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Longer wait for trains possible during off-peak hours as Khaw calls for 'better matching of supply with demand'

Longer wait for trains possible during off-peak hours as Khaw calls for 'better matching of supply with demand'

File photo of an SMRT train.

SINGAPORE: Commuters travelling during off-peak periods could soon find themselves waiting longer for a train, as rail operators are called on to better match "supply with demand".

Given that demand for MRT services fluctuates throughout the day, there is scope for operators to manage train frequencies, Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said on Friday (Aug 30).

"For off-peak periods, we think there is scope to manage headways more actively, lengthening headway when loading is very low and shortening headway when loading begins to build up," said Mr Khaw.

Speaking at SBS Transit's Sengkang Depot, the minister noted that train networks in other cities manage waiting intervals during off-peak periods.

He gave the example of Hong Kong's MTR system, which runs most of their trains at intervals of up to 8 minutes - and sometimes up to 14 minutes - during off-peak periods. Taipei's metro runs trains at intervals of up to 10 minutes during off-peak periods, Mr Khaw added.

READ: North-South Line’s train reliability now on par with Hong Kong, Taipei systems - Khaw Boon Wan

At the moment, trains in Singapore come about every 5 to 7 minutes during off-peak periods, according to the Land Transport Authority's website.

Mr Khaw said adjusting train frequencies based on commuter demand would allow operators to optimise the use of resources. 

"This also reduces unnecessary wear and tear on the system that drive up downstream maintenance costs," he added.

Singapore is not new to such practices, noted the minister.

For example, the Changi Airport Line runs at intervals of up to 12 minutes during off-peak times, while the Tuas West Extension has a longer off-peak headway than the rest of the East-West Line, he said.

In particular, Mr Khaw noted that transport operator SBS Transit already has "extensive experience" managing bus headways during off-peak periods.

"I will encourage (SBS Transit) to experiment with adaptive headway management in its train lines, and refine these practices in the light of experience," he said. "Better matching of supply with demand should lead to better customer service. I am sure SMRT will want to do the same."


Mr Khaw also said that SMRT is studying the possibility of suspending the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) service during some off-peak hours. 

This will be a temporary measure while the operator works to upgrade the line. 

"We know we are going to completely upgrade, renew BPLRT. Trouble is it will take us a few years, and in the meantime what it means is the trains are running at almost the end of its productive life. And therefore the risk of failure is higher," he explained. 

READ: Reliability on Bukit Panjang LRT to "improve significantly", but works won't solve bumpiness issues

READ: Bombardier to renew Bukit Panjang LRT system, "more reliable rides" from 2022 - LTA

"Knowing that you have an asset which is nearing the end of its active life, for those off-peak hours, it may be better for the commuters living in the BPLRT route to use the bus instead of the LRT," he added. 

"This is something I know SMRT is studying, and it's something that I really would encourage."

Mr Khaw also said both SMRT and SBS Transit have saved more than S$25 million through recent cost efficiency efforts.

For example, SMRT’s Japanese-inspired "continuous improvement" drive and other cost-savings initiatives saved it more than S$20 million in the 2019 financial year.

Initiatives by SBS Transit, which include using technology to monitor the condition of overhead wires, saved the operator more than S$5 million since 2015.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Lin.

Source: CNA/nc(gs)


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