confounding factors. In short, if we find that resale prices away from the CBD increase faster than in and around the CBD when there is more traffic congestion, then these statistical techniques ensure that it is traffic congestion, and not other factors, that causes the location premium to increase. The results of a study we conducted using data from 2002 to 2012 show that the average peak-hour expressway speed, our measure of traffic congestion, does indeed have a sizeable effect on the location premium. A flat 3km from the CBD appreciates 1.5 per cent more than one in the CBD when expressway speed increases by 1 per cent. A flat 10km away from the CBD would see an even greater payoff, appreciating nearly 5 per cent more than a flat in the CBD. Conversely, if expressway speeds slow and traffic congestion increases, the price of housing in the CBD will increase relative to housing in the suburbs. It is informative to consider what these numbers mean for particular flats. An increase in peak-hour expressway speed from 63km per hour, the recent historical average, to 64 kmh results in housing in Kallang, about 3km from the CBD, appreciating by $17 per square foot more than housing in the CBD. In other words, a 1,500 sq ft flat in Kallang would see more than a $25,000 increase in value compared with a similar flat in the CBD simply because of the change in expressway traffic. In Ang Mo Kio, about 10km from the CBD, prices would increase by $27 per square foot, and a 1,500 sq ft flat would appreciate by about $40,000. Due to data limitations, we were not able to measure the impact of traffic congestion on HDB housing. Nevertheless, the theory would suggest that HDB resale prices should follow a similar pattern. -- ST FILE PHOTO by Eric Fesselmeyer and Haoming Liu for The Straits Times The first writer is a senior lecturer and the second is an associate professor in the Department of Economics, National University of Singapore. Background story This is a monthly series by the NUS Economics Department. Each month, a panel will address a topical issue. If you have a burning question on economics, write in to stopinion@sph.com.sg with "Ask NUS" in the subject field.
  19. ST_Opinion

    Changing fortunes of rail and bus

    RESULTS of the 2013 Public Transport Customer Satisfaction Survey reveal a rare phenomenon: Commuters are becoming less enchanted with the megabucks MRT system and are warming up to humble buses. For the first time since the survey started in 2006, the percentage of respondents satisfied with the MRT fell below 90 per cent. At 88.9 per cent, it was 3.2 points lower than the results of the 2012 survey. If the survey of 4,200-plus commuters is statistically representative of the estimated 1.5 million MRT users here, that potentially translates to nearly 50,000 who shifted from "satisfied" to "not satisfied" within 12 months. At the same time, satisfaction with buses rose by 1.9 points to a three-year high of 88.3 per cent, which means the gap between those who are satisfied with the MRT and those contented with buses is at its narrowest. Ridership figures reflect the shifting sentiment. Last year, MRT ridership grew at its slowest pace in a decade, according to Land Transport Authority (LTA) data. It inched upwards by 3.9 per cent to 2.62 million a day - less than half the annual average growth rate in the last 10 years. At the same time, bus ridership climbed 3.4 per cent last year to 3.6 million a day - nearly three times its average growth rate since 2003. Again, the difference between the two growth rates is at its narrowest in a decade. Possibly the narrowest since the first MRT trains started running more than 25 years ago. Although it is too early to say if this is the start of a trend, it is, on its own, a stark contrast with generally shrinking bus ridership elsewhere. In the United States, for instance, public transport ridership hit 10.7 billion trips last year - its highest in six decades. But the growth was fuelled solely by rail, reported Reuters. Bus ridership on the whole actually shrank. In Singapore, reasons for the changing fortunes of the two modes of transport are quite apparent. The service level of trains took a dip after the two massive breakdowns of December 2011. On top of increasingly packed carriages, train speeds have fallen as operators carry out infrastructural improvement works to raise reliability. Along some stretches, trains sometimes crawl at monorail speeds, resulting in delayed arrivals that are equivalent to those caused by minor mechanical breakdowns. And while the number of short disruptions has fallen since 2011, the number of major breakdowns has not. On average, disruptions lasting more than an hour averaged one every 2.4 months last year, versus every three months in 2012 and every two months in 2011. In January this year, there were already two such incidents. Buses, on the other hand, became more attractive to commuters since a state-funded fleet expansion plan started injecting more buses in late-2012. The $1.1 billion plan finances the purchase and operation of 550 buses over 10 years. More than 300 have been put on the road, with the remainder joining them by the end of this year. This week, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew announced that another 450 such buses will come onstream by 2017. By then, the entire public bus fleet would have grown by 35 per cent to 5,400 - all in just five years. Bus riders are likely to experience less crowding and shorter waiting times. The latter has already improved enough to be captured by the public transport satisfaction survey. "Waiting time saw the biggest jump in satisfaction from 54.2 per cent to 61.5 per cent," the LTA said of the poll. If last year's shift in ridership patterns is anything to go by, it would not be inconceivable for growth in bus trips to overtake MRT trips - at least until Downtown Line 2 starts running in 2017. All this attention on buses contrasts with the controversial "bus rationalisation exercises" Singapore used to undertake whenever new MRT lines were built in the past. From 1991 to 1994, some 140 bus services were either scrapped or heavily amended to avoid duplicating the young MRT system. In 2003, no fewer than a dozen routes were removed when the North East Line opened, upsetting thousands of Hougang and Serangoon residents. Besides SBS Transit and SMRT services, supplementary Scheme B buses - run by private operators - were also "rationalised". In hindsight, the policy to avoid duplication of resources was probably carried too far. With the spike in Singapore's population from 2004, and the slowdown of its rail expansion plans following the Nicoll Highway collapse the same year, the MRT system soon filled to the brim. And so did buses. When Mr Lui took over as Transport Minister in 2011, the first major announcement he made was on ramping up bus capacity "significantly". He said this was a priority, as new rail lines took several years to build. In 2012, the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme was announced. It was the first government subsidy of its kind for buses. Today, Mr Lui is doing more to reinstate the role of buses in the land transport ecosystem, even as plans are underway to double Singapore's rail network to 360km by 2030. Recognising that the bus fleet size is just one part of an equation to improve service, he is introducing contestability into the industry to keep operators on their toes. In Parliament this week, he gave the clearest sign yet that this fundamental change will come. He said the LTA is already using competitive tenders to choose operators of several special city and peak-hour services. "We are using these tenders to help us better understand the feasibility of extending bus tendering to the rest of the bus network, which we are committed to do," he said. Such a model - where a company runs a parcel of services for a fixed sum and the state owns all assets - will also allow bus operators to focus on meeting service standards without having to worry about managing profit margins. In the current set-up, Singapore's train and bus operators assume revenue risks, manage fluctuating costs such as fuel, and strike a delicate balance between pleasing shareholders and setting aside enough capital to keep operating assets in good condition. As recent history has amply shown, it is hard to focus on so many - often opposing - interests. Mr Lui has also made baby steps to coax buses to arrive at every bus stop within a minute of the scheduled timing. An operator that fails consistently will face fines, while one that meets targets will receive monetary incentives. If successfully carried out, this will lead to buses eventually becoming as predictable as the better train systems in the world. And even though rail will eventually be the backbone of our transport system, the role of buses should not be downgraded. After all, buses are more accessible (average 400m walk to a bus stop, versus 500m to 800m to an MRT station), generally more comfortable (more chances of seats, stronger air-conditioning), and they offer a better view than trains. And if one breaks down, another will come along shortly. Background story Last year, MRT ridership grew at its slowest pace in a decade. It inched upwards by 3.9 per cent to 2.62 million a day. At the same time, bus ridership climbed 3.4 per cent last year to 3.6 million a day - nearly three times its average growth rate since 2003. -- ST Illustration by MANNY FRANCISCO by Christopher Tan
  20. At a recent Chinese New Year lunch, a senior civil servant suggested that I write an article on why Singaporeans should give up their aspiration to own a car. Half-jokingly, I said I would - provided there was no major MRT incident for six months in a row. By "major", I meant incidents that disrupt service for more than 30 minutes each. The condition is fair and, in fact, is one I think train operators SMRT and SBS Transit should aim for. While it is unreasonable to expect machines to operate without a single glitch, it is reasonable to expect major incidents to be kept to a minimum. After all, rail systems are inherently robust and durable. And a system that is as new, short and costly as ours should have fewer breakdowns. For instance, breakdowns on the 125-year-old, 340km, 24-hour New York City subway average one every 260,000km operated. Singapore's 25-year-old, 180km network breaks down once every 120,000km. What is essential is a proper maintenance regimen, which train operators and regulators must nail down if the country is to promote public transport - which is intrinsically slower and less comfortable than the car - as a choice transport mode. And if a mode of transport cannot be as comfortable or speedy as the private car, it should at least be reliable. A major train breakdown impacts passengers travelling on the affected line as well as those in other parts of the rail network. Even minor incidents can trigger this ripple effect, but to a lesser extent. Not only that, a major incident calls for bus bridging, which can impact bus commuters and road users at large, when bus services are diverted to cater to stranded train passengers. That is why major incidents have to be minimised. And on this front, Singapore has some way to go. The total number of disruptions lasting more than five minutes in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were 393, 396 and 309 respectively. Disruptions lasting more than 30 minutes each fell from 11 in 2011 to eight in 2012. It remained at eight last year. For incidents lasting more than an hour, the figure went from six in 2011 to four in 2012, but rose to five last year. This year has not begun well for train operators. In January alone, there were three incidents lasting more than 30 minutes each. Of these, two stretched beyond an hour. These are not comforting numbers. Last year, more than 130,000 commuters were affected by disruptions lasting more than an hour, or about the same number in 2012. While the figures are far smaller than the 250,000 inconvenienced by major breakdowns in 2011, they are still significant - representing more than 10 per cent of train commuters. You could calculate the economic impact of such delays, but that would be irrelevant in today's argument. The crux of the issue is: How do you convince people they should not aspire to own a car, when the probability of them being caught in a major rail disruption is so significant? It is hard to quantify the cost of a delay, even if you can quantify the value of time. The confusion, the discomfort, the anxiety of not knowing when one can complete one's journey - these make up the anatomy of a delay. And being caught in one on a day when there is an all-important test or interview you cannot be late for can be devastating. Especially so for folks who cannot afford the luxury of a cab, and have to rely 100 per cent on public transport. The unhappiness over an MRT delay is arguably deeper than say, a bus delay, because of the high expectations commuters attach to rail travel. The frequency and punctuality of trains now far exceed standards attained by buses. Also, in some cases, a rail breakdown entails passengers walking on tracks or in tunnels - which can potentially be hazardous. Or to put it another way: How can drivers be persuaded to give up their cars when the rail network - the backbone of the public transport system - is in a state where there is one major incident every six to seven weeks? Consider, too, that even without major incidents, the system is straining at the seams. Packed carriages, crowded station platforms, lower operating speeds and patchy air-conditioning are recurring complaints. Frayed nerves and short fuses have become par for the course. Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, went as far as hypothesising that another major MRT breakdown, "combined with declining trust in public institutions", could result in "the perfect combination for a riot or two". He said that in an Opinion piece for this paper last April. Last week, he followed up with an article on how car ownership and usage rates seem to be dipping in the West - and why Singaporeans should take a leaf from that trend. I concur with his observations. But the reasons for the disenchantment with the car in the West are worsening congestion, parking woes and a growing environmental consciousness (especially among the young). These are not strong motivations here. In fact, they often do not apply. Compared to most major cities, the roads here are relatively free-flowing and parking is aplenty. And environmental concerns do not yet seem to rank high among people here - young or old. But the car's biggest attraction must be its speed and efficiency. Door-to-door journeys by car in Singapore is often less than half the average time taken by public transport. As long as this huge gap remains, the aspiration to own a car will remain. The balance, however, tilts substantially in favour of public transport if your points of origin and destination are both on the doorstep of an MRT station. Not only that, people living near stations are more likely to use public transport. According to the Land Transport Authority's latest Household Interview Travel Survey, among people who live within 400m of an MRT station, 71 per cent take public transport. The percentage drops to 67 per cent if the distance is 800m. And for those living beyond 2km of a station, only 55 per cent take public transport. As the rail network expands, more and more of us will live and work within walking distance of a station. By 2030, the network is expected to almost double to 360km, and 80 per cent of households should be within 10 minutes' walk to a station (up from around 60 per cent today). But the increased coverage will be quite meaningless if it is not paired with better reliability. On that score, it is good to know the Government and the transport operators are pulling out all the stops to fix things. It may take a while, but there is optimism that standards Singaporeans have come to expect can be re-established. And just for the record: The senior civil servant accepted my "challenge". Six months, no more than one breakdown over 30 minutes. The clock begins ticking in the Year of the Horse. -- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL by Christopher Tan
  21. Yesterday (19 Feb), Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan requested Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to direct the Auditor-General to conduct an audit of the opposition-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Councils (AHPETC) financial accounts. AHPETCs auditor, Foo Kon Tan Grant Thornton LLP, had earlier submitted a disclaimer of opinion on AHPETCs FY2012-13 financial statements, raising 13 issues of concern over the town councils accounts. Earlier, on 14 February 2014, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said that the auditors disclaimer of opinion is more severe than a qualified opinion [Link]. In yesterdays statement, the PAP government said that the observations in the auditors report raise serious questions about the reliability and accuracy of AHPETCs financial and accounting systems. This is the second year that the Auditor has submitted a disclaimer of opinion on AHPETCs Financial Statements. Moreover the Auditor has raised several more issues of pressing concern this year, compared to last year. AHPETCs Auditors Report and Financial Statements cause for serious concern. As it turns out, auditors have been giving an adverse opinion on the financial reports from the Peoples Association (PA) for several years now. PA oversees all the grassroots activities in Singapore. It is a statutory board under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCCY). The Chairman of PA is none other than PM Lee Hsien Loong himself. According to ACRA, there are a few types of audit opinions. A disclaimer of opinion means the auditor is unable to express an opinion on the financial statements but an adverse opinion means qualification of the financial report is not adequate to disclose the misleading or incomplete nature of the financial statements The auditor concludes that the financial statements give a true and fair view or are presented fairly, in all Opinion material respects, in accordance with the applicable financial reporting framework. Emphasis This is to highlight a matter affecting the financial o of matter statements which is included in a note to the financial (EOM) statements that more extensively discusses the matter. The addition of such an emphasis of matter paragraph does not affect the auditors opinion. Qualified This is expressed when the auditor concludes that an unqualified opinion cannot be expressed but that the Opinion* effect of any disagreement with management, or limitation on scope is not so material and pervasive as to require an adverse opinion or a disclaimer of opinion. Disclaimer It is expressed when the possible effect of a of Opinion* limitation on scope is so material and pervasive that the auditor has not been able to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence and accordingly is unable to express an opinion on the financial statements. It is expressed when the effect of a disagreement is Adverse Opinion* so material and pervasive to the financial statements that the auditor concludes that a qualification of the report is not adequate to disclose the misleading or incomplete nature of the financial statements. TRE has gone through PAs financial reports on its website and found the following: FY2007 (07/08) [Link] For FY2007, PA did not include the financial statements of grassroots organizations (GROs) operating under itself. The auditor could not assess the financial impact to the financial statements of the Association arising from the non-inclusion of the financial statements of the GROs. As such, the auditor gave an adverse opinion against PA because its financial statements [did] not present fairly the state of affairs of the Association: FY2008 (08/09) [Link] For FY2008, the same thing happened. The GROs financial statements were again omitted by PA. Again, the auditor gave an adverse opinion against PA because its financial statements [did] not present fairly the state of affairs of the Association: FY2009 (09/10) [Link] In FY2009, a new auditor, KPMG LLP, took over the audit of PA. The new auditor said, We do not have sufficient information to assess the financial impact to the financial statements of the Association arising from the non-inclusion of the financial statements of the GROs. As such, the new auditor also gave an adverse opinion: Then, the format for the online version of PAs financial reports for the next 3 years (FY2010 2012) changed [Link]. The public could no longer see the detailed opinions of the auditors. PA only published the financial highlights in these 3 reports. In other words, the financial reports became just financial summaries: FY2010 (10/11): http://www.calameo.com/read/000485916ba3dc3fdf3aa FY2011 (11/12): http://www.calameo.com/read/00209005895ae2db73d51 FY2012 (12/13): http://online.flipbuilder.com/nvbl/mstp/ TRE then went down to the National Library to attempt to get printed copies of PAs financial reports but the librarian was not able to find printed copies for the last 3 FYs (FY2010 2012). The library only has printed copies up to FY2009. The librarian told TRE to refer to the online versions instead. Not giving up, TRE did a further extensive online search and managed to find an online version of PAs FY2010 financial report. This copy was found on the Parliament website: FY2010 (10/11) [Link] Comparing this with the online version on PAs website [Link], they are essentially the same except that the one found on the Parliament website discloses the detailed opinion of the auditor at the end: Again, the auditor could only give an adverse opinion for PAs FY2010 financial report because the auditor [did] not have sufficient information to assess the financial impact to the financial statements of the Association arising from the non-inclusion of the financial statements of the GROs. The relationship between PA and PAP is very close. Mr Lee Kuan Yew once proudly said that the Chinese have been sending teams of officials to learn from Singapore for years: They discover that the Peoples Action Party has only a small office in Bedok. But everywhere they go, they see the PAP in the RCs (residents committees), CCCs (citizens consultative committees), and the CCs (community clubs). The operating expenditure of PA is huge. According to its latest financial report (FY2012), PAs operating expenditure for the year increased by $46 million to $483 million. Government grants which are taxpayers money given to PA amounted to $434 million in FY2012: Dr Ernest Kan, President of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) and Pasir Ris Punggol grassroots leader, had earlier agreed with MND that the audit findings on AHPETC are serious (President of ISCA: AHPETCs audit report serious). It is not known what Dr Kan has to say about PAs audit findings which have garnered adverse opinions from auditors. It is also not known if the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Lawrence Wong, will request Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to direct the Auditor-General to conduct an audit of PAs financial accounts, since PA comes under MCCY.
  22. ST_Opinion

    Big Idea No. 1: A 'less-car' Singapore

    In my January 2014 column, I said that Singaporeans should use 2014 to think of new Big Ideas to guide us for the next 50 years. Here is Big Idea No.1 for debate and discussion. Singapore will never be car-less, but it can and should have fewer cars. On reading this, the reader could be forgiven for thinking: ''Here goes Kishore again on his campaign to improve public transport in Singapore.'' However, this big idea is not about improving transportation. It is about improving the happiness of the Singapore population. Unhappy Singaporeans IT IS a well-known fact that the Singaporean population is not the happiest in the world. Singaporeans gripe, naturally and effortlessly. One good example of this was provided by a Straits Times article written after the Prime Minister had spoken to a group of students at the Nanyang Technological University on Jan 30. The article began with the following line: ''Nine out of 15 interviewed were concerned they won't be able to buy a flat and a car.'' The aspiration of the young for a flat is perfectly reasonable. But the aspiration of nine out of 15 for a car is not reasonable. Why not? The simple, direct and blunt answer is that if Singapore tries to squeeze the American dream - designed for a huge, almost boundless continent - into one of the tiniest countries in the world, it will effectively condemn its population to perpetual unhappiness. High car ownership ONE little known fact about Singapore is that it has one of the highest car ownership populations in the world for a city. (Repeat: For a city, and not for a country.) Mr Charles Chow, who blogs on transportation issues, says the following: ''There are roughly 550,000 to 600,000 private vehicles in Singapore. Forty-five per cent of households in Singapore own at least one car. This implies that out of the approximate 1.25 million households in Singapore, about 560,000 households have at least one car. There are 200,000 private dwellings in Singapore and slightly more than one million Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats. My simple back-of-the-envelope calculation therefore shows that more than 300,000 HDB or public housing dwellings own at least one car. Since HDB dwellings are heavily subsidised, the fact that they are also given abundant and cheap residential HDB carparks represent a further subsidy.'' Mr Chow also notes the contrast between Singapore and other cities: ''From London to Hong Kong, only the top 10 to 20 per cent of household dwellings come with carparks. Without a carpark, residents just simply cannot buy a car. In Singapore, the Government has so generously provided abundant and cheap residential carparking in the HDB estates over the years. From New York to Tokyo, office buildings are deliberately built with few or no carparks. ''In Singapore, that is not the case. Even middle managers can drive their cars to work and park their cars in office building carparks for the whole day.'' Having lived in New York for 10 years, I can only agree with Mr Chow when he says: ''Anyone who has lived in New York or Tokyo would know that even managing directors of companies, senior bankers and lawyers take public transportation to work. In Singapore, even middle-level executives working in Raffles Place drive to work. Is the Singaporean middle-level executive better paid than a senior banker in New York?'' Car ownership encouraged IN SHORT, in a country that has designed public policies to restrict car ownership (from the compulsory certificate of entitlement to high import taxes), Singapore has paradoxically ended up creating an environment that actually encourages rather than discourages car ownership. There are three ways in which Singapore encourages car ownership. Firstly, as the world's only city state, the Singapore Government wisely decided in its early years that the country would strangle itself to death as an economy if it allowed Bangkok-style traffic jams to clog our streets. But while Singapore has succeeded in creating free-flowing traffic, this has paradoxically made it rational to own a car. This is also why I own a car. I can get from my home in Siglap to my school in Bukit Timah in less than 20 minutes by driving. Any combination of public transport would take at least an hour each way. I save 80 minutes a day by driving. This provides a huge incentive to own a car. (My ultimate dream, however, is to forego owning a car. Instead, I would like to have a driverless electric vehicle - similar to the one the National University of Singapore is testing - appear at my home within 30 minutes of calling. As I learnt in Davos last month, I will be able to achieve this dream in my lifetime.) Secondly, by ensuring that car prices are among the highest in the world, Singapore has made the car one of the most important status symbols in Singapore. This explains the attraction of European car brands in Singapore. In most cases, a Japanese or Korean car can do the job of transportation equally well. But it will not enhance one's status. A European brand does. This is how we try to keep up with ''the Joneses'' in Singapore. Thirdly, as Mr Chow says, our subsidy of carparks in HDB estates makes it much easier and cheaper to own and park a car than it would be in New York, London, Tokyo or Paris. Since this subsidy has become entrenched in our society, it cannot be taken away. Any government that tries to take back perks that a population has become accustomed to is a government that wants to commit political suicide. It would be unfair to ask any government to do this. Bottom-up approach ALL this brings me to the most important point that I want to make in this article. Singapore has succeeded in its first 50 years because it had a government that thought carefully over the long term and crafted policies that would enhance the long-term interests of Singapore. This is why Singapore has free-flowing traffic. However, over the next 50 years, a new paradigm will be needed: What is needed now is a society where the people think carefully and advocate policies that are good for Singapore's long-term interests. In short, a bottom-up instead of a top-down approach is needed to solve the car problem of Singapore. In the first 50 years, Singapore had a government designing various policies to temper the desire for Singaporeans to own cars. Now, society needs to decide that since Singapore is one of the tiniest countries in the world, people should gradually give up the desire to own cars. Most Singaporeans reading this article would scoff at this notion. Let me share some good news here. In most developed countries, people are already using cars less, not more. Trend towards fewer cars AN ARTICLE from The Economist on Sept 22, 2012, provides some encouraging statistics. In the leading economies in the world (Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States) ''total vehicle kilometres travelled began to plateau in 2004 and fall from 2007; measured per person, growth flatlined sooner, after 2000, and dropped after 2004 before recovering somewhat''. According to World Bank data, passenger cars per 1,000 people in the US have been gradually declining since at least 2003, a trend which accelerated somewhat after the onset of the recession in 2008. Equally encouragingly, young people in the developed world are getting driver's licences later in life (or not at all). This is good news for congestion because, according to a study conducted in the UK, people who learn to drive in their late 20s drive less than if they had learnt in their late teens. Singaporeans are proud of the fact that the country has gone from ''Third World to First World'' faster than any other nation in human history. Now, for the next 50 years, Singapore has to catch up with the First World in terms of moving away from car ownership as a dream. In my next article - Big Idea No.2 - I hope to demonstrate it is possible to make Singapore No.1 in the world when it comes to public transportation. -- ST ILLUSTRATION : Manny Francisco by Kishore Mahbubani The writer is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. He is the author of The Great Convergence: Asia, The West, And The Logic Of One World, which has been long-listed for the 2014 Lionel Gelber Prize, described by The Economist as ''the world's most important award for non-fiction''.
  23. ST_Opinion

    Think big and bold to boost bus services

    The Government has been stepping up efforts to improve bus service standards. It started with the announcement in 2012 of a $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme, under which the state finances the purchase and operation of 550 additional public buses. By the end of this year, all of the new buses will be on the road. That was followed recently by a carrot-and-stick scheme to incentivise operators to keep "excess waiting time" to a minimum. The plan, the first of its kind here, will start with a two-year trial involving 22 services. And next year, a sophisticated satellite-tracked system that will forecast to the minute when a particular bus will arrive at any given stop. These are good moves, to be sure. But are they enough? More to the point, do they make a difference where it matters most: to commuters' bus journeys? Consider for example that the carrot-and-stick scheme - called the Bus Service Reliability Framework - will involve only 8 per cent of services here. And it is only a trial. Secondly, a satellite-tracked bus arrival forecasting system may be a technological marvel, but nothing beats having buses stick to a dependable bus timetable - whether the timetable is printed on plain paper or is available as a sophisticated app. Mr Bruno Wildermuth, a respected industry consultant, says a published bus timetable is a must. That way, commuters can plan their day effectively. And regulators can gauge the service of operators. Mr Wildermuth points out that bus timetables are common in many developed countries, including Japan, Australia, Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland. "Not everyone has a computer or a smartphone," Mr Wildermuth says, referring to bus arrival information systems that smartphone users can tap on. "Secondly, how do I plan for a meeting in town? How do I plan my transfers if there isn't a timetable?" He says that in Zurich a commuter can plan his journey down to the minute because buses there are required to run to a strict timetable. In Tokyo, buses are so reliable that commuters can set their watches to a service. National University of Singapore transport economist Anthony Chin agrees that a fixed timetable is preferred. "What you need is certainty in arrival times according to a published schedule," he says. The Land Transport Authority, however, seems to think that timetables are needed only for services that are less frequent. An LTA spokesman says that when the new arrival system is ready next year, it will be able to provide updates on bus arrival information "so that commuters have more predictability on the arrival of their bus service". The LTA will then consider the merit of providing timetables "for low-frequency bus services". This is puzzling. Why not a timetable for all services? After all, the planners have access to a wealth of commuting information through the ez-link card. With some planning, it would be possible to come up with a bus timetable that will benefit the commuter and is feasible for the operator. So while a satellite-tracked arrival system sounds sophisticated, it is of limited use to commuters who cannot plan journeys in advance. In fact, LTA and bus planners should go beyond buying buses and tracking journey times. For a move that would have a more significant impact on the daily bus commute, they should revisit the plan to redraw Singapore's bus routes. Mr Raymond Lim made the LTA the central bus route planner when he was transport minister. The idea was for it to come up with a hub-and-spoke network that is optimal, efficient and not necessarily profit-motivated. But the changes have been slow in coming. And many bus routes that are extraordinarily long remain. Take Service 196 for instance. It plies between Bedok in the east and Clementi in the west. But most commuters on it actually travel between the city and the two towns. Why not split it into two shorter routes? Dr Park Byung Joon, head of the Master of Science programme in urban transport management at UniSIM's School of Business, observes that long bus routes are not desirable. "It has been empirically proven that the longer the bus route, the poorer the bus reliability," he notes. "The Seoul bus reform implemented in 2003 divided Seoul into eight zones and most of the bus routes ran only within a zone. "Since bus routes became relatively short, the reliability naturally improved." The Seoul bus reform has been hailed as a success story by transport experts, where decisive government intervention turned around a messy industry. Then there is the question of whether Singapore's fleet of 4,000-plus public buses is well utilised. Mr Wildermuth observes large numbers of buses at interchanges - even during peak hours. "Drivers should take tea breaks, not buses," he asserts. He believes, with better manpower planning, operators could do a lot more with their fleets. Dr Park agrees. "It is well established that simply adding more buses to the fleet is not an effective way of improving bus reliability," he says. "It must come with other measures." Truth be told, the bus commuter's lot has generally improved. This is especially so for those who use services such as 72, 106 and 922, which got more buses under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme. Many also benefit from new City Direct express services. But some services are below par. Service 147 has waiting times of as long as 30 minutes; Service 7's departure times from Clementi interchange are patchy; and the infamous 190 made headlines last October when a commuter complained that she could not get on it for 13 times. To fix the industry conclusively, perhaps bigger, bolder steps need to be taken. -- ST ILLUSTRATION : Manny Francisco by Christopher Tan
  24. ST_Opinion

    Put fairness into fare reviews

    ECONOMISTS generally prefer to meet society's desire for equity through targeted, lump-sum transfers to the poor rather than across-the-board subsidies that depress prices. This is because broad-based subsidies not only distort prices, but their main beneficiaries are also usually the rich. Where targeted transfers are provided, the dominant view in economics is that the state should finance these subsidies. This is because equity is a social concern; it is only fair that society - rather than profit-maximising firms - pays. Seen from this perspective, the Public Transport Council's (PTC) announcement of fare increases, combined with targeted help financed by the Government for lower-income individuals and other segments of the commuting public, are both efficient and equitable. Yet, announcements of fare increases in Singapore are usually met with acrimony by a sceptical public. Why is this? One reason could be that commuters are unimpressed by the quality of our public transport system. Trains and buses are crowded during peak hours, and delays are common. When confronted by these inconveniences, it is tempting for commuters to ask why there should be any fare increases at all, and to point to the healthy profits that Singapore's two public transport operators (PTOs) enjoy as evidence that the fare increases are unjustified. Another reason is scepticism over the fare adjustment formula the PTC uses. This formula, which was revised late last year, is (rightly) responsive to the cost structure of the PTOs. But given the duopolistic structure of the public transport industry here, it is fair to ask how regulators could possibly know if our PTOs' cost structure is efficient. This asymmetry of information between regulators and operators bedevils all markets with regulated monopolies. In a market where there is genuine competition between many producers, consumers are far more likely to accept price hikes caused by across-the-board cost increases. But in a duopolistic market such as Singapore's public transport industry, even justified price increases might seem like price-gouging to consumers. In short, the question of whether a fare increase is perceived as fair and justified is often linked to how the public transport industry structure is organised. But the reality is that organisational form - whether it is government organisation or a commercial one - is a poor predictor of how efficient or productive an organisation will be. The experience of public transport privatisations elsewhere has been mixed at best. In some cases, such as the privatisation of the British Rail and the London Underground public-private partnership, privatisation has failed and required large capital injections by governments to bail out failing private operators. This does not suggest that publicly run transport systems have been resounding successes. A government-run public transport system may remove the problem of information asymmetry between regulator and operators, but there is no guarantee it would result in higher efficiency and lower fares. If a government-managed public transport system achieves lower fares via operating subsidies by the state, commuters would be paying for those subsidies indirectly through their taxes. Perhaps, the missing variable in the PTC's fare revision exercise is that it is not seen as being fair enough. First, insights from behavioural economics suggest that in most people's minds, losses loom larger than gains. Various experiments suggest that we value losses twice as much as gains of the same size. This suggests that our adverse reaction to a fare increase is much stronger than our positive reaction to the offsetting subsidies. Second, there is no penalty built into the fare review mechanism to penalise the PTOs for poor quality. The Fare Review Committee preferred to address quality lapses outside of the fare review mechanism. The committee's decision is not without merits. Fares should be set based on the cost of doing business on the assumption that the PTOs are performing at the standards set by the regulator. If the PTOs are constantly penalised for poor quality through lower fares, they may end up in a financial position that makes it difficult for them to meet the prescribed quality standards in the first instance. Nevertheless, this well-intentioned approach of decoupling penalties for poor quality from the computation of fares is insensitive to people's equity bias. It severs the link people want to see between price and quality. Commuters may thus interpret higher fares without a commensurate improvement in quality as simply a reward for mediocrity. To satisfy the public's demands for fairness, policymakers can consider harmonising their fare review cycles with their reviews of the PTOs' performance.That way, the public will have less reason to believe that the PTOs are taking them for a ride - in more ways than one. -- ST FILE PHOTO by Donald Low and Alisha Gill for The Straits Times
  25. Comparing between 1. Saab 93 SportCombi 2. Subaru Legacy GT Wagon (BP9) 3. Volvo V50 (2.4 or T5) All used cars, price comparable and OMV also in the low to mid 30s. Will use for about 4 years to scrap, so depreciation also about the same. Dont intend to mod or chip up beyond stage 1. Which of above better choice in terms of drive, servicing, reliability, workshop n parts? Like to hear from those who have experience. with the above.
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