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New initiative hopes to spur more companies to support flexi-travel

Under the Travel Smart Network initiative, companies can apply for a grant to help implement flex-travel arrangements.

SINGAPORE: Under a new scheme launched on Wednesday (July 30) by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), various monetary incentives will be available for companies that adopt measures which would encourage employees to travel during off-peak hours. Eight organisations, including banks, have signed up so far for the Travel Smart Network scheme.   

Currently, commuters headed to the city area before 7.45am get to travel for free on the MRT. This has helped to shift seven per cent of commuters out of the morning peak period. Authorities say these numbers are encouraging, but believe there is still potential to re-distribute more of the commuter load.

That is where the Travel Smart Network comes in. The scheme aims to encourage companies to adopt measures that would allow employees to avoid travelling at peak hours. Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said this allows employees more flexibility when commuting, instead of rushing to take public transport during the peak hours like everyone else.

“This kind of flexi-travel usually works well when the employer is able to offer flexible work arrangements or tele-commuting and they also offer more options for people who arrive earlier at their workplaces," she said.

From November 1, companies that join the Travel Smart Network will be able to tap into a fund of up to half a million dollars, to be used in two ways:

  • Up to S$30,000 to engage consultants from an approved list to conduct employee travel pattern studies and develop tailored action plans
  • Up to $160,000 per year, for up to three years, to co-fund initiatives that support pre-peak or off-peak travel. These initiatives may include installing bicycle parking and shower facilities to encourage employees to cycle to work, and programmes like yoga and running to get them to come to work early.

Employees of Travel Smart Network companies can also enjoy greater rewards from the Corporate-Tier Travel Smart Rewards. The Travel Smart Rewards will take over the Incentive for Singapore Commuters programme from August 1.

One company which took part in the Travel Smart pilot programme said staff retention rate improved after it provided flexible work hours and a clubhouse with exercise facilities. Mr Stephen Tjoa, Partner for People, Performance and Culture at KPMG Services, said: "Our turnover rates used to be reasonably high. By industry standards, most public accounting firms will see 30 per cent and beyond. But we've definitely seen an improvement in our staff retention and our staff turnover rate is well below 25 per cent, which is really what we're ideally looking at year-on-year."

One hurdle for flexible working hours is changing the mentality of line managers, some of whom may not have warmed up to the concept. Employees may also fear being viewed negatively if they work flexible hours.

Changes in such attitudes will not happen overnight, said Ms Teo. “I think we have to respect the need for people to have some time and some space to get used to the idea, and I think we have to accept the fact that it is not going to be relevant to everyone. And it is not necessary to be relevant to everyone,” she said. “We are not looking for a complete shift because if you have a complete shift, then all you have done is to create a new peak hour. So I think the shift that has taken place is good, and a little bit more will be great. Through programmes like Travel Smart, we hope that we can bring it down a little bit more.” 

Human resources experts say companies will also need to consider if measures adopted through the Travel Smart Network are sustainable. Mr David Ang, Director of Capibility and Business Development at Human Capital Singapore, believes that while flexi-work arrangements are worth a try, they do suit all kinds of work.

Flexi-work requires “some re-designing of the work processes and flow and duties of the employees", he said. "All this has to be taken into consideration in order to achieve what we want to do, which is to de-congest travelling patterns in the peak hours. With all plans that have been suggested, it is a question of sustainability. It is a question of being practical and the ability to sustain over the long haul. If companies are feeling space crunches, it will be difficult to allocate facilities like showering facilities and so on. And certain renovations in existing toilets and public buildings may not so easy, unless the landlord comes into the picture to see how some changes in the building facilities can be accommodated and can be tweaked in a way to allow things like additional parking for bicycles and shower facilities."

For a start, LTA will partner companies based near MRT stations with a staff strength of more than 200 employees.

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