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.
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.
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.