MRT train crush and the solution right under our noses

Why did it take so long for SMRT to finally “look into” extending the peak period? Perhaps it’s because the “crush loads” don’t exactly hurt profits, but buying new trains and hiring more train drivers will. So it took a bit of political pressure to get things moving.

MRT crush load

At the risk of sounding like a broken old record, I’m going to point out once again that the PAP government failed in the last 10 years to adequately plan our infrastructure for the huge influx of immigrants and foreign workers that we saw between 2005 and 2010. One bugbear for many Singaporeans (mostly from the middle to lower classes, who take public transport), is the overcrowding on buses and MRT trains.

The government’s grand solution to all this was to build more MRT lines. Hence the huge investment of over $10 billion to build the Circle Line (up from a budgeted $6.7 billion) and another $1.4 billion to build the Downtown Line. While I don’t begrudge this necessary investment in a public good, the benefits from this investment are playing a game of catch up with our ever-growing population.

What we needed were interim solutions to solve the immediate problem of “crush loads” on our bus and train networks. This could not be achieved by building more lines, as they take years to complete. Hence, Singaporeans have been forced to squeeze on unbearably crowded trains with fellow commuters for the past few years while construction of the new lines was going on. We were repeatedly told by the government, “Don’t worry, relief is coming soon. We’re building more lines.”

One interim solution that could have been carried out much faster (and at much lower cost) than building new lines was to increase train frequency, within the limits of the ageing signalling system.

I had raised this proposal during my maiden speech in Parliament last month. I had said:

…if the Government is serious about encouraging our people to drive less and use more public transport, it must give priority to tackling the overcrowding problem on trains. The solution lies not only in building more lines, but making better use of the existing lines by increasing train frequency and maintaining that high frequency for longer periods, especially during peak hours.

Why can’t the MRT operators maintain a train interval of two minutes from 7am to 9am, and from 5pm to 8pm? Is it because of technical constraints, or because it will increase their costs and reduce their profits?

Continue reading “MRT train crush and the solution right under our noses”

Sylvia Lim asks for concessionary travel for disabled on public transport

According to a 2001 MOH survey, less than 2 per cent of Singaporean adults below 60 have some sort of disability. Is the number of disabled too much for the PTOs? The PTO’s operations are reaping profits of tens of millions of dollars annually and this is part of their corporate social responsibility.

This was a speech in Parliament on 11 March 2010 by NCMP, Sylvia Lim,during the Committee of Supply debate, on the budget for the Ministry of Transport. Read other Workers’ Party speeches and statements at wp.sg.

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Disabled persons face challenges fitting into society for work, recreation and social interaction. Travel is a necessary step towards integration, to work, to socialise and to be consumers.
There are currently no public transport concessions for the disabled.
The disabled here have low earning capacity. Many do not work; those who do, earn a few hundred dollars per month, spending up to a third on travel expenses.
The government has often said that we should build an inclusive society. It therefore should not take a back seat on this issue.
Other governments are proactive. In the UK, disabled persons qualify for a special “Railcard” which entitles them to travel throughout the UK at one-third off from the normal fare. In addition, disabled persons in London can travel off-peak for free on buses, the Underground and trains.
The government cannot wash its hands off the matter by saying that the public transport system is operated commercially and it is up to the public transport operators (PTOs) to decide. The disabled have no bargaining power against the big companies.
For instance, the Land Transport Authority, as regulator, can make it a licensing condition that the PTOs recognize disabled passengers for concession travel.
According to a 2001 MOH survey, less than 2 per cent of Singaporean adults below 60 have some sort of disability. Is the number of disabled too much for the PTOs? The PTO’s operations are reaping profits of tens of millions of dollars annually and this is part of their corporate social responsibility.

Disabled persons face challenges fitting into society for work, recreation and social interaction. Travel is a necessary step towards integration, to work, to socialise and to be consumers.

There are currently no public transport concessions for the disabled.

The disabled here have low earning capacity. Many do not work; those who do, earn a few hundred dollars per month, spending up to a third on travel expenses.

The government has often said that we should build an inclusive society. It therefore should not take a back seat on this issue.

Continue reading “Sylvia Lim asks for concessionary travel for disabled on public transport”

Civil servants: Take better care of your Minister’s bosses

Take care of your Minister, by all means. But take better care of your Minister’s bosses: The people of Singapore who elected him, pay his salary (and yours) and can fire him (at the polls) if he performs poorly.

A blog by Straits Times correspondent Christopher Tan (“Pre-empted by the Internet”) revealed some interesting behind the scenes excitement that took place when the big announcement of the revisions to the Off-peak Car (OPC) scheme got leaked on the Net two days before the Minister for Transport could announce it.

The LTA (Land Transport Authority) gave a closed door press briefing last Friday, banning any recording devices and ordering journalists to embargo the news until Transport Minister Raymond Lim announced it in a speech at a grassroots event on Sunday. But lo and behold, the news got leaked on the Internet that very night.

With this leak, the ST wanted to run the story on Saturday, but was not given permission to by the LTA. So it got run on Sunday morning — still ahead of the Minister’s speech.

What I find disconcerting was the journalist’s description that “the authority’s (LTA) panic was palpable. After all, the leak had stolen the thunder from a Minister’s Sunday speech.

Continue reading “Civil servants: Take better care of your Minister’s bosses”

Hyperbolic wisdom from the transport minister

At a dialogue with residents of MacPherson on Sunday, Transport Minister Raymond Lim responded to questions about transport fares in the midst of an economic downturn.

A resident, in the best English he could muster, said he hoped there would be “no any increase in transport fare” next year. The Minister’s response?

You want it to be free, do you want the GST to go up to 8.5% to run a completely free bus and train system?”

I don’t think completely free public transport was on the minds of any Singaporean. We all know that nothing is free in this country, even if we’ve paid for it in taxes. Why was the Minister talking down to Singaporeans like that by using such hyperbole?

In response to another resident’s question whether the transport companies were making “a lot of profits”, he said:

“We don’t want the companies to be making excessive profits, but that’s different from saying that they cannot make profits at all.”

Again, hyperbole. Is everyone clamouring for public transport companies to make zero profits? In fact, their balance sheets are far, far from zero.

In response to further requests for transport subsidies, he said:

“There are only two persons who pay when it comes to public transport fares. One, I use – I pay. Or two, I use – you help me subsidise my ride. What happens when you subsidise my rides? That means the taxpayers are now paying.”

“My” rides? Does the Minister really take public transport?

Actually I see nothing wrong with the “I use, you help me subsidise” model. “I” being wealthy taxpayers, and “you” being the working class commuters who are struggling to pay for their transport to their $700 per month cleaning job.

And finally, when a resident questioned why when oil prices have fallen to about US$33 a barrel from a high of US$147 in July, bus and MRT fares haven’t seen a similar drop, the Minister reasoned that “public transport fares are not directly linked to oil prices”, but to a basket of other “national factors”.

Technically he is correct — they are not directly linked. The Public Transport Council’s “maximum fare adjustment” is proportional to inflation (the Consumer Price Index), wage increases and inversely proportional to the profitability of the public transport operators.

But two of those three factors are linked very closely to oil prices. In fact, the public transport operators said so themselves, as highlighted by another TOC article.

A Straits Times reader, maynardjohn, responded:

Nobody claims the relationship between oil prices and fare prices is 1:1. Neither is there a demand that the correlation be linear. Hence an increase of 40% in oil price is fully compatible with an increase of 0.7% in fare price (the latter being a rather arbitrary function of operator’s profit). By the same token, the commuters fully expect that a substantial fall in the oil price to translate into a reduction in fare price.

Unsurprisingly, reactions to the Minister’s statements provoked a rather unhappy reaction from Singaporeans. The Online Citizen’s quote of his remark provoked over 60 angry responses in just 12 hours.

Even the Straits Times article on his remarks evoked an unusually negative reaction from Straits Times subscribers. The comments thread had three pages of commentsall of them negative.

Perhaps the Minister did not realise that he was on national television, and thought he was just speaking to a group of elderly grassroots supporters who couldn’t even understand him, let alone talk back to him.

Here’s the clip from Channel News Asia:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rRfd_IefiU&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

How did LTA manage to tai-chi away the blame?

TODAY, 27 March 2008

Paralysed cyclist gets $800k

MORE than two years after he was left paralysed from the neck down after crashing into a metal barrier at an overhead bridge in Tampines, a cyclist has finally been awarded nearly $800,000 in compensation.

Mr Koh Liep Hang, 43, had earlier sued the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and barrier contractor Koh Brothers for negligence, resulting in his injury and wanted about $1 million in compensation.

Last August, Mr Koh dropped the lawsuit against the LTA, and agreed to bear 35 per cent of the responsibility for the July 2005 accident, with Koh Brothers bearing 65 per cent, reported Lianhe Zaobao yesterday.

In an earlier Today report, the LTA had been quoted as saying that the contractor did not follow proper procedures when installing those barriers.

Mr Koh, a father of two young children, told the Chinese newspaper that it had been depressing period for his family. While he is able to lift his hands, communicate and eat normally, his fingers and legs have no strength.

When contacted, Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC, Mr Ong Kian Min, told Today that he was happy that the parties “have come to an amicable settlement”. The “unfortunate incident” serves as a lesson that such barriers have to be carefully designed so that they will not harm the public.


I was surprised to read that the plaintiff dropped his suit against LTA and that LTA managed to tai-chi (push) away the responsibility to the contractor that they engaged to erect the barrier. LTA said that the contractor “did not follow proper procedures” when installing those barriers. I believe the LTA has blamed the contractor for not erecting the barriers on both ends of the bridge at the same time.

Tampines MP Ong Kian Min, himself a lawyer, said that the barrier was not “carefully designed”. Back in July 2005 when the incident happened, Ong called it “
stupidest device I’ve ever seen”. He described the design as “very poor and dangerous”.

So who designed it? LTA or the contractor?

While the contractor may be partially at fault for incorrect installation procedure, it doesn’t absolve LTA completely, does it?

Ong Kian Min had said previously, “I’m insisting the LTA change the design. They should be held responsible.

So why was the lawsuit withdrawn? Was the victim’s lawyer not doing his job or did the victim get pressured to drop an embarrassing lawsuit?

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