Changes to public transport fares likely revealed in late 2013

Changes to public transport fares likely revealed in late 2013

2013 will see more initiatives rolled out to boost the reliability of the public transport system.

SINGAPORE: 2013 will see more initiatives rolled out to boost the reliability of the public transport system.

With higher service levels expected, observers are hoping fares will be kept affordable. They also believe that any changes to fares will most likely be revealed late next year.

Singapore's vehicle growth rate will be halved to 0.5 per cent in February. With fewer cars being deregistered, a lower supply of Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) is expected.

COE prices for cars have already reached record high; small cars closed at S$81,889 in the last bidding exercise of 2012.

"Next year, the package of COEs will be even less than this year, so definitely you will see the COE trend moving up," said Raymond Tang, honorary secretary of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association.

Observers say a greater push is needed to make the public transport system a reliable alternative.

"We have to have a top-rate public transport service... otherwise how do we convince motorists to take public transport?" said Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) which looked into the December 2011 train breakdowns has spurred operators to boost the reliability of Singapore's rail network.

SMRT, for example, has given more attention to maintaining and renewing assets.

However disruptions on the new Circle and North-East Lines have continued to rattle public confidence.

"I think SBS Transit (could) take a leaf from the COI report as well, and see what they can learn and what they can prevent," added Mr Foo.

Bus services should also become more reliable with better frequencies.

In a rare move, the government set aside S$1.1 billion to purchase 550 buses over five years to enhance bus services in Singapore.

"Other than bus lanes, other than providing more frequent bus services, are we able to find more impactful ways to have a revolutionary improvement or revolutionary change to bus services? I think this is something that I personally would like to see," said Lee Der-Horng, associate professor of civil engineering at the National University of Singapore.

Recruitment of bus drivers, particularly Singaporean drivers, is proving to be a challenge.

"The challenge is not just the buses; you have to hire the bus drivers, you have to train them and get them into the groove of performing those services," said Mr Foo.

Salaries of bus driver were raised this year. Differences in pay among drivers however sparked an illegal strike by SMRT drivers from China in November.

Observers have said that working conditions need to be improved to attract more Singaporeans, particularly younger ones, to the job.

News that fares may go up to help raise drivers' salaries has generated much public debate.

However Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said the fare increases are meant to improve service standards while keeping operations commercially viable.

Observers say service levels and public sentiments should be factored into the new fare formula.

"If we were enjoying good services (today), I think passengers won't mind paying a little bit more. In the area of buses, yes we have more buses, but the irregularity is still there and the waiting time is still there… If we consider the overall economic situation and the sentiments from the public, if we do put those as major considerations… the likelihood to have a fair increase is very slim," added Associate Professor Lee.

Profits made by operators must also be considered.

"What is a reasonable rate of return to them? Personally for me, the rate of return is quite good, so I hope the fare review committee will look into that," said Mr Foo.

Observers have also noted that subsidies should be given to the needy should fares increase.

"I hope that the fare review committee will also look into the needs of this group. Rather than ad hoc transport vouchers, we can build a mechanism where people in the lower income group would automatically be given certain transport subsidies," said Mr Foo.

There were no fare increases in 2012 while the fare review committee worked on a new formula and recommendations, which will be unveiled in early 2013. Parliament will then debate the issue.

Public transport operators typically submit applications for fare adjustments to the Public Transport Council in the middle of the year.

Going by past practices, it is understood that any fare changes will most likely be made known by September or later next year.

Source: CNA/jc