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WP urges govt to delay fare hikes; Josephine Teo replies

WP has called on the government to delay public transport fare increases until concession schemes for low-wage workers and people with disabilities have been implemented.

SINGAPORE: The Workers' Party (WP) has called on the government to delay increasing public transport fares until concession schemes for low-wage workers and people with disabilities have been implemented.

In a statement on Friday, the WP expressed its disappointment that the fare hikes, announced by the Public Transport Council on Thursday, will take place three months before the concession schemes kick in.

It also noted that with an initial increase of 3.2 per cent this year and 3.4 per cent rolled over to next year, this will mean a heftier increase in 2015.

The party expressed its concern that the majority of commuters "may still experience a very large overall fare increase" of up to 6.6 per cent in the next two years.

It said that new and enhanced concession schemes for people with disabilities, senior citizens, low-wage workers, students and full-time national servicemen "should not be used as a sweetener to make the latest fare increases palatable".

The party noted the fare hikes come on the back of a $1.1 billion government injection into the Bus Services Enhancement Fund last year, and despite regular train breakdowns.

In a reply on her Facebook page, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said that the Workers' Party's response to the fare review exercise was largely predictable.

She said the WP "never misses an opportunity to pander", and that it had "claimed credit for the concessions".

But she pointed out that someone else had done the real work of sorting out the math and getting the balance right. 

Mrs Teo said the WP had criticised the government for directly funding programmes like the Bus Services Enhancement Programme and it opposed operators getting more fares through the adjustment. 

"But, it wants better services. It conveniently avoids the question of how better services are to be paid for," added Mrs Teo.

"More buses, more drivers, more trips on the road, more depots and interchanges, more maintenance, more equipment. In WP's world, these things can all be achieved without more effort and resources. Not in the real world," said Mrs Teo.

She added that most reasonable commentators agree that the current package of fare increase coupled with significant concessions is to be lauded.

She said the "government will contribute as much as commuters are contributing, while fares are kept affordable.

"And one million plus commuters stand to benefit -- and many have said they appreciate it."

Mrs Teo also pointed out that the WP has demanded that the new fares start only when new concession schemes kick in in July for low-wage workers and persons with disabilities.

But she said that if the WP had read the reports carefully, they would have seen that transport vouchers of between $30 and $80 are going to both groups from April to tide them over.

"And everyone else who needs extra can get additional vouchers year-round," said Mrs Teo.

She added that Public Transport Council chairman Gerard Ee and his team deserve thanks for taking on this incredibly difficult job, and that the WP should just give its unqualified endorsement of their great work done. 

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