News and views from an unique perspective

Take long-term view to solve Singapore’s public transport woes

Posted by temasektimes on September 5, 2012

It’s no surprise that Singaporeans are less satisfied with the public transport system in Singapore. Train breakdowns, overcrowding, higher fares and the failure to recognise taxis as a mode of public transport have contributed to the angst of a nation that has been effectively forced to use public transport, given the high costs of owning (and driving) a private vehicle, as well as the congestion on the roads today.

In my humble (and not-so-well-informed) opinion, what is really need is an in-depth, careful examination of the issue, and a solution strategically and operationally designed to meet the needs of Singaporeans.

Firstly, the public transport system was designed to accommodate a maximum capacity (though I don’t quite know what this capacity is). With the growth of the population, it is indeed obvious that the trains and buses will be stretched to capacity. It’s not rocket science, and we have to acknowledge this.

Secondly, we have not maximised our current resources and transport options. We have relied so heavily on buses and trains run by transport companies that we have failed to see other solutions to the problem that we know as the typical daily commute.

Thirdly, the public transport model, where we have several commercial entities bidding to run bus routes and train lines for profit needs to be adjusted. Not completely overhauled, but adjusted. We need to do this not only to alleviate the discomfort of the commuting population, but also to include the less fortunate and differently enabled people who can’t commute like we do.

Before I go further, let me say two things – I am Singaporean and believe in the Singaporeans First concept, and I take the train everyday to avoid a $30 taxi ride. That being said, I can go on with this little rant of mine.

I’d like to propose a few concepts, some new, some not so new, some bright, some plain silly, and some reflective of my idealistic nature.

1. Reduce the need to commute on public transport. Offer work-from-home or flexi-work arrangements where appropriate. Locate offices in the heartlands and away from the city centre. Offer company transport at a subsidised rate. By taking the load off of the country’s over-burdened transport infrastructure, we can minimise the squeeze for the sardines out there who absolutely must take public transport to work, for whatever reason.

2. Optimise transport resources with the aim of increasing comfort and convenience, as well as resilience for national events (and disasters). Years ago, there was a call to remove the bus services that were duplicating the MRT lines. I believe that was done. Now that the trains are packed full, we should look towards reinstating these services, not just to offer more options to Singaporeans, but also to diversify resources so that one national emergency (e.g. breakdown of SMRT’s East-West Line) will not paralyse thousands of commuters.

3. Take up a not-for-profit business model when offering public transport services. The current model, where shareholders pressure companies (and their executive boards) to turn high profits needs to be re-examined. Companies offering an essential service should not be measured by the profits they make, but the services they provide. One measure we could look at is having the Government implement key performance indicators into a board of directors’ scorecard that will be used to measure the benefits the companies receive – rebates or levies for foreign manpower, taxes, bidding for and award of new routes, etc.

4. Adopt a no-nonsense, zero-error approach to the public transport business. Companies should incur penalties for every lapse – breakdowns, accidents that cause injury to commuters and the public, security breaches that result in actual or potential losses and injuries and more. Transport companies will then be forced to put the public’s interest above all others.

We need to seriously re-look public transport, and find long-term, sustainable and commuter-centric solutions to the problems we face.


*The above was first posted as a comment on The Temasek Times.


27 Responses to “Take long-term view to solve Singapore’s public transport woes”

  1. True sinkie said

    Don’t have so many immigrants here and u wouldn’t have a transport problem in the first place!!!!!!!!!

  2. P Koh said

    PM LHL has promised that the government will spend S$60billion over the next 20 years to build a first class MRT system so
    it is a waiting game. Hopefully I can live that long to see it. Best of luck to those who will still be around to witness it.

    • A G Young said

      This was said before! In 1979, there were a few Privately owned bus companies, namely: Singapore Traction Co; Changi Bus; Green Bus; Hock Lee Bus; Punggol Bus; Tay Koh Yat; but there were compelled to merge into one SINGLE bus company. With an ASSURANCE that A SINGLE BUS COMPANY would SERVED the POPULATION EFFICIENTLY. Thus… SINGAPORE BUS SERVICES was born in 1980. Later, TRANSLAND BUS was formed because SBS was unable to COPE EFFICIENTLY. To day, year 2012 we are still at SQUARE ONE!

  3. Jaded said

    Change the govt and problem will be solved.

  4. rongY said

    LHL is total out of syn of the problem of SG, dont talk about 20 years where u cannot even solve the present problems, just because LKY say so, he just carry out his orders. LKY try he may to keep his legacy, so many of his ideas he screw up and the decendant do not dare to take effective action going against his wish to solve the problems. We need someone with balls to lead SG out of this mess

  5. ngpy said

    Fully agreed with the above proposals to seriously look into the above. Since the Singapore Government HAVE PROMISED THE NATION to have consensus with the CITIZENS they should do it immediately and not JUST TALK ONLY NO ACTION.

  6. dog of the dogs said

    They just couldn’t careless la. Do they take public transport ?

  7. keksim a lang said

    Bottom line must show good profit! That’s how our goverment agencies work! Can say thousands words still no use!

  8. pokemon said

    Govt policy create the public transport woes. first the expansion of population was done without careful plannin in advance. second privatised and publicly listed these public transport company will only create greed and cutting corners to report record profits.

  9. Smelly Balls Suckers (SBS) said

    Free private transport should be provided for blue-collar workers who come in the masses, and usually go to the same few places (nearest supermarket, Mustafa). It reduces the strain on the infrastructure and public transport can function better with a lower load. Social tensions would also be lessened, esp. regarding the common complaints that they’re too smelly, talk too loud, sexually harass our females, and compete for seats even if there are handicapped people who need the seats more than they do.

    There are plenty of solutions out there but know why they don’t do anything about it? Everything goes back to $$$, man. By not offering such incentives to the employees, the private corporation saves much (above and beyond the savings they generate from exploiting cheap foreign labour), SBS gains more passengers and of course, more $$$. The private corporations will be happy, and stay to contribute to Singapore’s growth, which enables PAP to secure their fat pay checks.

    The ones suffering? Us daft Singaporean peasants. Do you think they care a damn about us? Their plan seems to be perfect but they failed to anticipate the overload which strained the infrastructure, and it backfired. Now, they’re scrambling to fix the problems, yet at the same time, it is clear that they are not willing to compromise their initial game plan, which explains the frequent breakdowns and delays despite knowing the problems when the initial breakdown happened.

    Suggest all you want. Nothing is going to change. The only way for change is to step up against the current regime. No, we’ll be doomed by the time we wait until 2016.

    • HELL said


    • Tsa74 said

      The concept of democracy is a farce. It is a vote of popularity. American Idol and all the reality talent shows have exposed the weak facets of democracy have they not?

      Majority decision does not necessarily mean the best decision.

      If nine out of ten people opt for the community to jump into a volcano, that is still democracy.

      No. Decisions regarding the betterment of society should be made by the best of persons, one of intelligence, good character and values, compassion, understanding etc.

      The authoritarian and autocratic concept is indeed ideal when implemented properly, having competent and qualified people in charge.

      As for democracy, for every vote you make, there’ll be votes from uninformed and uneducated lots as well. Who vote as to whom they ‘think’ is capable, not whether the candidates are actually capable and deserving of such trust and power.

      • Goh Tong Seng said

        And hence, that is where meritocracy comes in.

      • Tsa74 said

        Ahh but does meritocracy really exist?

        It is an ideal concept which can never be ideally put in practice.

        People who are in their current situations; are they really deserving to be there? Take for example, as only one of many: how many workers do you know secure their jobs and positions righteously?

        Qualified? The best workers? Best for the job? Or are they there due to the whims and fancies of a board of decision makers? Do they choose ominously based on merit? Or is it the force of Capitalism at work? Other motives in play?

        Education. Local deserving students turned away due to quotas reserved for foreign scholars that already have jobs secured for them?

        Drivers. COE. There is hardly any meritocracy there; the rich, drive. Are they the best and most competent and lawful of drivers?

        Meritocracy is simply an idealised utopian notion. Like democracy, simply a farce, to make society feel better about itself.

        True meritocracy can never show its face.

        Efforts edging towards meritocracy, falling short, create even more injustice, and should not be lauded. Its either done fully and right, or not at all. There is no compromise when it comes to utopian ideals.

    • Tsa74 said

      Besides, the theory of efficiency wages is false. High pay to stem corruption? No. The implementation of that theory has long outgrown its need.

      At a certain point, the efficiency wages per se become a motivating point for inefficiency as demand for high wages remain as the same source for corruption to occur.

      Cut down on efficiency wages. Crack down hard on accountability. People will not shun the jobs. The desire and demand for better conditions will still be a driving factor for competent people to take up charge, minding bribery aside, since the concept of bribery is ultimately self detrimental; a competent person in charge would know that and will never take up such things.

      As such there should not be a need for efficiency wages.

  10. richard said

    Who to blame.Who is the CEO of SMRT.Now what must transport minister do.Why import so much FT/FW and make singapore conjested.HDB and transport not enough.

  11. chunli said


    • Goh Tong Seng said

      Or Japan. They’re Number One!

      • Tsa74 said

        Thats because they have a sense of honor, manners and embarassment. They’ll ensure themselves hygienic before even daring to mingle with the packed train masses.

        Most local Singaporeans are okay, as they have been brought up in a time of relative harmony back then; proper manners, not making a nuisance in public, etc. We would be embarassed if we inconvenience others.

        The problem now is that the Singaporeans now dont care. They can nonchalantly stink up the whole cabin, talk loudly for the whole bus to hear, and do as they please, with no sense of shame or social awareness thats been instilled in us from our primary schools.

        Note to original commenter: Yes. HK is doing the right thing. Theres an article about them in TODAY regarding their housing policies, protecting the interests and catering to locals first.

  12. LimPeh said

    U can be transport minister liao. U volunteer take over LTY job and take half of his pay. I think LKY will be very happy.

  13. Commando Pants said

    I like number 1 and do it 3 days a week.. the system here is very good.. but now so many people… mmmm so its effectiveness is lost…. to say throw out non-sing maybe is counter-productive @True sinkie – to be frank a childish statement. Singapore runs on money, and the PRC and Ang Moh bring it here – so accept it. Hong Kong is the same… If you don’t like it move I guess. Stepping up against the Government is not an option for you Singaporean guys, you’ll be in jail doing 50 years before you know it or be shot – just like China.. Singapore is pretty tough if you step out of line .. sorry guys

  14. jy said

    Every month import so many foreigners,when ur plan kick off it becomes overloaded again. The root of the problem is still population increase. They should make sure everything is in order before they import anymore and ensure our structure can acomodate them.

  15. Tsa74 said

    You know what will better the transport service? Open up the damn market! Don’t let monopolies and monopsonies rule any more. Competitiveness between SMRT and SBS is really just wayang.

    Look at Malaysia. True they started slow in terms of transportation development. But the free market has really strengthened it over time, and I dare say that their public transport systems have improved very very much. The competition between companies give rise to good service and quality. Do you guys know that our hyped up ‘new’ buses, fr both SBS and SMRT look really shoddy now compared to some of the buses in KL? Yes their buses are cleaner, sturdier and of much similar design. I took one a few weeks back and was pretty amazed at the similarities with the ‘best’ of our buses here.

    Open up the free market for transportation. It will not lead to congestion if tighter controls are enforced on cars; COE shouldnt be put up for bidding at ridiculous prices. Competent drivers should be put on the road, not rich drivers with money. Enforce a stricter rule on private transport. This will boost demand in the public transport sector in line with the opening up of free competition.

    Public transports vie fr supremacy and quality and we get good service. Haggard drivers are taken off the roads. More public transport will cater to the increasing masses! Win-win.

    I’m tired of having to wait for a few trains to pass before i can even board the damn train to work each morning. Pressed up against some wall or strangers’ bag, at that. Hygiene checks before entering trains isnt such a bad idea.

  16. Goh Tong Seng said

    We should have more service providers. Some cash-rich entity should consider buying the defunct City Shuttle Services name and resurrecting it.

  17. We all have different perspectives and solutions on how to improve the public transport system. I respect your views and I appreciate you sharing them.

    By the way, at the time that this was written, I had just arrived home from dinner, and even at 9:30 p.m., the bus was full and I was surprised that I was still able to grab a seat.

    But let’s get back to it. I do agree with a number of points that were posted as comments on my first write up, and I will discuss them here.

    The very design of the public transport system needs to be overhauled. But this needs to be done in tandem with the tightening of the immigration and foreign worker / foreign talent policies. While we wait for the National Conversation to take place, and SBS Transit / SMRT / Comfort Taxis to review the feedback, and the Government to decide on who should fund improvements, we will still be adjusting a number of other policies and we will still see a very fluid and dynamic system. Along with increasing capacity of buses and trains, there is a real need to moderate the population that resides on our little island. But a warning to all – every tweak requires careful calibration. Chase out all your foreigners and you will be left with a talent vacuum that will rock the labour market. I have faith in my fellow countrymen, but if we are not careful we will lose the competitiveness that keeps us ahead of our peers in the region.

    The industry needs liberalisation but tight regulation. We want to open up the industry, to create more transport options, and create more capacity. Yes, given the high (and extremely effective) COE prices, we have a huge commuter population who will have to work til God-knows-what-age. They will likely create the demand for public transport. But as we have seen recently, there is a need to set the right standards and enforce them. Trains and vehicles need to be maintained, airbags need to be installed, GPS tracking devices need to be monitored. Drivers need to be trained and plans need to be exercised frequently. So while we call for more market players to enter the transport scene, we must be mindful of the need to design, plan and regulate the system so that it will be thoroughly oiled and work like clockwork. No essential services provider should be allowed to run wild in a liberal environment.

    We must learn from the best practices of other countries. But let’s remember that our country is a unique situation, and we should not expect what works there to work here. Our people, our needs, our wage levels, and our culture are all different. I am particularly proud of that actually. But with such uniqueness comes the inability to fit ourselves into the shoes of others. Let’s set the standards and policies right before we start saying, let’s adopt India’s bus system, or Philippine’s taxi system, or China’s taxi system.

    Let’s make it right and make it better.


    • Tsa74 said

      The tightening of immigration policies have come too late. Statistics have shown a remarkable and shocking demographic of the population. Do you know just how little pure local born Singaporeans make up the total percentage? Barring PRs who still laud their motherland, we are indeed a declining minority.

      I don’t see how they are going to appease the locals’ call against the massive influx of immigration. Singapore has always appealed to the supply side of global economy, which worked well to propel our developing nation back then; we supplied top quality workers, to attract MNCs to invest in us. Singapore has and will always be that, even as a fishing village it served as a port of call for trade to take place. It is a doomed and inevitable destiny.

      Just that, in today’s context, we are rapidly turning into the ‘Chinese sweat factories’ in order to boost our attractiveness globally. Take the depressed wages of the majority; high income earners are not the norm for locals. If you think you are high earning, there are multitudes of ‘talented PRs’ earning more than you.

      Look at the Casinos. The focus on amicability towards foreigners. The big picture should dawn upon all of us on what is happening. We are and have always been built up to be this supply-side global factory. Losing out to others in terms of resources and flexibility of options, we turn to whatever makes them stay. ANYthing.

      What the drivers fail to realize that Singapore should define itself as its own identity. Not simply as a ready supplier for the global scene. We have quality local workers brought up and raised in the false premise of meritocracy, used to the concept of excellence, and that is enough, to establish our own brand. We are expected to lead ASEAN, so we should act the part, instead of remaining in our supply mentality. Therein lies all of our policy problems.

      We Singaporeans are capable enough on our own. As a beacon in the SEA region, we should not offer too much hard selling. It makes us look desperate, look cheap, look weak. Let the MNCs hightail out of here, citing Capitalism, if they do not enrich us, meaninf our local population anymore. Just as how it is within the employment sectors, the draw of experience will be enough to keep us moving forward.

      Besides, i believe Singaporeans themselves will work hard for their own prosperity. Won’t we? That is evident from our supposed ‘xenophobic’ rants, is it not? The strong drive. Whose to say that if left to our own devices, we will sit back and let everyone else overtake us? No. The years and years from before, when everything was good, have prepared us for that and more.

      Trust us. Trust the LOCALS. Stop grovelling at the feet of others. We have learnt that hard lesson from the colonial masters.

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