Install fans on MRT platforms

SMRT should install fans at all above-ground MRT station platforms, with LTA co-funding if necessary.

I hope SMRT will seriously consider installing electric fans on all above-ground MRT station platforms. I have written twice to SMRT over the past two years to make this request. Both times I received the same reply: Platforms have sufficient natural breeze and there is no need for fans.

Most of my fellow commuters will attest that this is not always the case. Some above-ground MRT stations are sandwiched between blocks of flats or shopping malls, leaving little chance for much breeze. With the introduction of the new platform safety screens which are made of solid plexiglass, commuters will now have to endure stuffy platforms that are often overcrowded with people.

One of the bugbears of taking public transport in Singapore is getting all sweaty and sticky en route to one’s destination. After walking from one’s flat to the MRT station under the tropical sun, we often end up waiting on wind-less platforms, getting our clothes drenched with sweat. While there’s nothing we can do about Singapore’s weather, I believe it is possible to cool down the waiting areas on the MRT stations with the installation of fans, in order to provide a more pleasant overall commuting experience.

If cost is an issue for SMRT, I would like to suggest that LTA (Land Transport Authority) co-fund the installation of these fans. If the Government is serious about getting Singaporeans to switch to using public transport, this is a small investment in that could reap surprisingly good returns in the form of increased ridership and improved commuter satisfaction.

(This is the original letter that was sent to TODAY newspaper. It was published on 9 September 2009.)

Reserved Seating

I am glad to see that the Public Transport Council and train operators have decided to change the seat signs on trains to read “Reserved Seating” instead of the less assertive “Priority Seating”.

Reserved Seating on Trains

This was a suggestion I made back in February 2008 in my paper titled Improving Singapore’s Public Transport System – A Commuter’s Perspective:

Continue reading “Reserved Seating”

Improving on the Govt’s plans for public transport

This was my prepared speech at Speakers’ Corner on 13 September 2008.

Good evening friends and fellow commuters! Thank you for taking the time to come down to Speakers’ Corner this Saturday evening to attend our little event. We are truly very grateful for your presence and we hope we have made it worth your time!

My name is Gerald Giam and I am representing The Online Citizen in summarizing our policy paper on improving public transport in Singapore. This paper was a culmination of over 2 months of work by our writers. It has been sent to the Minister for Transport, the Leader of the Opposition and the Public Transport Council for their consideration.

The government released a Land Transport Masterplan in January, setting out its plans for improving our land transportation system in the coming years. Among the key findings was that public transport was falling behind private transport as the mode of choice for Singaporeans. The Masterplan had proposed measures to address this.

What the LTMP overlooked

While we must give credit to the government for some good proposals in their Masterplan, there are several major issues that need to be further examined:

Firstly, a rapidly increasing vehicle population. As the government lowered the cost of buying a car, the number of cars has increased more than 8% over the last few years. In contrast, road length increased by just over 1%.

Yes, they have compensated by increasing ERP charges. But I doubt it will encourage car owners to switch to public transport as they would have already spent so much to buy their car — so why not just use it to the max?

Secondly, lack of competition in public transport. As you all know, there are only two main public transport operators — SMRT and SBS Transit. Not only do they not have any outside competition, but they are not really competing with each other either. They operate rail lines that serve different areas, and they often discontinue bus services that run parallel to their own MRT lines.

Thirdly, insufficient government investment in public transport. Even the chairman of the PAP’s Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport expressed disappointment with the speed at which MRT lines are being built.

And lastly, there was little mentioned on how to address environmental damage caused by motor vehicles.

Recommendations

TOC has come up with a detailed list of recommendations on how public transport can be improved. Time doesn’t permit me to go through every one of them, but I’ll highlight some of our key recommendations to the government:

1. The targets for increasing public transport mode share should be much higher. Currently only 50% of journeys in Singapore are made using public transport. This is low compared to other cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo and London. The government’s current target is increase it to just 70% by 2020 — but only during morning peak hours!

That is definitely not a “stretch goal”! We feel the target should be increased to at least 75% of total daily journeys.

2. Currently, bus interchanges are owned by LTA, and bus operators are the tenants. We feel that operators should be allowed to collect rent for shops and advertisements at bus interchanges, just like at MRT stations. This would ensure that they don’t depend on only bus fares in order to earn revenue, and will help make it harder for them to justify increases in bus fares.

3. More competition should be introduced in both MRT and bus services. Currently MRT operators are awarded a 30-year contract. This should be reduced to as few as 5 years, so that the operators are kept on their feet.

For buses, more private transport companies should be allowed to compete with SMRT and SBS Transit, especially to offer more premium and direct bus services.

4. There needs to be much tighter regulation of public transport companies to ensure compliance with standards and force them to do better. For a start, the staff strength of the PTC should be beefed up so that they are able to conduct quarterly spot checks on both bus and rail services. A lack of compliance should be met with fines in the range of $100,000 or more.

5. We need more public accountability in public transport. Currently, the PTC is government-appointed and their deliberations on allowing increases in fares are somewhat of a state secret. The Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport is an all-PAP outfit. There needs to be a multi-partisan parliamentary transport committee that includes opposition members as well, so that all Singaporeans are represented.

6. To ensure affordability for the low-income groups, the quantum of public transport vouchers should be increased. Currently, $30 of vouchers per family costs the government only $3 million, which is really a drop in the ocean. We believe that the government can afford to be much more generous than that.

7. Finally, we need to be concerned about the environmental impact of vehicles on the roads, including buses. We believe that Singapore should move towards a CNG-only bus fleet. CNG runs cleaner, so buses will produce less pollution and have lower maintenance costs. If cities like New Delhi in India can do it, I don’t see why Singapore can’t.

But this will require large investments by the government, as the companies will not be able to do it alone. The building of more CNG refuelling stations should also be subsidised. More CNG refuelling stations, would make it more attractive for even car owners and taxis to switch to CNG vehicles.

Summary

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just outlined some of our recommendations to improve public transport in Singapore. This is by no means exhaustive. And I’m sure many you, my fellow commuters, will have many more suggestions on how to improve our system.

I’d encourage you to speak out. Don’t just suffer in silence. Petition your MPs, write in to the papers, or even to us at TOC. Let’s all do our part to create a better transportation system for not just ourselves, but for our children as well.

Thank you very much.

The Online Citizen to hold Speakers’ Corner event

I will be speaking at Speakers’ Corner this Saturday. Please come down to support! :)

——————

The Public Transport Council (PTC) is expected to disclose its decision on whether to approve revisions for public transport fares by September 30. To engage the public in discussion about the expected fare hikes, The Online Citizen (TOC) will be holding an event at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park this Saturday, September 13, at 5pm.

At Speakers’ Corner, presenters will discuss various aspects of public transport, including a proposal written by TOC’s writers with suggestions on improving Singapore’s public transport system. Copies of the TOC proposal will be made available to members of the public at the event.

Andrew Loh, TOC’s deputy editor said: “We feel that ordinary Singaporeans must speak up on this issue of public transport as it affects hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans daily. This is even more crucial when deliberations on the issue by the authorities are not open to the public.”

Members of the media are invited to cover the event.

* * * * *
In tandem with the Speakers’ Corner event, TOC is currently hosting a “Public Transport Week” on its website, theonlinecitizen.com, from 8 to 14 September.

During the week, TOC has highlighted the issues which ordinary Singaporeans are concerned about – such as the service standards of the transport companies, the profits made by them and suggestions on how to improve the commuting experience.

All these with one intention in mind: To make Singapore’s public transport system world class, which is the declared aim of the Singapore Government.

In this respect, TOC writers spent the past two months coming up with its set of recommendations for the authorities. The proposal paper will be sent to the Minister for Transport, the PTC and the public transport companies and will be made available on TOC’s website.

* * * * *
For clarifications and further information, please contact Mr Andrew Loh, Deputy Editor, The Online Citizen at editor@theonlinecitizen.com.

Improving Singapore’s Public Transport System – A Commuter’s Perspective

This paper seeks to highlight problems and provide suggestions for improving the public transport system in Singapore. It is based on the author’s own experiences as a middle-income commuter who relies almost exclusively on public transport, with input received from fellow commuters.

 

Land transport a key focus for 2008

In his New Year’s Day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that a key focus for 2008 for the government is to improve our public transport system, so that more Singaporeans will take buses and trains instead of driving cars. He acknowledged that the government “can do more to make public transport a choice mode of travel”.

Among the proposed measures PM Lee highlighted were long-term goals like building more rail lines. However, he pointed out that there are some changes which “can and should be made more quickly” like improving bus services, making transfers more convenient, as well as running more trains at peak hours. This policy focus by the PM is certainly welcome news for the millions of Singaporeans who depend on public transport to get around.

In January, Transport Minister Raymond Lim unveiled a series of short and long-term changes to the public transport system, a culmination of the Ministry of Transport’s Land Transport Review. This paper builds upon these proposed changes and offers more recommendations for further improvements.

 

‘Good’ is not enough

The standard of Singapore’s public transport system is generally good compared with other major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Sydney. However, simply being ‘good’ may not be enough, because of the unique constraints that Singapore faces.

It is the government’s stated goal to make public transport a “choice option” [1] and a “viable alternative to the car” [2]. With just 617 sq km on our main island (much of which is set aside for water catchment and SAF training areas), it is untenable for Singapore to have the same proportion of residents driving their own cars as in, say, Los Angeles, which has a much larger land area.

Hence, with private cars priced out of the reach of most of the population, they are left with little choice but public transport. It is therefore inappropriate to just

benchmark Singapore’s public transport system against other cities in developed countries. In most of these countries, a car can be purchased for as little as $3,000, making private transport a viable alternative for a much larger percentage of the population. Most Singaporeans enjoy no such luxury. Furthermore, we should not be comparing Singapore with countries that are known to have overcrowded and inferior public transport systems. If there are improvements to be made, Singapore should strive for them rather than look backwards.

There are two broad categories of commuters who regularly take public transport:

Category 1: People who cannot afford to buy a car or take taxis except during emergencies;

Category 2: People who may be able to afford a car in the near future.

For the Category 1 commuters, who are likely to comprise the bottom 50 per cent of income earners, the government has a moral obligation to ensure that the cost of public transport is kept affordable, and that most parts of the island (especially where workplaces are located) are within reach of the bus and rail networks.

Public transport operators SMRT Corporation (SMRT) and SBS Transit (SBST) need to continually explore ways to improve the efficiency of their services, so as to keep their costs and fares affordable for this group of Singaporeans.

Category 2 commuters are probably the target of the government’s efforts to make public transport an attractive alternative to cars and cabs. For this group, comfort, convenience and speed are three main factors besides cost that influence their decision whether to take public transport or to drive.

Once these people switch to driving, it is very unlikely that they will return to using public transport. A recent Singapore Press Holdings survey of 295 people who drive cars showed that only two per cent reverted to taking the MRT or buses [3].

With the expected increase of Singapore’s population to 6.5 million from the current 4.3 million and the growing affluence of the population as a whole, it is imperative that improvements be implemented soon to make public transport a more attractive option than cars.

 

Ride or Drive?

For most commuters, the decision on the mode of transport is dictated by three main factors:

a. Comfort

b. Convenience

c. Cost

Lower travel costs are usually the only reason for taking public transport instead of driving. Remove the cost factor, and the comfort, convenience and speed offered by cars or taxis make public transport a hands-down loser.

The key for the government, therefore, is to ensure that costs of public transport are kept low, while increasing comfort and convenience.

Scale of Benefits

Figure 1: Balance of benefits

As illustrated above, as fares and commuters’ income increase, the scale will be tipped in favour of driving. Since fares and income will inevitably increase in the long run, the government and public transport companies need to put in more effort into increasing the comfort and convenience of MRT trains and buses.

 

Problems and Solutions

As a commuter who relies almost exclusively on public transport, I have observed the following key problem areas in our current public transport system:

  • Overcrowded buses and trains;
  • Inadequate trip planning facilities;
  • Inconsiderate commuters;
  • Lack of genuine competition, resulting in ever-increasing fares

This paper offers two sets of suggestions on improving the public transport system in Singapore. The first are the “quick wins” — measures which can be implemented quickly and with minimal cost. The second set of suggestions, while not asking for the moon, will require some policy and perhaps mindset changes to implement.

 

The Quick Wins

Recommendation 1: Lengthen peak hour timings

Unlike many other major cities I have travelled in, including Tokyo, Singapore’s MRT is crowded at almost every hour of the day, including late evenings and weekends.

It has become a norm to be standing sandwiched between other passengers for the entire ride. Passengers jostle for personal space. Women passengers clutch their handbags closely to their chests to preserve their modesty. At least 20 per cent of standing passengers have nothing to hold on to, as the grab poles are located at the centre of the carriages. Whenever the train comes to a sudden stop, many of them get thrown off balance. The situation is magnified for pregnant mothers, senior citizens and people with disabilities. It is simply not safe, in many cases, for them to board these crowded trains.

Is it any wonder that many young Singaporeans will swear to buy a car as soon as they can afford it to escape this madness?

The most distressing times to take public transport are during the morning and evening rush hours, or late at night on weekends. According to SMRT, peak hours are defined as:

Monday to Friday, between 8 to 9 am and 5.15 to 6.30 pm

Saturday, between 8.15 to 9 am and 1 to 2.30 pm

During these times, the train frequency is about 2 to 5 minutes. However, after “peak hours”, train frequency drops to about 7 to 8 minutes. Disappointingly, SMRT’s “peak hours” do not seem to coincide with the full evening rush hour timings, and curiously neither do they coincide with the taxi peak hour surcharge timings (5 to 8 pm).

Busy professionals rarely leave work in time to make it to the MRT station by 6.30 pm. Many (particularly Category 2 commuters) leave work between 6.15 and 7.30 pm. The result is a space crunch as passengers try to get on the trains between 6.30 and 8 pm. Commuters find themselves packed like sardines on both the North-South and East-West lines.

Later at night between 10 and 11 pm, especially on Friday and weekend nights, this crunch situation is repeated when people head home after an evening out in town. Unfortunately, train frequency is not as high as during peak hours and the trains are often packed to overflowing.

SMRT’s 2007 annual report [4] (see Table 1) revealed that while the number of passenger-trips has increased 10 per cent from 2003 to 2007, the number of car kilometres operated actually decreased by 14 per cent. This explains how average car occupancy increased 23 per cent in that same period.

Is it fair for commuters to be paying higher fares yet having to squeeze into much more crowded trains?

SMRT Annual Report 2007

 

SMRT should be compelled to increase its train frequency and extend its peak hour timings.

In response to my suggestion on 23 Sep 07 to extend peak hour timings, SMRT responded:

(T)he current train service frequency is sufficient to meet commuter demand during these time (sic).

On the perception of overcrowded trains, we would like to point out that, although our trains are designed with an engineering limit of 1,800 commuters, we rarely carry more than 1,400 commuters per train during peak hours. In fact, the actual typical average passenger load per train is about 1,200. Furthermore, when benchmarked against 15 of the world’s top metro operators from major cities, we are ranked among the top five with one of the lowest density of passengers on our trains. During peak hours, we have an average of four passengers per square metre, as compared to six passengers per square metre for metros located in other densely populated cities.

SMRT has admitted that during peak hours, there are up to 233 passengers squeezed in to each carriage, and that peak hour passenger density is 4 passengers per square metre. Based on my experience commuting at peak periods, it appears 6 passengers per square metre would be a more accurate estimate.

In any case, even 4 passengers per square metre is too close for comfort. As explained earlier, it is immaterial to benchmark our passenger density against other major cities if we want public transport to be the desired option for most Singaporeans.

To solve the overcrowding problem, SMRT should extend the evening peak hours to 8 pm every day (even on weekends) and have a higher frequency during the late evening from 10 to 11 pm. During peak hours, the train frequency should be 2 minutes. After peak hours, a frequency of 3 to 5 minutes should be the norm. There is no reason to have train frequency exceeding 6 minutes at any time of the day.

I note that it was recently announced that the government will be spending $40 billion by 2020 to extend the rail network, and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be working with rail operators to run 93 additional train trips per week from February 2008. These are positive steps in the right direction.

 

Recommendation 2: Develop a harmonised trip-planning e-portal

The available trip-planning facilities on our public transport network are dismal relative to the level of technological advancement of our country.

Although a printed bus guide is available for purchase, it is not convenient to carry around and it is not easy to plan one’s trip using it. SMRT and SBST run their own online bus and MRT guides. However, most people plan their trips based on where they want to go, not which transport company to use. To have to run a web search on both sites is excessively time consuming and confusing.

LTA, SMRT and SBS Transit should jointly develop a harmonised online bus and MRT guide with “intelligent” features that help commuters plan the fastest, most convenient way to get from point A to B — be it on the MRT, buses or a combination of both. This online guide should be viewable even on small mobile screens and should be able to accept queries via SMS.

In order to ensure the best possible product is built using the most appropriate technology available, the government should fund part of its development costs. In addition, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) should grant permission for the free use of their road maps in this portal.

 

Long-Haul Changes

Recommendation 3: Tackle inconsiderate behaviour

There is an appalling lack of courtesy and consideration among many commuters. This contributes much of the unpleasantness of taking public transport, especially for less able-bodied people.

Some examples of discourteous behaviour include:

  • Not giving up seats to the elderly, pregnant mothers or parents carrying infants;
  • Rushing into the train without giving way to alighting passengers;
  • Not moving to the centre of the carriage or the back of the bus;
  • Leaning against grab poles, preventing others from holding on to them.

Although it is not the core business of public transport operators to teach commuters manners, inculcating a culture of courtesy among commuters could help to make the ride much more enjoyable.

Many commuters do not seem to be aware that they are obliged to abide by certain unofficial rules. For example, the sign located above the corner seats on the MRT, “Please give up this seat to someone who needs it more than you,” is ambiguous and comes across as more of a suggestion than a requirement. It is not surprising that many passengers find it perfectly acceptable to fall asleep (or pretend to do so) on those seats and not give up their seats even if a heavily-pregnant woman is standing in front of them.

The approach of the public transport companies ought then to be

i. Making clear to commuters the behaviour expected of them;

ii. Feed societal pressure to encourage good behaviour;

iii. Focus on educating the young.

A list of suggestions on how to do this is in the annex at the end of this article.

 

Recommendation 4: Introduce genuine competition into public transport

SMRT and SBST form a duopoly over public transport in Singapore. Not only do they control both the bus and rail networks, they control the taxi fleet as well. The rationale for the government’s decision to privatise public transport was to reduce costs to the government and to promote greater efficiency brought about by market pressures.

However, market pressures only work if there is genuine competition. This cannot happen when there are only two players in the market.

The recent move by the government to introduce a tendering system for bus routes is sound in principle. However, unless more independent bus operators are allowed to enter the market, the tendering exercises will serve only as window dressing for the same oligopoly.

The government’s concern about allowing more entrants is that it would impede its efforts to have an integrated bus and rail network. This can be addressed by establishing a common set of standards that different operators are obliged to adhere to. For example, ez-link card readers should be installed on all buses, regardless of operator, and these readers must be able to calculate transfer fare reductions. With the LTA taking over the centralised planning of public transport routes, it would not take much more effort to plan for more than two bus companies to cover all the necessary routes in Singapore.

A similar bidding process should be implemented for MRT lines as well. As there are no other local companies with the expertise to run MRT lines other than SMRT and SBST, foreign operators should be allowed into the market to compete with the incumbents. Ultimately it will be commuters who will benefit from lower fares and better service.

 

Recommendation 5: Appoint only officials who are accountable to Singaporeans to the PTC

The Public Transport Committee (PTC) is seen, rightly or wrongly, by many Singaporeans as a rubber stamp committee which only executes the wishes of the public transport companies.

It would be better to appoint to the PTC land transport professionals (e.g., LTA officials) and elected Members of Parliament from the two largest parties in Parliament. This will ensure that the PTC is both cognisant with the technical complexities of public transport, sensitive to the needs of the people and accountable to them.

Conclusion

While few will deny that Singapore’s public transport system is above average compared to most of the world, there is still much room for improvement if we are to achieve the aim of making it an attractive alternative to driving.

Transport companies need to pay closer attention to comfort and convenience on public transport, and the government has a responsibility to ensure that there is sufficient competition so as to keep prices affordable. Having an affordable, efficient and comfortable public transport system will increase the quality of life for millions of Singaporeans, while easing the congestion on our roads.

Listed in the Annex is a summary of the above-mentioned points as well as further suggestions on how public transport companies can address the problems faced by commuters.

 

Annex

SUMMARY OF PROBLEMS AND SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS

Comfort

Problem

Suggested solution

1

Overcrowded MRT trains and buses

 Increase frequency of MRT trains and buses.

 Lengthen the peak hour timings.

2

Jerky and uncomfortable rides on buses.

 Provide training for bus drivers to start and stop their vehicles more smoothly.

3

Above-ground MRT station platforms hot and uncomfortable during daytime.

 Install fans at all outdoor MRT station platforms.

 Ensure that soon-to-be-installed platform screen doors allow wind to pass through.

4

Passengers not giving up their seats to elderly/disabled

 Clearly demarcate seats designated for the elderly or disabled.

 Paint these seats a different colour.

 Place unambiguous signs at eye level (for seated passengers) instructing — not merely suggesting — that they give up their seats.

 For example:

RESERVED SEAT

For the elderly, disabled, pregnant women or parents carrying infants

 Work with schools to organise educational “behind the scenes” tours of the MRT, and teach students the virtue of considerate behaviour from a young age, encouraging them to lead others in following their example.

5

Passengers (esp. teenagers) playing music aloud on the trains and buses.

 Have signs indicating that playing music aloud is banned.

 This is also implemented in the Tokyo metro.

6

Passengers not allowing others to alight from trains before boarding. Cutting in front of those considerate enough to allow others to alight first.

 Paint ‘queue’ lines outside train doors requiring passengers to queue while waiting to board.

 The first to arrive gets to board first.

 See Figure 2 below.

 Tokyo metro stations have these ‘queue’ lines.

Queue lines outside doors

Figure 2: Queue lines outside train doors

Convenience

Problem

Suggested solution

7

Poor trip-planning facilities

 Develop a harmonised bus and MRT trip-planning e-portal.

8

Lack of connectivity between MRT train lines and bus routes

 Situate bus stops closer to MRT stations.

 Post bus guides at MRT stations so commuters know which bus stop to head to and in which direction.

Cost

Problem

Suggested solution

9

Lack of genuine competition, leading to ever increasing prices

 Introduce genuine competition by allowing more players in the market.

10

Lack of public accountability of public transport regulators

 Appoint to the PTC only LTA officials and elected MPs from the Government and Opposition who are accountable to the electorate.

11

High operating costs for SMRT and SBST, leading to increases in fares.

 LTA to allow more space for advertising in MRT stations and bus interchanges.

 Space on MRT station walls is not being fully utilised for advertising.

 SMRT’s “Tunnel TV” is an innovative way to provide more space for advertisers in MRT tunnels. This should be expanded upon.


Prime Taxi still the cheapest cab — until end Feb

I’d just like to make a pitch for Prime Taxis for the benefit of all Singapore commuters.

Not many people (including myself until recently) are aware that Prime Taxi is the only cab company in Singapore that has not raised its prices yet. The flag down fare is still $2.50 compared to $2.80 for all the other companies. Their booking number is 67780808 (booking fee is the same as the rest — $3.50).

Here’s a picture of what Prime Taxi cabs look like:


A Prime Taxi driver recently pointed this out to me: According to LTA rules, although cab drivers are not allowed to pick and choose passengers, passengers are allowed to pick which cab they want to ride in. This means that if you are at the front of a taxi queue, you are not obliged to get into the first cab in front of you. You can choose to get into a Prime Taxi even if it is at the back of the taxi queue.

I haven’t verified this with LTA, but it certainly makes sense. What use would competition be if passengers are not allowed to ride in the cab of their choice?

Unfortunately there are only 200 or so Prime Taxis on the roads and their fares are set to increase by end-February. I think this is really unfortunate and I wish they weren’t following suit. It would have provided some real choice for commuters. It’s just a shame that they didn’t publicize enough that they are the cheapest, resulting in most Singaporeans being unaware of the fact.

Perhaps we can blame the media and the Consumer’s Association (CASE) for not alerting us, although I just found out through a web search that CNA actually did run a report on this. Blogosphere should have also done a better job at highlighting this, instead of pouring all our energy into criticizing the decision of the other cab companies to raise fares.

For this I apologize for the oversight on my part.

.

Fear not, cab companies…LTA to the rescue!

Discount ads on taxis illegal, says LTA
Marketing tactics and soliciting are against company rules and the law

By Maria Almenoar

A CABBY’S attempts to get more passengers by advertising his discounted rates has been shot down by authorities.

Trans-Cab driver A.L. Tan had placed a handwritten cardboard sign at his windscreen offering to waive the new peak hour surcharge, which is 35 per cent of the metered fare, compared to old rate of a $2 flat fee.

According to cabbies, since the fare increase last month, many passengers are avoiding taking cabs during the peak hours of 7am to 9.30am, and 5pm to 8pm.

Mr Tan’s cab company has warned him that his marketing tactics run against Trans-Cab’s company policy.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Monday backed the taxi company.

‘If these drivers advertise, there will be an increased tendency for them to solicit for customers based on lower fares advertised if no commuters board their taxis,’ said the LTA spokesman.

Read the full story in Tuesday’s edition of The Straits Times.

This is simply amazing! On one hand, the Govt says that the taxi market has been liberalized, so taxi companies can set fares as high as they like and the govt won’t interfere. Yet the moment a taxi driver tries to be a bit more entrepreneural, the LTA suddenly swoops in from nowhere to censure the poor man.

The LTA spokesman said, “If these drivers advertise, there will be an increased tendency for them to solicit for customers based on lower fares advertised if no commuters board their taxis.” (Read: If we let one fella do it, EVERYONE will do it and we’ll end up with ridiculously low taxi fares.)

SO?! That’s better for consumers, right? Oh sorry, I forgot the interests of companies come before citizens. After all, companies pay taxes, but most of us lousy plebians hardly pay any income tax. How naive of me.

And pray tell how is something like this illegal? Is LTA going to justify this or are we supposed to take their declaration as the Gospel truth? ST reader grognard, who commented on this article, wrote:

It may be against company policy, but it is hardly illegal.

The Public Transport Council Act (CAP 259B) states:

Bus, taxi and rapid transit system fares
23. —(1) No person shall be entitled to demand and take any bus, taxi or rapid transit system fare in excess of that approved by the Council.
[29/95;29/99]

(2) Subsection (1) shall not prevent any person from demanding or taking a lower fare than that approved by the Council.
[29/99]

Perhaps LTA officials need to ask themselves: Am I a transport company regulator or a transport company advocate?

83% Hike in Taxi Fares not Comforting at all

83 per cent.

Yes that’s how much more I calculated it would cost to take a cab from my mother-in-law’s place in Tiong Bahru to my home in Sembawang.

I am shocked by the magnitude of ComfortDelGro’s taxi fare hike this time. It’s one thing to increase the flag down rate and peak period surcharges, but to double the meter hop to 20 cents is plain profiteering.

ComfortDelGro earned almost $2.8 billion last year, with profits of over $300 million. Instead of sharing more of their profits with their drivers, they are upping their fares and trying to justify it by pointing to the plight of their drivers. I have no objection to cabbies earning a little more, but I’ll advise all the “uncles” to make hay while the sun shines. In no time, your rentals are going to also increase and your fuel subsidies reduced or removed.

The government has since 1998 deregulated taxi fares. This means that taxi companies are free to set whatever fares they like without seeking permission from the Public Transport Council. But deregulation only works well if there is fair competition. With 65 per cent of the taxis in Singapore, ComfortDelGro is as good as a monopoly. And it has played out time and again that whenever Comfort raises fares, the rest of the taxi companies follow suit. So much for competition.

The Taxi Operators’ Association, which called Comfort’s revision “fair and timely”, has also urged other taxi operators to adjust their taxi fares “as soon as possible”. I’m no expert in competition law, but doesn’t this smell like cartel behaviour?

The government always points out that taxis are a form of private transport and there are alternatives, like taking a bus or MRT.

Tell that to the pregnant mum who never gets a seat on the train because everyone is “sleeping”.

Tell that to the disabled man who doesn’t have a wheelchair friendly bus plying his route to work.

Tell that to the family who has to transport their sick grandmother to hospital for treatment several times a week.

I have always thought that taking cabs are still cheaper than owning a car. I haven’t done my sums yet, but maybe now it would be cheaper to buy a car to clog up our roads and pollute our air more.