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