SINGAPORE: Overcrowding in public transport, implementation of distance-based fares and surging COE prices were some major issues that dominated the Singapore transport scene in 2010.
For prices of Certificates of Entitlement (COEs), observers say they will continue to climb in 2011, especially with further cuts in vehicle quota expected. They add that better management of resources can make public transport a more reliable alternative.
The public transport fare structure was overhauled in July 2010. Passengers pay according to the distance travelled and are no longer penalised when making transfers.
The authorities said two in three commuters would pay less or see no change in their fares. But there was some confusion in the initial days, with passengers complaining they were paying more than previously.
Some argued that commuters had made fare comparison without factoring in the expiry of the 3% fare rebate that also took effect in July.
Still, there were those who felt commuters were not well-prepared for the change.
Dr Lim Wee Kiak, chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said: “Maybe the ministry did not highlight enough, when they implemented the distance-based (fare structure), that for long trips it becomes a little bit more expensive while for short trips, when you need to make a lot of transfers, it actually becomes cheaper. They did clarify that one third of them may find their fees to be higher while two thirds actually benefited.”
In November, it was revealed passengers were overcharged some $300,000 and in other cases undercharged some $100,000. This was due to distance discrepancies between some bus stops.
This came to light after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the public transport operators completed a thorough review of the distance between bus stops. The discrepancies resulted from ground changes, such as route or bus stop changes that were not updated in the system.
Those overcharged were given refunds from 18 December.
Dr Lim said: “….$300,000, it sounds a lot but you must understand that the transport system is very well-used and it caters to very high volume. If you divide by individual commuters, it is still a small amount, not a large amount to cry hoo-haa.
“We all know that our road systems are in a constant flux; there will be new MRT lines being dug in and there will be new diversions of the roads. The issue now is with these new diversions.
“What kind of system do they put in place now to keep track of the changes in bus stops so that the data is always…..the most updated so that no one needs to be overcharged or undercharged.”
Separately observers believe that with inflation, public transport fares may go up in future. But the Public Transport Council (PTC) says any increase will be weighed carefully.
Gerard Ee, chairman of Public Transport Council (PTC), said: “People are just making reference to one figure – the consumer price index…but the rest (of the data) are not in. Let's wait for the appropriate time for all the figures including the figures on the operators so we can do the reality check. Let's get all the statistics in….household income and affordability factor. When we have all the answers there, then we can sit and ponder on it.”
To make public transport more appealing, S$1 billion has been set aside to upgrade the signalling system for MRT trains to run faster.
Separately, modification works are also underway at the Jurong East MRT Station. When completed in 2011, it will be possible to run more train trips.
Passenger-carrying capacity on the North-South and East-West Lines will also be expanded by about 15%.
SMRT says it is gearing up for the next phase of the Circle Line, when the stretch between Marymount and HarbourFront opens in 2011.
More bus lanes were also introduced.
But observers say that to address overcrowding, buses must become a more reliable alternative.
Dr Lim said: “New bus diversions, new bus routes bring residents to different places. The bus lanes are the right move so that hopefully, our buses can move at a faster speed…public transport is still the most efficient way of moving Singaporeans around.”
Associate Professor Anthony Chin, a transport economist from the National University of Singapore, says “the solutions lie in better management of car and bus trips through technology, integrating work, residence and transport, efficient dissemination of travel information.”
LTA says it will continue to conduct regular reviews of bus services and make improvements.
Following the community consultations in 2010, LTA is reviewing the feedback received from grassroots leaders and existing channels.
LTA will balance the interests of different groups and the financial sustainability of the bus system before proposing appropriate revisions to bus routes.
Thereafter, it will seek the PTC's approval for the finalised bus routes and work with the public transport operators to roll them out gradually.
The consultation and upcoming route changes form an ongoing process that LTA has embarked upon since it assumed the role of central bus planner in 2009.
And to manage congestions on the roads, a new system to calculate vehicle quotas was introduced. It is based on the number of vehicles scrapped in the previous six months.
The result: higher COE premiums.
And with industry players saying that the uptrend is likely to continue, a motor dealer said some first-time car buyers might have been persuaded to “stick to public transport”.
Chin Kee Min, a senior manager at KIA Motors, said: “You can see that customers are actually changing (their considerations). You get less of first-time car buyers….I think that for first-time buyers, with the increase in COE prices, a lot of them actually switch their considerations to buying a used car or maybe even sticking to public transport.”
Safety on the roads was another issue in 2010. The fatal lorry accident on 22 June that left three workers dead prompted calls for the authorities to take a tougher line on safety.
By February 2011, all light lorries used to transport workers must be fitted with canopies and higher side railings. Heavy lorries used to transport workers will need to comply by August 2011.
And the minimum deck space per seated worker will be doubled to eight square feet by then, as well.
LTA says that except for offences related to maximum passenger capacity which have increased by an average of 39% per month, other offences have seen an average drop of 75% per month in 2010 compared to 2009.
Perhaps, two wheelers may be just as good when moving around HDB estates.
Two more towns – Changi-Simei and Bedok – have been identified to have
dedicated cycling infrastructure by 2014.
It will complement the similar infrastructure announced earlier for five other towns, namely Yishun, Tampines, Sembawang, Taman Jurong and Pasir Ris.
Construction of dedicated off-road intra-town cycling paths in Tampines and Yishun started early this year. The first 1.2km stretch in Tampines has been in use since 18 July. Works for the cycling paths in all the five towns are expected to be completed by 2012.
Channel News Asia