Bus announcements for visually-impaired commuters

Asked the Minister for Transport whether LTA will consider using technology to equip (i) bus stops with audible announcements of arriving bus service numbers; and (ii) buses with on-board announcements of approaching bus stops to better enable visually-impaired commuters to travel more independently, safely and conveniently.

Parliamentary Question on 8 October 2014

BUS ANNOUNCEMENTS TO ASSIST VISUALLY-IMPAIRED COMMUTERS

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport whether LTA will consider using technology to equip (i) bus stops with audible announcements of arriving bus service numbers; and (ii) buses with on-board announcements of approaching bus stops to better enable visually-impaired commuters to travel more independently, safely and conveniently.

Mrs Josephine Teo (for the Minister for Transport): … Mdm Speaker, LTA is already in the process of developing a central bus management system which will be capable of relaying real-time information to and from buses and bus stops. This system will be implemented progressively from end-2015 and completed in 2017. At that time, we will have announcements of the next bus stop, for example broadcasted on buses, or delivered in a more targeted way through smart-phone applications and other devices. Today, however, the bus operators have separate fleet management systems and do not have the necessary infrastructure and systems in place to support such announcements.

In the meantime, LTA will continue to work with the bus operators to ensure that bus captains are trained to offer persons with disabilities the assistance they need to travel safely and reliably.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: I really appreciate the assurance by the Senior Minister of State that this system would be rolled out. Can I clarify that with this new fleet management system, it will mean that there will be audible announcements on all buses and will that extend to the bus stops as well to announce the incoming buses so that the visually-impaired commuters will be notified of the incoming buses.

Mrs Josephine Teo: Mdm Speaker, the Member’s clarification is a useful one. Audible announcements being broadcasted on buses is fairly straightforward because only the people in the buses will hear them and so it does not cause much disturbance. For audible announcements at bus stops, it is something that we have to consider more carefully. The reason being that some of the bus stops are located quite near to people’s homes. At busy times of the day where the buses are arriving at a bus stop, sometimes on a continuous basis, can you imagine what it means for people who are living in homes quite near these bus stops?

That is something that we have to look at quite carefully. Now, there are only a very small number of cities in the world that have attempted audible announcements at bus stops and where they have done so, it has not been comprehensively implemented. There are only selected bus stops where they will introduce these audible announcements. What we also know is that typically the preference is for push button, on-demand type of announcements so that visually-impaired persons if they require these announcements can access them. However, these announcements are not made at all times of the day and as and when every single bus arrives.

Those are some of the issues that we will have to look into. But, as I said earlier, in today’s context the infrastructure and systems are not even in place to support such audible announcements at bus stops. We will have to let this new system be implemented and then we will at the same time look at how audible announcements can be made feasible at bus stops as well as on buses.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: I thank the Senior Minister of State again for the reply. Is it technically impossible to do it or is it just the noise problem? Because I believe all the SMRT bus stops already have visual announcements of the incoming buses. So I do not see why that technology cannot be extended to audible announcements.

Secondly, I do not think the announcement needs to be that loud because visually-impaired commuters would tend to have more sensitive hearing so it does not have to be so loud that it disturbs the residents nearby. And, perhaps, the Ministry could consider some other alternatives. One is to have tactile announcements that use touch rather than sound to announce the incoming buses.

Thirdly, I think what some cities do is that the buses themselves have an announcement when it pulls into the bus stop to inform the commuters about what bus number that is. From my conversations with the members of the visually-impaired community this is a more pressing need than the announcements on board the bus. They could be at an empty bus stop and not have anyone to ask what the next bus number is. They have told me that even when the bus arrives and they ask the bus driver, sometimes the bus driver just gives a nod or shakes his head. So, to the visually-impaired commuter there is no response. I hope the Ministry can look into this. Thank you.

Mrs Josephine Teo: We certainly will. Thank you.

Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: I would to ask the Senior Minister of State since we are buying a new fleet of buses, can we order the buses in such a way that the door is right at the back, so that commuters when they move into the bus, will move towards the back of the bus straightaway? I think the design of the bus will help commuters in moving towards the back of the bus.

Mrs Josephine Teo: Mdm Speaker, I do not see how this has got to do with audible announcements but we thank her for her suggestion. We will take a look at that.

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Source: Singapore Parliament Reports

Questions on the new bus contracting model

How will the Government ensure that there is genuine contestability and competition among the operators so that they will be kept on their toes to constantly improve service quality and efficiency? How will it ensure that the new model will not see the same few players dominating the market?

I asked the Minister for Transport 3 parliamentary questions and another 4 supplementary questions regarding the new bus contracting model, during the sitting of Parliament on 7 July 2014. This is the relevant extract from the Hansard.

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1. Mr R Dhinakaran asked the Minister for Transport what are the key considerations for the change in the public bus transport model and what will be the initial investment by the Government in this model.

2. Mr Christopher de Souza asked the Minister for Transport how his Ministry envisions the new bus contracting model in which operators will bid for a package of routes through competitive tendering as being able to achieve better service and affordable fares to commuters as well as the plying of buses on less lucrative but necessary routes.

3. Mr Teo Siong Seng asked the Minister for Transport whether the Government has made a provision in the budget for the new bus contracting model and, if so, whether the budget will be made transparent to the public.

4. Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport under the new Government contracting model for public buses (a) how does the Government plan to buy back the public bus infrastructure and operating assets currently owned by the two public transport operators (PTOs); (b) how will the value of these assets be assessed; (c) how will the Government ensure that the PTOs do not profit from the disposal of these assets; and (d) how will the Government fund these asset purchases.

5. Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Government expects to make an operating loss over the long term under the new Government contracting model for public buses; and (b) approximately how much operating subsidies the Government expects to inject into the public bus system each year.

6. Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Government has any plans to extend the new public bus contracting model to the MRT system; and (b) whether the Government is satisfied with the current MRT ownership and operating model.

The Minister for Transport (Mr Lui Tuck Yew): Mdm Speaker, with your permission, I would like to take Question Nos 1 to 6 together, please.

Mdm Speaker: Yes, please.

Mr Lui Tuck Yew: As announced in May, we are moving the public bus industry from the current privatised model to a Government Contracting Model.

We have been studying this move as early as the Land Transport Master Plan in 2008. Under the current model, the public bus operators rely on their fare and non-fare revenues to pay for their operations and buy operating assets, such as buses. When fare revenues are uncertain, as it has been in recent years, operators may be reluctant to expand capacity ahead of demand, or to improve service levels beyond regulatory standards on their own accord. This was why the Government had to step in with the Bus Service Enhancement Programme, or BSEP, in 2012 to quickly raise service standards and to add capacity, even as we worked towards a more sustainable bus industry model.

Under the proposed Government Contracting Model, LTA owns the buses, plans the routes and engages private bus operators through competitive tenders to run the services. This will enable us to respond more quickly and effectively to changes in ridership and commuter needs. The model also allows for more operators, potentially even overseas ones, to compete for the contracts. Bus operators will need to compete on the basis of costs and service quality. Over time, this will lead to the provision of better bus services in a cost-competitive manner, thereby benefitting commuters.

Mr Dhinakaran, Mr Gerald Giam, and Mr Teo Siong Seng asked whether the Government is setting aside a budget for the new bus contracting model, and how much the Government will subsidise bus operations. I think it is probably not in the Government’s interest to reveal any budget that we may have set aside and how much we are prepared to subsidise before the tenders are issued and the returns are seen, as this may well skew the bids against us.

The eventual amount of subsidy will crucially depend on whether fares and bus service standards are set realistically. Regardless of industry model, the cost of the overall bus system has to be paid for either by commuters in the form of fares, or taxpayers in the form of Government subsidies. There surely is no free lunch. Therefore, we have to strike the right balance. The Government is committed to ensure the affordability of public transport fares. However, regular fare adjustments are still necessary to ensure the overall financial sustainability of the public transport system.

Likewise new bus routes and higher service levels have to be assessed judiciously. Even today, we receive many requests to run bus routes that have low ridership. From the point of view of the select few who benefit, these bus routes are of course “necessary”. But if we run too many of these routes throughout the system, either higher fares, or more Government subsidies, will be required.

Mr Giam asked about how we intend to treat the current bus assets owned by the two incumbent public bus operators. We will discuss this issue as part of our negotiations with SBST and SMRT on the nine bus packages that they will continue to operate after 2016.

Finally, Mr Giam may perhaps not be aware that we have already implemented the New Rail Financing Framework (NRFF) starting with the Downtown Line last year, even before the announcement of the public bus contracting model. In fact, the Government Contracting Model for buses brings us closer to the NRFF, where the Government, instead of the operator, owns the operating assets and is responsible for major capital asset investments.

Mdm Speaker: Mr Gerald Giam.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Non-Constituency Member): Thank you, Madam. I have four supplementary questions, three of which are related to each other. First is how does the Government ensure that there is genuine contestability and competition among the operators so that they will be kept on their toes to constantly improve service quality and efficiency? How will it ensure that the new model will not see the same few players dominating the market?

Secondly, how will the Government ensure that it is easy for new players to enter the market, and also easy for non-performing operators to exit?

Thirdly, how many new players does the Government plan to allow into this market?

Fourthly, does the Government have plans to set up a corporatised, not-for-profit entity like a National Transport Corporation or Transport for London, that manages the assets in the day-to-day operations of the bus network, while leaving LTA to play the regulatory and planning role, as this could lead to greater efficiency and accountability, and minimise the risk of regulatory capture?

Mr Lui Tuck Yew: Mdm Speaker, I thank the Member for his supplementary questions. Perhaps, I will start with a reply to how we would encourage new players to enter the market, and then, I will go into the specifics of contestability and how many new players.

One important thing is to lower barriers to entry, which is why we decided that as we embarked into the Government Contracting Model that it would be best for LTA to purchase and own the buses. For each package, you may be looking at perhaps 400-500 buses. For 400 buses, you may be looking at $150 million and $200 million dollars – quite a significant capital investment if it has to be invested by a new player.

We do not want to preclude the possibility of operators that are already in the local market, running private buses quite efficiently, who may be prepared to make a bid for one of these packages, provided we lower the barriers to entry.

How do we ensure genuine contestability? Well, to have as many bidders as possible. To make the bidding as simple as it can be, so that your evaluation is as straightforward as possible.

There is another reason why we have decided to purchase and provide the buses. Because we intend to have a five plus two option – five years, with the option for an operator, if he is successful and performing well, to extend for another two years. So this is five plus two. After that, it is re-tendered.

Obviously, the lifespan of a bus extends well beyond the five or seven years. If an operator were to bring in their own buses, then the challenge is how do they cost this into their bid? Do they bring in second-hand buses, meaning the life span would run out by the time they finish; or do they bring in new buses knowing that this could disadvantage operators from certain countries, for example, the European countries because they are on the different side of the road. And so the buses that they use here may well not be so suitable if they were to use it some other place, like back in their home countries.

So, genuine contestability comes about from lowering the barriers to entry, making sure that you have got competitive bids, structuring the tender so that it is as clear and as simple as possible so that when you evaluate, you can evaluate across a common base line, so that the potential operators do not need to price in too many areas of uncertainty.

As to how many new players, we actually are open to this. The initial part is that three of the 12 packages will be put up for tenders and we will then negotiate with SBST and SMRT to run the remaining nine packages. Over the longer period, the intent is to put up all 12 packages for tender. Whether we continue to have two, three or more players will depend on the returns that come in.

On the not-for-profit entity and whether there should be a corporate player to own the buses, we do not see a necessity for that at this point in time. Basically, it is really the same model that we are trying to adopt as for rail. In rail, we provide the infrastructure, we provide the first set of rolling stock, and the operator then subsequently buys it over at the right point in time. The bus industry had been operating on quite a different model in the past because the operators used to have to pay for the depots, buses and everything. What we are trying to do here in the Government Contracting Model is to provide as much as possible the same kind of support to the bus industry as we did to the rail industry in the early years.

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Source: Singapore Parliament Reports (Hansard)

Interview with Straits Times on public transport woes

The Straits Times did an interview with me last week about the performance of public transport since the last General Election, quotes of which were published on Saturday’s (3 May 2014) Insight article, “On track to solve public transport woes?”. Below is the full transcript of the interview.

The Straits Times did an interview with me last week about the performance of public transport since the last General Election, quotes of which were published on Saturday’s (3 May 2014) Insight article, “On track to solve public transport woes?”. Below is the full transcript of the interview.

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[Straits Times] In terms of train reliability, the disruptions in December 2011 were probably the turning point for the worse. 2012 saw the number of train delays hit a high, and according to LTA stats the number of delays and withdrawals came down last year. Some measures the Govt has implemented to tackle this include setting up joint teams with the operators post COI, and raising the maximum fine this year. What is your sense of rail reliability since 2011? Has the situation improved, stagnated or deteriorated, and why?

[Gerald] The number of delays lasting longer than 5 minutes may have come down last year, but this was from a high base of 396 in 2012 and 393 in 2011. The number of delays in 2013 was still higher than in 2010 and 2009. So I think it is still too early to declare victory.

Furthermore, I have often experienced trains stopping many times for less than 5 minutes along the way, resulting in the overall journey being significantly delayed. This has also been the experience of other commuters I have spoken to. Sometimes the statistics that the Government looks at don’t tell the whole story.

[Straits Times] Looking ahead, what needs to be done in to improve train reliability further?

[Gerald] It is usually cheaper to maintain a machine regularly than to replace a machine that has broken down because of poor maintenance. Our MRT system has suffered for years of under-investment in maintenance. It will take a massive re-investment in maintenance to restore reliability to acceptable levels. Beyond maintenance, technology and infrastructure needs to be upgraded to keep up with population and commuter growth. For example, I believe the multiple short delays during trips that I mentioned earlier are often due to the signalling system not being able to accommodate shorter headways (the distance or time between trains).

[Straits Times] In terms of crowding, have trains become even more packed since 2011? Any feedback you have gotten from commuters or residents about this issue?

[Gerald] I find that the train frequency during peak hours has increased slightly, but trains are often still not arriving fast enough to clear the continuous stream of people who are entering the station platforms. Once there is even a slight delay, the platforms would be overflowing with people. While MRT operators may have increased train frequency, there are also more commuters due to continued population increases. It is meaningless to tell commuters that trains are now arriving every 2 minutes instead of every 5 minutes, when they needs to wait for 3 full trains to pass by before being able to board a train.

[Straits Times] Some measures to ease train overcrowding include travel demand management schemes such as free travel and Insinc, as well as introducing express/parallel bus services under the BSEP. To what extent do you think these have been effective? And do you think the overcrowding situation will ease when the Downtown and Thomson lines open a few years down the road?

[Gerald] If we can find a way to spread out the commuter load away from peak hours, that would help ease peak hour overcrowding. However, I don’t think free travel or other incentives will make a significant impact. These will only work if most commuters have flexible working hours, which is clearly not the case now. More employer mindsets need to change to allow for more flexible working hours and telecommuting.

We also need to develop more alternative city centres so that commuters do not all head in the same direction at the same time, as this causes additional strain on the public transport network.

I hope overcrowding will ease with the opening of new lines, but keep in mind there will also be more commuters in the coming years because of an increasing population. Furthermore, many of the new lines are serving areas which previously had no easy access to MRTs. I think the main benefit of these new lines would be an increasing mode-share of commuters taking the MRT. It may not translate to less crowded trains along the existing lines.

[Straits Times] Do you think bus services have improved overall since the BSEP was rolled out, and to what extent? Why or why not?

[Gerald] I understand there has been an improvement in bus frequency along routes benefiting from BSEP, with some services seeing waiting times of 30 minutes reduced to 10 minutes. With $1.1 billion of taxpayer money poured into this programme, plus another $1 billion or so on the way (with BSEP 2), I think this is the least that commuters can expect.

[Straits Times] Are there any problematic routes you know of – whether in terms of being too crowded/very long waiting time/bunching – that need to be addressed?

[Gerald] I am not able to itemise every problematic route, but I am told that SBS services 225G and 225W from Bedok Interchange often experience very long queues, such that passengers at the back of the queue are not able to board the bus or have to squeeze themselves onto the steps of the bus entrance.

[Straits Times] Moving forward, what else needs to be done to improve the bus network? More bus priority schemes, moving more quickly to the contracts model, or even nationalization?

[Gerald] We need to prioritise the needs of public transport commuters over users of private transport. The former mayor of Bogota, Colombia once said that if all citizens are equal before the law, then “a bus with 80 passengers has a right to 80 times more road space than a car with one.”

With this in mind, I would like to see more all-day bus lanes to make bus journeys smoother and more predictable in terms of timing, even if it means taking away some road space from cars.

I think whichever public transport model we adopt must incentivise operators to place reliability, affordability and commuter comfort and convenience ahead of profits. I can’t see how this can be achieved with two operators that are profit-oriented and enjoy de facto monopolies on each of their routes. The PTOs’ profits should be used to lower fares and for maintenance and upgrades, not to distribute as dividends to shareholders. Alternatively, we should, where feasible, introduce genuine competition that will spur innovation and productivity improvements to lower costs and improve service quality. It is competition that spurs efficiency and productivity improvements, not the profit incentive as our Government leaders wrongly assume. PTOs cannot be allowed to keep their profits yet be shielded from competition, because the ones who will suffer are commuters, who come mostly from the middle and lower income groups.

Fare increases and quality of service (COS – MOT)

The PTC chairman acknowledged that service reliability needs to improve, but said that this issue should be kept separate from fare raises, which are to cover rising costs for operators. This is quite baffling for most commuters, myself included. In most service industries, customers will demand good service before they even agree to pay. But for public transport in Singapore, we seem to be expected to pay more just to get satisfactory service.

Parliament, 11 March 2014

Madam,

In January, when the Public Transport Council (PTC) approved hikes in bus and MRT fares, many commuters asked why fares were being raised when they had yet to see satisfactory improvement in service reliability.

The PTC chairman acknowledged that service reliability needs to improve, but said that this issue should be kept separate from fare raises, which are to cover rising costs for operators.

This is quite baffling for most commuters, myself included. In most service industries, customers will demand good service before they even agree to pay. But for public transport in Singapore, we seem to be expected to pay more just to get satisfactory service.

Can the Ministry consider revising the fare review formula to incorporate service reliability as one of its components? This will create is a direct link between service quality and fare adjustments, and will better align the incentives for transport operators with the interests of commuters.

Public transport fare increases

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport (a) what is the quantum of MRT and bus fare increases sought by each public transport operator in their latest submission; (b) whether the new fare subsidy schemes recommended by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee will be rolled out before any fare increases take place and all eligible commuters given ample time to apply for the subsidy schemes; and (c) how the Ministry will reach out to all commuters to ensure that they benefit from the subsidies they are eligible for.

This was a question that I asked the Minister for Transport during the 20 January 2014 sitting regarding the public transport fare increases that the public transport operators had sought. I had filed it before the announcement of the fare increases on 16 January. (Parliamentary questions have to be filed 7 working days before the sitting).

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Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport (a) what is the quantum of MRT and bus fare increases sought by each public transport operator in their latest submission; (b) whether the new fare subsidy schemes recommended by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee will be rolled out before any fare increases take place and all eligible commuters given ample time to apply for the subsidy schemes; and (c) how the Ministry will reach out to all commuters to ensure that they benefit from the subsidies they are eligible for.

Mr Lui Tuck Yew (The Minister for Transport):

The Public Transport Council (PTC) announced its decision on the 2013 fare adjustment last week. Although both public transport operators had applied for a fare increase of 6.6%, which is the combined fare cap for 2012 and 2013, the PTC approved an overall net fare increase of 3.2%, and rolled over the remaining 3.4% to the 2014 fare review exercise.

I would like to thank the Council for taking into consideration my earlier request during the November 2013 parliamentary sitting for the fare increase not to exceed the average national wage increase for 2013, which should come in at about 4-5%. The 3.2% fare increase is well below this, and hence public transport fares will continue to be affordable for the average commuter.

At the same time, the PTC decided to implement several enhancements to existing fare concession schemes as recommended by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee (FRMC). Up to half a million commuters stand to benefit. These include young children, students, in particular, polytechnic students, senior citizens and adult commuters who are heavy users of public transport.

The PTC decided that these enhancements will come into effect on the same day as the fare increase, that is, 6 April 2014.

On its part, the Government has decided to implement fare concession schemes for two groups of commuters who may be most impacted by the fare increase, that is lower-wage workers who are under MOM’s Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme, and persons with disabilities.

Eligible recipients will be notified around 6 April to apply for the two concession schemes, which will take effect from 6 July 2014. Transport vouchers will be provided to help them for the interim period between the fare increase on 6 April, and 6 July when the concessions take effect. These being new schemes, we need more time to set up the frameworks and processes, and to cater to potentially half a million applicants.

Let me assure the Member that my Ministry, the public transport operators and TransitLink will extensively publicise the enhanced and new concession schemes in the coming weeks, so that potential beneficiaries are made aware and can apply for and enjoy the concessions.

[Source: Singapore Parliament Reports]

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See also the Workers’ Party’s statement on 17 January 2014 in response to the announcement of the fare increases:

The Workers’ Party (WP) welcomes the new and enhanced concession schemes to make public transport more affordable for people with disabilities, senior citizens, low-wage workers, students and full-time national servicemen. These groups will finally enjoy some overdue relief for their travel needs, for which the public and the WP have lobbied for years.

The concessions, however, should not be used as a sweetener to make the latest fare increases palatable.

With an initial increase of 3.2% in 2014 and an increase of 3.4% rolled over to the fare review exercise next year, this could mean a heftier increase in 2015. We are concerned that the majority of the commuters may still experience a very large overall fare increase of up to 6.6% in the next two years.

This latest round of fare hikes comes on the back of a substantial $1.1 billion government subsidy in our public transportation system through the Bus Services Enhancement Fund (BSEF) last year.

The fare hike has also come despite train breakdowns having become a regular affair, further compounding the frustrations of commuters, who are frequently affected by such service quality and reliability lapses.

We are disappointed that the fare hike will take place three months before the concession schemes for low-wage workers and people with disabilities are to be implemented. We call for the fare hike to be delayed until the new concession schemes are implemented.

The WP believes that public transport should be provided as a public good and not for profit. Service quality, reliability and fare affordability should come before the need to ensure the profitability of PTOs.

DENNIS TAN LIP FONG (陈立峰)
Executive Council Member
The Workers’ Party

Bus Service Reliability Framework

This is a Parliament Question I asked the Transport Minister on 20 January 2014 regarding the new “Bus Service Reliability Framework”, which includes incentives for public bus operators for exceeding service standards set by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

This is a Parliament Question I asked the Transport Minister on 20 January 2014 regarding the new “Bus Service Reliability Framework”, which includes incentives for public bus operators for exceeding service standards set by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

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Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Transport with regard to the new Bus Service Reliability Framework (a) what evidence does the LTA rely on to determine that providing financial incentives rather than just penalties to public bus operators to arrive at bus stops on schedule will improve waiting times; and (b) whether the incentive amounts will be funded by taxpayers.

Mr Lui Tuck Yew (The Minister for Transport): Bus operators have to incur additional costs to monitor and improve en-route reliability and regularity of the trial bus services under the Bus Service Reliability Framework (BSRF). For example, the operators need to hire and train more bus controllers to manage bus services more closely, instruct bus drivers to slow down and mobilise standby buses. The operators may also need to modify and enhance their operations control systems. Hence, there must be some net financial incentive in the design of this Framework.

We have also looked closely at overseas examples, in particular, the London system which has worked well and been carefully refined over many years. For a start, we have modelled our incentive-penalty structure for this BSRF pilot quite closely after the London system, but we will certainly review and improve along the way to make it cost-effective to benefit commuters who have consistently mentioned reliability of buses as a priority area for improvement.

The BRSF will be funded by the Government, as it is a trial to assess whether it can improve the reliability of our bus services.

[Source: Singapore Parliament Reports]

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There was also a debate during Question Time that same day on the service delivery requirements under the Bus Service Reliability Framework. This is a supplementary question I asked the Minister and his reply:

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Would it not be more straightforward to just set high enough standards and then penalise the PTOs for failing to meet those standards? Because this can certainly spur improvements at the backend as well, and the PTOs’ reward really is in more satisfied customers and bigger ridership.

Mr Lui Tuck Yew: We also have to try and arrive at a position and at a model that is fair to all parties concerned. With greater demand, there will be calls for greater injection of resources. So we are trying to find a balance between incentives and penalties in order to arrive at a better situation than what we have today.

[Source: Singapore Parliament Reports]

Supper Club interview with the Straits Times

I did a two-hour long interview with the Straits Times for its “Supper Club” series, which was published on 18 January 2014. I shared my thoughts on a range of issues, including healthcare financing, public transport, media regulation, education and the Workers’ Party’s approach to political engagement. I also shared about my work as a Non-constituency MP and about my family.

I did a two-hour long interview with the Straits Times for its “Supper Club” series, which was published on 18 January 2014. I shared my thoughts on a range of issues, including healthcare financing, public transport, media regulation, education and the Workers’ Party’s approach to political engagement. I also shared about my work as a Non-constituency MP and about my family.

Click the two links below to read the interview and watch the video.

Part 1:

Gerald Giam: ‘Rethink health-care financing philosophy’
Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam is the Workers’ Party’s point man on health care issues. In Part 1 of this Supper Club interview, he speaks about what he thinks should be changed in health-care financing and public transport.

Gerald Giam: ‘Rethink health-care financing philosophy’

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam is the Workers’ Party’s point man on health care issues. In Part 1 of this Supper Club interview, he speaks about what he thinks should be changed in health-care financing and public transport.

Part 2:

Gerald Giam: ‘We’re a moderate party, not fence-sitters’

In Part 2 of this Supper Club interview, Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party talks about whether he sees a shift in the Government’s policy approach, the difference between being moderate and sitting on the fence, and his personal life.

Raising bus fares leads to greater efficiency?

I found it odd, to say the least, for the Minister to suggest that fare increases will incentivise PTOs to provide better service and be more efficient. There is little incentive for PTOs to be more efficient if they know they can count on receiving more fare revenue whenever their costs go up. Neither is there much incentive to improve service beyond the minimum standard set by the regulator, when the PTOs are primarily accountable to their shareholders, not the public.

I have spoken at length in Parliament about the deep shortcomings of the profit-oriented public transport model that we currently have in Singapore. Here is some excerpts of what I said during the debate on the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill on 9 July 2012.

I was asked on Thursday by the Straits Times for my thoughts on Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s Facebook post explaining the impending rise in bus fares. Mr Lui said that “The purpose of fare increases is not to boost the short term profits of PTOs (public transport operators). It is also not just to improve salaries of bus drivers but to improve service to commuters while keeping public transport operations commercially viable.”

I found it odd, to say the least, for the Minister to suggest that fare increases will incentivise PTOs to provide better service and be more efficient. There is little incentive for PTOs to be more efficient if they know they can count on receiving more fare revenue whenever their costs go up. Neither is there much incentive to improve service beyond the minimum standard set by the regulator, when the PTOs are primarily accountable to their shareholders, not the public.

I have spoken at length in Parliament about the deep shortcomings of the profit-oriented public transport model that we currently have in Singapore. Here is some excerpts of what I said during the debate on the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill on 9 July 2012:

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Continue reading “Raising bus fares leads to greater efficiency?”

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”

Raymond Lim once proposed a way for “completely free” public transport

Actually Minister Raymond Lim had once proposed a way to have completely free public transport. Here’s what he said about public transport concessions during a constituency visit back in 2008.

In response to NCMP Sylvia Lim’s call in Parliament on 11 March 2010 for transport concessions for the disabled, Transport Minister and MP for East Coast GRC, Raymond Lim, said: “I’d be very slow in stipulating (to operators) how best to run the concession policy.”

But actually the Minister had once proposed a way to have completely free public transport. Here’s what he said about public transport concessions during a constituency visit back in 2008:

“The money still must come from somewhere, right? It is about 1.5 percentage point increase in your GST. So now it’s 7 (per cent), you want it to be free? You want the GST to go up to 8.5 per cent, to run a completely free bus and MRT system?”