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  1. Public transport fare hike: Adults to pay 10 to 11 cents more per journey from Dec 23 The Public Transport Council, which regulates bus and train fares, has granted an overall increase of 7 per cent as part of the 2023 fare review exercise. SINGAPORE: The latest bus and train fare increases will more than double from last year's hike, which means adult commuters will pay 10 to 11 cents more per journey, the Public Transport Council (PTC) said on Monday (Sep 18). The PTC, which is the Singapore regulator for public transport fares, announced an overall fare increase of 7 per cent following the annual fare review exercise. The fare hikes will take effect on Dec 23. The trend of sharper increases could potentially continue with the PTC again deferring a bulk of the fare adjustment quantum to future fare review exercises. This year's fare review exercise is the first under the new formula announced in April, which the PTC had said was aimed at keeping fares affordable and less volatile. As part of the review - conducted every five years - the fare formula was adjusted to include two fixed components to reduce swings in fare changes. Adult card fares will increase by 10 cents for up to 4.2km and 11 cents for distances above that, while adult cash fares - used for bus rides - will increase by 20 cents. Adult monthly travel passes will remain at S$128. The 11-cent increase is the highest, according to the PTC, which pointed out that 2019 also saw a 7 per cent increase in fares, but from a lower base. A lower increase will be implemented for concession card fares for students, seniors, low-wage workers and people with disabilities. Fares in this category will go up by 4 to 5 cents per journey, depending on the distance travelled. Concessionary cash fares for bus rides will increase by 10 cents. In all, commuters with concessions account for about two million, or half of Singaporeans. Heavy public transport users who belong to concessionary groups, such as students, seniors, and full-time National Servicemen, will see prices of hybrid monthly concession passes reduced by 10 per cent. The price of monthly concession passes for people with disabilities will be reduced from S$64 to S$58, similar to that of seniors. Lower-wage workers will be able to use a new workfare transport hybrid monthly concession pass priced at S$96. BULK OF FARE ADJUSTMENT DEFERRED TO FUTURE EXERCISES The fare increase for the fare review exercise 2022 was 2.9 per cent, with adult card fares increasing by 4 to 5 cents per journey. This year's increase of 7 per cent is only a portion of the maximum allowable fare adjustment quantum of 22.6 per cent, comprising of last year's deferred increase of 10.6 per cent and this year's 12 per cent. PTC chair Janet Ang said that the council had decided not to grant the full allowable fare adjustment of 22.6 per cent to keep public transport fares affordable in the higher cost environment, fueled by core inflation, strong wage growth, and a hike in energy prices. The increase of 7 per cent means that the remaining 15.6 per cent will be deferred to future fare review exercises. "If we had done the full maximum allowable fare increase of 22.6 per cent, it will translate to about 30 cents per journey for all commuters," PTC chief executive Tan Kim Hong told reporters at a press conference on Monday. Asked if the rolled-over numbers indicated more fare hikes in the next few years, Mr Tan said: "Yes." He added: "What is important is over the next few years - how does the council then decide what is the number that we should put up where by it still balances both the commuters and the taxpayers?" The council was also asked what the maximum allowable increase would have been if the old fare formula from 2018 to 2022 had been applied. Mr Tan replied that the old formula should not be used due to the current operating environment, which has changed. "The formula itself has been updated this year to reflect the latest operating environment. "You should not look back into the past formula, because the past formula itself was designed based on the operating environment, which has changed drastically." For example, Mr Tan said ridership has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, which would have affected the capacity component - known as the network capacity factor - of the old formula. The network capacity factor tracks operating costs due to network capacity changes relative to ridership. It has been replaced by a capacity adjustment factor in the new formula, and has been fixed at 1.1 per cent for the next five years to reduce variability resulting from capacity and ridership changes. Reiterating Mr Tan's point, Ms Ang said: "If you really go and calculate based on the old formula, the number will be out of the chart. Therefore, it validates again that the new fare formula law is intended to reduce the volatility of fare increases for commuters." To cover the deferred fare adjustment quantum, the PTC requested that the government provide an additional subsidy of about S$300 million for this year's fare review exercise - higher than the S$200 million provided after last year's fare review exercise. The government has agreed to this subsidy, said PTC. In tandem with the higher fare increase, the PTC will also require operators SBS Transit and SMRT Trains to make a larger contribution towards the Public Transport Fund. For this year, SBS Transit and SMRT Trains should contribute 15 per cent and 30 per cent of their expected increase in revenue respectively to the fund. This will come up to a total of S$15.85 million. The PTC has recommended that the government draw on the fund to provide further assistance to the lower-income resident households in the form of public transport vouchers. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/mrt-bus-fare-increase-10-11-cents-public-transport-council-3779086
  2. By now we're no stranger to the wheelchair ramp that folds out from the floor of our public buses to make an almost linear connection with the floor of bus stops. The ramp slopes slightly, and in some instances, leaves a small gap in the contact it tries to make. Even so, I was heartened when the first wheelchair accessible buses hit our roads in 2006. It was a huge step forward in improving accessibility and enabling mobility for all. This was Singapore's first wheelchair accessible bus - the Euro 3 Volvo B9TL CDGE - which was retired in 2023 🥲 18 years later, the manual ramp lives on. Like me, you may have wondered at least once about when these tactile surfaced folding boards would be replaced with automated ones. "It could save the bus captains the hassle of deploying the wheelchair ramp repeatedly", was what I thought. It's no easy task having to bend over to deploy the ramp on and off, in addition to the responsibility of ensuring that commuters are transported safely. Yet there are good reasons for why the manually operated ramps are still the way to go, for now. The same consideration also crossed the minds of the authorities. In 2017, automatic wheelchair ramps were trialled in SBS Transit buses for six months. The feasibility test, however, yielded longer waiting times for commuters and for other bus services serving the same bus stops. This, according to LTA, was due to the extra time needed to extend and retract the automatic ramp. LTA also explained that more maintenance will be needed owing to the complex set-up of automated ramps. So, it seems the trusty human-operated ramps are here to stay. Apart from the bus captains, one other group of commuters are naturally equally (if not more) affected by the ramp – whether it exists, what form it may take, and how smoothly it operates. The wheelchair users. While poking around for my research, I came across this story which I think puts into crystal-clear perspective the fears and anxieties of wheelchair users in relation to riding the public buses. One point that struck me was how these commuters think they might be inconveniencing others because of their disability. They should not have to feel this way. And if it doesn't already pose enough anxiety for wheelchair users to take the public transport, using the wheelchair ramp only adds to their anxiety levels. Little known to non-wheelchair users, the way a ramp is handled can signal a very different message to wheelchair-bound commuters. For example, if the deployed ramp impacts the ground with a 'bang', it can cause the wheelchair user to think that they aren't welcome on the bus. Speaking from experience, a user interviewed by CNA shared that it requires a lot of confidence to navigate the wheelchair ramp on the public buses. A course that's jointly conducted by SPD and transport operator, Tower Transit Singapore, seeks precisely to address this point by helping "people with disabilities regain their confidence in travelling on public buses". Wheelchair users get practice on navigating, bus captains receive training on assisting with the ramp – these are important steps to bolstering the structural measures already put in place. My hope though, is still for an alternative – such as a middle ground – to be found to better the experience not only for the bus captains but also wheelchair users. Members of the public, too, can play a part: The Public Bus Confidence Course is free and open to all. With some patience and consideration when taking the public buses, we can (in indirect ways) alleviate the anxiety that wheelchair users have bottled up so they don't think that they're a hindrance to others. It will also help bus captains to carry out their duties more effectively. Some food for thought though, here's a London Bus with a fully electric wheelchair ramp. - Denise Media from: Adobe Stock, Unsplash, SBS Transit, Tower Transit Singapore, Land Transport Guru, YouTube
  3. Ever seen a guide dog when taking the MRT or public buses? If you've not, you're not alone - it's not a common sight here in Singapore, as I've gathered. Most of my friends and colleagues whom I spoke to echoed the same observation. This was interesting to me since guide dogs are literally entitled to taking public transport. In fact, I saw the first guide dog in my life while commuting via the Circle Line just the other day. As a dog lover, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Golden Retriever riding on the same train as I was. Patiently, it guided its visually impaired friend from one platform to the other, and up and down escalators. Along the way, commuters looked unsure about what to do, except to make way when the duo came along. And then it dawned on me: How well do we know the Guide Dog Laws in Singapore? What should we do if and when we cross paths with a guide dog? The Guide Dog Law in Singapore First, let's talk about the law. Animals are legally not allowed on public transport. But guide dogs can, as long as they are accompanying a person with visual or hearing impairment. This exception extends to all trains and buses in Singapore. There's also religious guidance from the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) to allay any concerns that our Muslim community may have in relation to sharing the use of public spaces with guide dogs. How to identify a guide dog Guide dogs are easily recognisable. When at work, guide dogs wear a yellow tag around their necks that say: "Do not Distract. Guide Dog at Work." If I may add though, guide dogs - or at least the one that I had the chance to meet - are so at peace that they can be such a calming existence to be around 😊 How can you help? You might be excited or afraid to see a guide dog at the train station or bus interchange. These are natural reactions especially towards things you don’t normally see in your day-to-day life. But calm your heart and keep in mind these five things advised by Guide Dogs Singapore: Do not distract a guide dog on duty Do not feed the guide dog Offer assistance from the side opposite the guide dog, if requested by the guide dog user Always speak to the guide dog user When approaching obstacles, allow the guide dog team to proceed first before joining them on the other side Remember that guide dogs have duties to perform and the least we can do is to help them execute their duties immaculately. That way, we enable independent exploration for Persons with Disabilities so they are able to move around more freely and with greater confidence. So the next time you come across a guide dog, you know what to do! I'll leave you to enjoy this video, which definitely explains way better than I do, the difference you can make just by being aware 🥰 – Denise P.S.: Refrain from giving the guide dog a friendly pat no matter how endearing it is to you 🙂 (I promise I won't too!) Photos and video from: Guide Dogs Singapore
  4. Bus, train fares to increase by up to 5 cents due to rising energy costs: Public Transport Council From Dec 26, adult card fares will increase by 4 cents for journeys of up to 8.2km. For journeys longer than 8.2km, fares will increase by 5 cents. SINGAPORE: Bus and train fares in Singapore will increase by up to 5 cents from Dec 26 due to rising energy prices, the Public Transport Council (PTC) announced on Wednesday (Oct 12) after its annual fare review exercise. Adult card fares will increase by 4 cents for journeys of up to 8.2km and 5 cents for journeys longer than 8.2km. This means that an MRT journey from Boon Lay to Clementi, where the distance is 8.2km, will be S$1.45 for adult commuters, up from S$1.41 currently. Taking the MRT from HarbourFront to Paya Lebar, where the distance is 11.5km, will cost S$1.64, up from S$1.59. Based on travel data, about 54 per cent of adult journeys are less than 8.2km, said the PTC. The increase in concession card fares will be capped at 1 cent per journey to keep fares lower for students, senior citizens, lower-wage workers and people with disabilities, said the PTC. Prices of monthly concession passes and adult monthly travel passes will remain unchanged. Bus cash fares will also stay the same, for the third year in a row since 2019. To help lower and lower-middle income households – those with a monthly household income per person of up to S$1,600 – the Government will give out 600,000 public transport vouchers worth S$30 each, which can be used to top up fare cards or buy monthly concession passes. RISING ENERGY, LABOUR COSTS The fare hike is necessary to meet rising energy prices, which rose by 117 per cent last year, the PTC said. Coupled with increased manpower costs and inflation, this led to a maximum allowable fare adjustment quantum of 13.5 per cent according to PTC’s fare adjustment formula. This is the highest quantum generated by the fare formula since it was implemented in 2005. However, the PTC said it decided to grant public transport operators a fare increase of just 2.9 per cent due to concerns over the rising cost of living. The remaining 10.6 per cent will be carried over to future fare review exercises. About 1.8 per cent of household income goes to public transport for an average user, according to the public transport affordability indicator, which is based on data from the Department of Statistics. With this year's fare hike, and taking into account average wage increases, the PTC said the monthly public transport expenditure for these households is expected to remain at a similar level. At a press conference on Wednesday, PTC chairperson Janet Ang said the council looks at both the economic situation as well as the percentage increase generated by the fare formula. “We will digest it together as a community,” she added. Transport Minister S Iswaran said in a Facebook post after the announcement that "fare adjustments are never easy". "To keep our public transport system financially sustainable, fares need to be updated to cover the increased costs," he wrote. The Government will cushion the impact with public transport vouchers, concession schemes and subsidies, and ensure that fares remain affordable especially for the vulnerable, he added. As of last month, public transport ridership has recovered to about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, said the PTC. Last year, bus and train fares in Singapore increased by up to 4 cents, after the council decided to grant the maximum allowable fare adjustment quantum of 2.2 per cent to help operators mitigate the costs of running public transport services. This came amid rising operating costs and a drop in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It marked the first fare increase since 2019, when fares were increased by 7 per cent, or 9 cents per journey, for adult commuters using travel cards. During its 2020 fare review exercise, the PTC decided against raising public transport fares due to the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the economy. CALCULATING FARE ADJUSTMENTS In August, the PTC announced that it was in the midst of reviewing the way bus and train fare adjustments are calculated. The review of the formula and mechanism for adjusting public transport fares is slated to be completed by the first half of next year. Any change will be applied from the 2023 fare review exercise. Typically conducted every five years, it aims to examine the effectiveness of the current fare adjustment formula and mechanism, taking into account changes in the public transport industry and commuting patterns. PTC also said then that it would propose means to better maintain the balance to keep public transport fares affordable while ensuring the financial sustainability of the public transport system. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/public-transport-fares-bus-train-increase-adult-5-cents-energy-costs-3003941 Merry Christmas !
  5. prev thread 👆🏾 Fares have to rise, operators must be more cost-efficient as taxpayers’ bill for public transport ‘cannot keep ballooning’: Ong Ye Kung Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/fares-have-rise-operators-must-be-more-cost-efficient-taxpayers-bill-public-transport Pay And Pay ...
  6. Bus and train fares could possibly see 7 per cent increase next year Bus and train fares may go up by up to 7 per cent next year as the Public Transport Council (PTC) begins its annual fare review exercise. If approved, this would be the highest fare increase in recent years. The fares could go up by 10 cents, the maximum increase that can be allowed under the current fare formula, a measure implemented from 2018 to the year 2022. According to a statement released by the council earlier today (September 3), transport operators must submit applications regarding proposed fare increases. As per a Straits Times report, the PTC said that the largest contributing factor to the potential fare hike was the double-digit increase in energy prices, which rebounded 26.2 per cent in 2017, and 32.3 per cent in 2018. A drop in energy prices between 2015 and 2017 saw a combined 8.3 per cent reduction in fares during that time, though last year saw a 4.3 per cent increase in fares. “Over the last five years, the gap between costs and fares has been widening. This gap has, thus far, been funded by the Government together with the rail operators,” said the PTC. In July, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the Government is currently subsidising more than 30 per cent of public transport operations, and that higher fares are necessary to keep these subsidies in check. The council’s decision on the fare adjustment quantum will be announced in the last quarter of this year. Last week, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced the possibility of extending the intervals between trains during off-peak hours of the day. The longer wait times are part of efforts to better match demand and supply, and also help to reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the system. Cost-efficiency is another key area of focus, Mr Khaw said, adding that new efforts and initiatives by SMRT and SBST have led to total savings of more than S$25 million. /TISG
  7. Surprised nobody start thread yet on this... http://www.sgcarmart.com/news/article.php?AID=17435 Next time cannot bring out coins to take bus liao...
  8. Something interesting to share. Entering or remaining in a fully packed train is an offence that is liable to $500 fine. Source: http://vulcanpost.com/4451/netizen-calls-smrt-a-retard-you-will-be-fined-for-entering-or-remaining-in-a-full-train/
  9. Hi guys, My 10-yr old car is due in August, total mileage only about 107K. That is really low from what people tell me. If I buy a new car, the mileage will probably be even less since I take MRT to work to save on parking. The car is really only used for weekends, and occasionally to fetch my children from school. If you were in my shoes, would you buy a car or just take taxi when needed? I’m not thinking of renewing COE because my car has engine and gearbox problems already.
  10. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nel-service-between/1043838.html NEL service between Hougang and Dhoby Ghaut disruptedPOSTED: 21 Mar 2014 16:44 Service on the MRT North East Line (NEL) between Hougang and Dhoby Ghaut is down due to a power fault. SINGAPORE: Service on the MRT North East Line (NEL) between Hougang and Dhoby Ghaut is down due to a power fault. The alert came shortly before 4.20pm.Public transport operator SBS Transit said free bus rides are available at designated bus stops near the affected stations. It said it is sorry for the service disruption.
  11. https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/what-is-buzzing/-human-tetris--takes-place-on-jammed-lakeside-mrt-platform-031532683.html A video of passengers crashing against one another at the top of an escalator leading to the platform of a train station in Singapore is moving quickly on social media, prompting questions about the responsiveness of staff there. The 36-second video, posted by Facebook user Joel Rasis, shows commuters arriving at the platform of Lakeside MRT station from an up-riding escalator, but because the area appears to be full, they promptly end up sandwiched between one another. This goes on continuously for at least 25 seconds before the camera pans down to the ticket concourse level, where staff appear to have just stopped commuters from stepping onto the escalator. A report on the incident in citizen journalism portal STOMP quoted Rasis as saying there was a train fault affecting eastbound service at about 7:40am on Tuesday. What happened was commuters were instructed to get off the train, and at the very same time, a new batch of commuters were heading to the platform on the escalator, he reportedly said. There was basically no more space on the platform, he added, noting that the next train toward Pasir Ris only arrived about 20 minutes later. Watch the video here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10203045960485629
  12. 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.
  13. Events in recent years have underscored the need for Singapore to ramp up its transport infrastructure, as well as to rejuvenate what has already been built. Overcrowded trains and buses, long and unpredictable waiting times, and glitches in the rail system have been top grouses since as early as 2004. It did not help that Singapore's population grew by more than 30 per cent in the last decade to hit 5.4 million last year. Public transport ridership soared by more than 50 per cent over the same period to 6.36 million trips a day. Meanwhile, two major rail breakdowns in December 2011 brought into sharp focus the need for infrastructural upkeep on the back of fast-rising usage demand. The Government has responded fairly swiftly. But experts say a sustainable solution to managing public transport demand also needs measures such as increasing flexi-work arrangements, telecommuting or decentralised office hubs. On the capacity front, the Government is setting aside an estimated $2 billion to replace ageing parts in all the major rail lines together with rail operators. It is also in the process of rolling out a bus service enhancement programme - likely to cost in excess of $1.1 billion - which will boost fleet size by 20 per cent. And in January last year, it announced a slew of new lines that will grow Singapore's rail network to 360km - double its current length. This is on top of $60 billion of investments in place for ongoing projects such as the Downtown and Thomson lines. In all, transport-related projects may cost more than $150 billion. This is more than 40 per cent of Singapore's total foreign reserves last year, and seven times the 20-year transport infrastructure spending envisioned by a White Paper released in 1996. By any measure, it is a highly ambitious programme. The question is, will it be economically sustainable to go on ramping up capacity this way? This is especially when capacity is often designed to cater to peak demand, which is usually less than two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. Hence such a network tends to be "underutilised" for the rest of the day. Average bus occupation, for instance, is only 20 per cent. Transport experts have thus called for other measures such as promoting flexible working hours and telecommuting. Attempts to stagger working hours were made back in the early 1970s to ease traffic congestion. But the campaign never did gain much traction. According to a study published by the Manpower Ministry in 2001, flexi-time was practised by only 0.3 per cent of all private-sector employees. Telecommuting was even more uncommon, with a participation rate of merely 0.1 per cent. And those who work entirely from home accounted for just 0.01 per cent of employees. While more current figures are not readily available, there are signs that flexi-time is still not widely accepted. Last June, the Transport Ministry launched a year-long free-tra-vel initiative to encourage commuters to travel just before the morning peak, following a Travel Smart initiative rolled out in October 2012 to persuade people to shift their peak-hour travel time by 15 minutes. Response was encouraging initially, with around 9 per cent of peak-hour commuters travelling earlier. But this has since fallen to 6 to 7 per cent. Certainly, the scheme has potential for improvement - perhaps even without additional tax spending (the year-long free tra-vel initiative costs $10 million). In 2004, a study by the UK Strategic Rail Authority found that train overcrowding can be eased substantially by widening the differential between peak and off-peak fares. This means giving off-peak fare discounts or wai-vers, as well as raising peak-pe-riod fares. Not only does this help the operator maintain financial viability, but the shift of peak demand also reduces the financial burden of having to run additional trains during peak hour. Analysts suggest the savings here would more than cover the cost of providing free fares. However, adjunct Professor Paul Barter, who teaches transport policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, says there are limits to what flexi-time arrangements can do to flatten peak travel volumes. This is because there is "dynamic tension" between two things that people want: a regular schedule that gives them fixed times at home or with friends, and more comfortable travel. Because of this tension, people will modify travel patterns "even without the Government doing anything". And if there is less overcrowding during the peak period because some commuters have altered their travelling time, others will move in to fill the space freed up. Prof Barter, however, notes that flexi-time can contribute to shorter peaks, which range from "five to 10 minutes in Canberra to three to four hours in Jakarta". Also, if people were free to adjust their travelling time, "they would complain less", he said. He feels that many employers in Singapore "are more rigid than they need to be" in this respect. Indeed, a survey by the Land Transport Authority in 2012 found that the top reason for workers not telecommuting was that employers rarely allow it. And about 80 per cent of 1,500 people polled said they would take up flexi-work arrangements if these were made available. Finally, experts say a decentralised city is key to improving accessibility without increasing mobility. Even though Singapore had a decentralisation strategy since the 1980s, it has not gained much traction - until now. "There was a time when it was felt that having a big CBD (Central Business District) was good for the economy," recalls Prof Barter. "But I think it is better to have many sub-centres across the island." Now, several sub-centres are in the works, including Jurong Lake District, Woodlands and the Kallang Riverside. All these will allow more people to live near where they work, and work near where they play. Meanwhile, cities the world over are increasingly looking to "soft" demand management measures to spread out peak loads on transport systems. In 2008, Melbourne started offering free travel to commuters who arrive at the CBD before 7am. It led 23 per cent of commuters to travel out of peak hours. Monetary measures are not the only way to temper peak demand. In the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, London embarked on a public education and awareness campaign to prepare for the foreseeable surge in travel demand. The programme included reducing the need to travel, spacing out journeys, shifting to walking or cycling, as well as re-routing to less busy routes. The result was encouraging. Despite record ridership - London Underground, for instance, carried 4.52 million passengers on Aug 9, the highest in its history - the transport network coped well. Elsewhere, Abu Dhabi has spelt out a transport mobility management strategy as it prepares for a possible trebling of its population by 2030. It includes park-and-ride, car-sharing, flexible working hours, and telecommuting plans. All these are in place in Singapore, even if they lack scale. But things may be changing. Last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority unveiled plans for a 700km cycling path network by 2030 - thrice the length of the current network. And URA chief planner Lim Eng Hwee leads by example: He cycles to work.
  14. 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
  15. BIG Idea No. 2 is a no-brainer: Make Singapore’s public transportation No. 1 in the world. Why is it a no-brainer? Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur as well as Bangkok and Manila face the danger of more or less permanent gridlock with massive traffic jams. I pray and hope it will not happen, but I am also prepared to take bets it will. But even if our neighbours strangle their cities in this way, their countries will continue. Singapore does not have this option. If our city strangles itself to death with massive traffic jams, both the city and country will collapse. Good public transportation is therefore not an option. In Singapore it is a critical necessity. Unrealised potential FORTUNATELY, we have all the ingredients in place to create the world’s best public transportation system: money, meritocracy and motivation (the three Ms). We are one of the richest countries in the world in terms of financial reserves. We can pay for the best system. We also have one of the best civil services, if not the best, in the world. I know this well as several leading global scholars have asked me why Singapore does so well in public administration. Few other governments in the world can match the quality of minds we have in our Administrative Service. And we also have the motivation. For us, good public transportation is a matter of life and death. With all these assets in place, it was truly shocking to read in The Straits Times on Feb 13 that Singapore’s MRT system is average in the world in terms of system breakdowns. According to Christopher Tan, senior transport correspondent for The Straits Times, “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”. When I told a Harvard professor this fact, he was astounded. He asked me: “Should I be proud of New York or worried for Singapore?” What happened? How did we go from being almost No. 1 in the world in MRT systems to falling behind ancient systems like that of New York? What mistakes did we make? How did it go so badly wrong? And what can we do now to reverse this negative slide and move towards making Singapore truly No. 1 in the world in public transportation? A 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that Singapore’s public transport systems ranked behind those of Toronto, London, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Please let me stress one point here. I am not an expert on public transportation. I do not have enough data or information to explain what went wrong. All this requires a massive study. However as an amateur analyst of Singapore’s public policies, I believe that I can point out three challenges Singapore will have to overcome to succeed in its goal of becoming No. 1. All three challenges begin with the letter C. Critical mistakes THE first challenge is conceptual. Public transportation is a public good, not a private good. However, when Singapore was at the height of its infatuation with the Reagan-Thatcher intellectual revolution, we believed that the private sector was better at delivering some public goods than the public sector. This may explain several critical mistakes. My friends in the civil service have told me one of the biggest mistakes we made was to privatise the Public Works Department (PWD) and sell it off. In so doing, we lost both the engineering expertise and a storehouse of wisdom about the maintenance of public works. I hope that some day somebody will try to recreate the old PWD we used to have. We may have also made a mistake in privatising the MRT system, handing over the operation to private companies rather than government departments. In theory, private companies are more efficient than government departments in delivering services. Since they are concerned about the bottom line, they cut costs well. However, private companies do not factor in “externalities”. Hence when the private companies cut down on the maintenance of our MRT tracks to cut costs, they did not factor in the “cost” to the Government’s credibility when the system began to break down frequently. It will literally, not metaphorically, cost the Government billions of dollars to recover this lost credibility. This explains why the Government has provided SMRT with $500 million to improve the maintenance of the MRT tracks. This, in turn, creates public confusion as taxpayers ask why their money should help the bottom line of private companies. There is a simple solution. We should consider making the Ministry of Finance the sole shareholder of all our public transport companies, just as it is the sole shareholder of many government-linked companies. Fresh approach needed THE second challenge is the culture of conservatism. Having invested billions of dollars in an extensive train and bus system, we have worked under the assumption that we can only “tinker” with an established system and not start from scratch. This is a very dangerous and conservative assumption. If we work under this assumption, we will be reluctant to look for structural defects in our current system and be equally reluctant to explore bold and radical moves. If we are going to succeed in our goal of becoming No. 1 in the world in public transportation, we have to consider radical as well as conservative approaches. Here is one radical suggestion: Organise a global competition to encourage universities, think- tanks and global companies all over the world to put forward a new blueprint for Singapore’s public transportation system. There is a lot of expertise out there. A $10 million prize would be sufficient to attract a whole slew of new blueprints. And $10 million would be a small sum to spend considering the billions we have to put in to deal with systemic flaws. The winners of this global competition could be announced when we celebrate our 50th anniversary next year. Social experiments THE third C challenge we face is “comprehensiveness”. Public transportation can work well only if its planning is well integrated into existing urban planning policies. Each limb of our national planning must support other limbs. Let me cite a few examples. First, we have to deal with the “car” problem. As I explained in my previous column, despite the many disincentives put in place to discourage car ownership and use, we have actually created an ecosystem which makes it more rational to drive a car than to take public transport. We now have to create a new ecosystem that discourages car ownership and use. For a start, we should encourage new road experiments to change behaviour. In the year 2015, as part of our 50th anniversary celebration, we should exempt all taxis from paying Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges for one year. The goal of this social experiment is to see whether Singaporeans will make the rational decision to leave their cars at home and take taxis into the Central Business District to save on ERP charges. At the same time, we will also discover whether this leads to a surge in the supply of taxis in the CBD. This increase in supply of taxis in the CBD could, over time, increase demand and use of taxis in the CBD. I don’t know whether this will happen. Nobody knows whether it will happen. This is why we have to try out bold experiments. The financial cost of giving taxis exemption from ERP charges will be peanuts compared to the benefits we will get if people leave their cars at home. A downtown HDB estate? SECONDLY, we should consider the merits of building a massive HDB estate downtown. A lot of land will be freed up when the Marina Bay Golf Course lease ends. Why not build a big HDB estate there? The obvious response will be that the land is too expensive. But the land will not be as expensive as the land in Manhattan. In October 2011, I visited Manhattan in my capacity as chairman of the nominating committee of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize (New York subsequently won the prize in 2012). On this visit, the surprising thing I learnt was that Manhattan had a policy to ensure that it did not create an environment where only millionaires and billionaires could afford to live. Hence, even though the mayor of New York City then was a billionaire, Mr Michael Bloomberg, his administration worked hard to set aside land in this expensive midtown and downtown area for workers to live. Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Market Place Plan was designed to build and preserve 165,000 income-restricted units by June this year for 500,000 New Yorkers. It was the largest municipal affordable housing plan in American history. To some extent, this is what we did when we built the Pinnacle in Tanjong Pagar. We should now replicate the Pinnacle experiment in our new CBD. It is true that Singapore citizens who live in this CBD public housing will get a subsidy. However, if they use less public transportation to commute into the CBD, they will not be using the subsidies that are being given to every user of public transport. We will also enhance the social harmony of Singapore by giving less well-off Singaporeans a stake in the CBD. The third social experiment we can try is to build shoe-box garages next to every MRT station. The idea would be to allow us to walk out of an MRT station and rent a two-seater air-conditioned electric vehicle to take us across the last mile of our journey (and back). Clearly, our hot and humid weather makes it difficult to walk the last mile to our destination. Hence we have to create ingenious solutions to encourage people to avoid driving and take public transport. And soon we may have driver-less vehicles which will be able to do this job too. There are many ways we can make Singapore’s public transportation No. 1 in the world. If there is one country in the world that has the means and motivation to achieve this goal, it is Singapore. So why don’t we just get started?
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. Even though most of the infrastructure plans outlined in the latest Land Transport Masterplan were announced in the run-up to the Punggol by-election in January, the document is admirable for the way it maps out methodically what Singapore needs to do to keep its population moving up to 2030. But a masterplan requires more than just hardware. It needs to spell out more qualitative targets, rather than focus on quantitative ones such as the length of rail network and number of buses. It needs to get to the crux of what leaves commuters satisfied: service quality. While the plan spells out issues such as service frequency and reliability, as well as walking distance to and from a train station or bus stop, the proof of the pudding goes beyond that. There is a need to look at how crowded it can get, the quality of air-conditioning, train speed (which has been patchy of late), station dwell time, dependability of services such as lifts and escalators, and even noise level on trains. The plan needs to deliver that lofty promise touted famously by a leading airline - "making sure you arrive in the best possible shape" - if public transport is to have any chance at all competing against the car. Here, the goal is to make public transport a choice mode, rather than a mode of no choice. To do that, there needs to be a slight shift away from an engineering-centric way of meeting an objective and measuring how successful we have been doing so. But that does not mean diminishing the importance of engineering. In that respect, the quality of infrastructure needs to be nailed down, since this will eventually determine its reliability and longevity. In light of recent rail breakdowns, it appears that there are still struggles with water leakage in tunnels - an issue faced by builders since the Central Expressway opened more than 20 years ago, despite improvements in construction material and technology. These leaks appear to be the root cause of many MRT incidents, including at least two tunnel fires and tracks that corroded barely three years after a new line was opened. If leaks are indeed unavoidable - as claimed by the Land Transport Authority - then it must be made sure that water is channelled safely away from all operating parts such as rails and cables. And if such parts cannot be placed out of the path of water, then at least ensure that they are water-resistant. There is little point stating that Singapore's infrastructure specifications meet international standards - each geographical region poses its own set of challenges. So engineers here should specify standards that are suitable for local conditions - just as car makers 'tropicalise' models meant for hot and humid markets. It is true that it is the responsibility of operators to ensure operating assets are well-maintained and flaws are fixed quickly. But that responsibility becomes much more onerous if an infrastructure is prone to one form of failure or another in the first place. Singapore pays top dollar for its infrastructure. So it is reasonable to expect a high level of robustness. Another area that needs overhauling is a transport framework that suffers from the tension arising from profit-oriented operators providing a public service. It is now clear that publicly listed operators face opposing values of satisfying shareholders and commuters. While it is in their commercial interest to keep operating assets in good running order, they may be tempted to delay repairs and upgrades for as long as possible. Or do the barest minimum. 'Softer' measures of service quality, such as crowdedness or efficiency of air-conditioning, matter even less. So Singapore needs to move swiftly to a regime where the Government takes ownership of all operating and fixed assets, and, preferably, assumes revenue risk. The operator would then be tasked with focusing solely on meeting a clearly laid out set of service standards - without worrying about the bottom line, because their profit margins would already have been fixed. An effective carrot-and-stick regulatory system will then ensure that the welfare of commuters is prioritised. Any masterplan also needs to be stuck to. One way to ensure this is to have longer stints for ministers and permanent secretaries. Former Transport Ministers Mah Bow Tan and Yeo Cheow Tong outlined ambitious rail projects during their terms. Mr Yeo told Parliament in 2000 that Singapore would have 540km of rail lines by 2030. But only now are some of these projects being built; and we will have only 360km of rail by 2030. A plan in 1997 to upgrade the signalling system of the North-South and East-West MRT lines - which would have allowed trains to run at closer intervals - will be completed only in 2018. If those original plans were adhered to, our transport infrastructure would have kept pace with the population boom. As it is, the rail expansion programme listed in the Land Transport Masterplan 2013 may be merely playing catch-up, as Singapore continues to grow. It does not help that some of the new lines are three- or four-car systems - unlike the six-car models in the country's older lines, and eight-car or scalable systems found in some cities. Finally, this may be time to re-examine two even more fundamental assumptions about transport - that public transport is good and private transport is bad; and there is a need to keep increasing supply to meet demand. To start, we can stop demonising cars, which play a crucial role in any land transport landscape. With fast-emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, they might even become more efficient than public transport. With an average occupancy of 20 percent today, a bus may not be more efficient than a car during off-peak hours. Especially when a bus consumes far more fuel and far more road space. The second assumption of building more and more to meet demand is fallacious too. Consider how Singapore's population has grown 110 percent since 1981 but the number of trips (excluding cycling and walking) has spiked by more than 360 percent to 12.5 million a day. Since people commute primarily because they have to, and not so much because they want to, this exponential growth in trips is a tad worrying. If the trend continues at the same pace, it may not be sustainable - economically or environmentally - to keep building more infrastructure to cater to demand. We need to find a better way. And that may require urban and transport planners sitting down together to improve accessibility, and not just mobility. The way we live, work and play on this little red dot also needs tweaking if Singapore wants to avoid the maladies of a mega- city. And that will involve more mixed-use developments, flexi- hours, tele-commuting, walking and cycling. Picture credit: ST Photo - Ashleigh Sim
  19. I returned to Singapore from an overseas trip recently, realising that our public transport system still lacked that little something - courtesy. Although the Public Transport Council and Singapore Kindness Movement have launched countless campaigns, the message still fails to get across to most of us. While our trains may be slightly more efficient in terms of trip frequencies and arrival timings (assuming no track faults or other issues), there is a culture in the trains over there that many of us can learn from. The 'reserved' seat/seats on the trains there are so sacred, the non-needy do not place their bums on them at all, not even when the train is packed full like sardines during peak hours. More impressively, these seats were left vacant for the needy even on trips that may take twice the journey time from Pasir Ris to Joo Koon. Even on public buses there, 'reserved' seats were barely taken by the non-prioritised. On the other hand, the 'reserved' seat/seats on our trains here are seldom left untouched. And even when the more needy appear, there are bound to be some qualms about giving up the seat. Is it really our culture? Do we lack discipline? Or do people just don't care? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Singa the Lion resigned in May 2013, and it also leaves me wondering if it is really possible to take the meaning of 'reserved' to the next level.
  20. I was reading online that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was considering giving rebates to commuters who travel on the MRT system during non-peak hours, to alleviate the rush hour overcrowding on our public transport system. While I applaud the effort and consideration (could this be their way of making up for the recent MRT breakdowns?), I was thinking to myself, what a ridiculous idea. I mean, come on. Do these people actually think that the public takes public transport during peak hour just to be irritating? Of course not! Public transport (and also the roads) is overcrowded because everybody needs to be at the same place at the same time! It's not like people can decide, "Oh, I want to wake up at 6am in the morning and get into work early", or, "Oh, I want to go to work a bit later today to avoid the jams." Especially those who live quite a distance from their workplaces, they would have already spent quite a considerable amount of time accounting for their long journeys. To ask them to head out even earlier would, frankly, be ridiculous. It's so much more than simply asking people to not take public transport at certain times, and penalising financially those who do have to travel at peak periods. There are so many fundamentals to look at. Flexible working schedules, decentralisation of workplaces, managing the population, maintaining the transport system, etc etc. I just wish these people would not just look at the surface and apply arbitrary monetary incentives, and instead examine the underlying causes and get to the root of the problems.
  21. The MRT Circle Line opened fully on 8 October, promising to bring even greater convenience to residents in the south-west, where the latest connection serves. However, it appears that even with the new MRT line, it just isn't enough to cope. OK, we have to put it into context. The Straits Times attributes the crowds to unexpected demand when the stations first opened. However, the point still stands that, depsite all the efforts, Singapore's public transport is still unable to keep up with the rapidly rising population. It puts commuters in a bind, because it feels like Singaporeans are being increasingly squeezed out, whether on the roads or on public transport. A thread has popped up on MyCarForum, sparked by a letter to The Straits Times (again) from a commuter who claimed to have sold his car when the Circle Line opened. And it raised an interesting question: Do you think our public transport is good enough to replace private transport for most people as of yet? It most certainly is an interesting topic for debate and discussion.
  22. Blogger

    The Bus Menance

    Every motorist would have had his fair share of road incidents with a taxi. Abrupt lane changes, sudden braking, road hogging, tail gating and even street racing is par for the course for the black sheep of the taxi uncle community in Singapore. But recently, I have noticed that there is an increasing faction of public bus drivers who seem to think that they ought to be king of the roads. And that worries me. Public bus drivers ought to know that when they take needless risks on the road, they are risking more than their own lives and safety. They are risking the safety of those occupants within and the innocent road users around them. To begin with, the sheer bulk of buses and their large blind spot already make buses more difficult to maneuver about our roads. Throw in a bus driver with a cavalier attitude and the propensity for things to go disastrously wrong multiplies. And then, we factor in the sheer number of hours that a rogue bus driver would clock on the road compared to the average motorist. For how things can go badly wrong, we only have to look up north at our neighbours. Hardly a public holiday goes by without reports of night buses plying the North South Highway getting involved in an accident. The picture above shows how bad a bus accident can be. So, it is time that public transport operators take heed of the dangers of unleashing maverick bus drivers onto the public roads of Singapore. My suggestion? Legislation should be amended to put a higher standard onto our bus drivers. It should also mandate that public transport operators include some basic psychiatric test in their training and interviews to weed out those hot headed and impatient bus drivers to be.
  23. Singapore's multi-modal public transport service provider - has signed a memorandum of understanding with China's BYD. Under terms of the MoU, the two firms will discuss establishing a joint venture to distribute BYD's electric eBUS-12 and e6 taxis in Singapore. SMRT's executive vice-president of commercial business and roads, Teo Chew Hoon, said: "In our day-to-day operations at SMRT, we look into air, water and energy management diligently. To further promote better air quality, we are exploring the use of electric vehicles in our bus and taxi fleets that the company is actively exploring the feasibility of battery-powered buses and taxis." BYD claims that, when fully charged, both the BYD eBUS-12 and the e6 taxis can travel up to 300 kilometers under optimal conditions. BYD's definitition of optimal, however, includes not running the airconditioning, which would certainly be sub-optimal for Singapore passengers. Last month BYD received a contract for 300 eBUS012s to be used at the 2011 International Universiade Games taking place in Shenzhen, China, later this year. Thereafter, they will be incorporated into the Shenzhen Bus Group fleet. A fleet of 50 BYD e6 taxis has been in service in Shenzhen for more than a year and has clocked up a combined total of more than three million kilometers.
  24. I took bus no. 8 home from work on a Thursday evening as I did not drive to work. Upon boarding the bus, I realized that it was a brand new bus as the interior layout of the seat was different from the usual bus no. 8 that I took in the past. First impression was positive, that is until I took up a seat. I sat down on a window seat and realized that something was blocking my feet. I looked down and saw this grey box, which is part of the bus interior fixture. I guess it could house some electronic components. I had to shift my bottom sideways so that I could place both of my feet on the ground. If not, my left foot would have to be placed on top of the box, which is really uncomfortable. It doesn
  25. Despite the numerous accolades and praise heaped on our public transport system, it remains the truth that a significant majority of Singaporeans still find that nothing beats the convenience of owning your own set of wheels. And I suspect that no matter how much more our public transport system improves, there will still be a large number of car owning and driving Singaporeans. I have been endeavouring to utilize a mix of public transport along with driving. And from experience, public transport is fine only where the distance is short and the travelling time is less than 30 minutes. As you move beyond that level, driving becomes a far more attractive proposition. Despite the jams and despite the fact that you are paying through the nose for pretty much every thing related to your car. It all boils down to the fact that driving is so much more convenient. There are always one or two places ill served by public transport. Where taking the MRT or the bus would take a disproportionately long amount of time and you would have to leave way in advance. In such a case, even a tiny delay could snowball into a huge timing difference. You can choose to either run the risk of being massively late or arrive way too early. For such long routes, the stars have to be really aligned in your favour for you to get there on the dot. It has happened to me only once or twice in past few years. Proponents of public transport always have a ready retort when I raise the point of convenience. "Take taxi lah!" Unfortunately, trying to catch a cab can be a real pain sometimes. Have you ever seen the long taxi queues at some places? Or the difficulty in securing a taxi (even by telephone booking) when the place you are at or the place you are heading to is considered "ulu"? Throw some bad weather into the mix and getting a cab is pretty much like smashing one's head against the wall. Really, I suspect that many of those public transport proponents have seldom had ready access to a car or only move around in places extremely well connected by public transport. For me, staying in an ulu part of Singapore, I will stick to driving as much as possible. And I am eagerly awaiting the day, where I can opt to leave the car at home without almost certainly regretting it. So has anyone successfully made the conversion from driving to fully taking public transport? Care to share how you did it?
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