SINGAPORE: Public transport fares and reliability are two separate matters, and linking the two could worsen the situation, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Friday (May 18).
Mr Khaw was responding to parliamentary questions from MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan on whether rail reliability and service standards can be captured in the new fare formula which determines how much commuters pay for public transport.
The new public transport fare formula, slated to kick in at the end of this year, does not factor in reliability and service standards.
But Mr Khaw said he will personally "see to it" that operators maintain such standards.
"Even though it's not in the fare formula, I deal with it directly myself through the sort of focus and pressure I exert on the operators to make sure the rail reliability is brought about because that is my priority. And I'll see to it that it happens, whether or not it's included in the fare formula," he said.
Mr Tan had suggested adding a reliability component to the fare formula to penalise operators through lower fares for not performing up to standard.
But this could worsen the situation, Mr Khaw said.
"When a system is very unreliable, in fact that is the time to pump in more resources ... and if you punish them through reduced fares, you are withdrawing resources from the operators and you'll be doing exactly the opposite. The wrong thing. Rail reliability is important but deal with it separately," Mr Khaw said.
He brought up the example of the early closure late opening engineering maintenance and rectification programme which started late last year and said that the programme has "shown results" and improved the reliability of the North-South Line significantly.
NOT POSSIBLE TO IMPROVE PUBLIC TRANSPORT WITHOUT RESOURCES: KHAW
Mr Khaw also said that the new fare formula announced in March includes a new component, the Network Capacity Factor (NCF), which addresses service standards, although indirectly.
"For example, if we do not expand the rail network but demand grows, as it happened a few years back, resulting in crowded trains, then the NCF will be negative. That means everything being equal, the PTC (Public Transport Council) will be asking for a reduction in fares. ... If things improve through more comfortable rides but costs go up, then the factor is positive," Mr Khaw said.
"Service levels may not be picked up directly through the fare formula but the sentiments will be picked up by me very quickly, because engineer Lee Bee Wah will make sure that I fully understood what is happening on the ground. And I'm very attentive, of course not just to Yishun but the whole Singapore," Mr Khaw added.
Mr Khaw stressed that it is not possible to improve the public transport system without pumping in resources to recruit more manpower such as bus and train drivers, engineers, technicians and mechanicians.
"All those things come with money and I really hope Singaporeans understand that I want to do my job well so that we can have a first-class transport system and we will get there.
"But I do need money because it is not realistic to hope that you get a first-class, reliable train with no need of any injection of resources," Mr Khaw said.
The funding would have to come from "either taxpayers through subsidies or commuters through fares", he said, adding that the PTC has been tasked to balance the interest of both sides.