Recently, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo announced that LTA would continue doling out free morning rides to commuters for another year. Sure, the idea sounds great in principle. Offer people free rides early in the morning so there’ll be fewer people on the train during rush hour. Eureka! said some guy at LTA.
(Update 13/7: An earlier version of this article attributed the Free Pre-Peak Travel to SMRT. We apologise for the error.)
But the take-up rate has been low. In fact, most people have mentioned that they would rather get an extra hour of sleep in the morning than save $1.50 on that MRT ride.
And frankly, who’s surprised? Come on, people are willing to pay a lot more for that extra hour of sleep! Isn’t that why nobody cooks and we have maids doing everything for us?
Just like the baby bonus, it looks like this is another incentive that’s not going to have much of an impact, simply because there are too many circumstances (long working hours!) preventing people from taking advantage of it.
Here are three factors that will have to change if people are going to start taking this free MRT ride thing seriously.
1. Employers’ attitudes
There’s a reason most of the people surveyed regarded taking the earlier train as something that would rob them of an extra hour’s sleep. Most of these folks would not have been able to go to bed an hour earlier, due to the fact that they’d have been obliged to stay at work till the same time anyway.
Respondents in the Straits Times article complained that if they arrived at work an hour early, they wouldn’t have much work to do and would thus be adding an empty extra hour to their working day. Others complained that their bosses would not let them leave an hour earlier even if they arrived early.
There are still others (and we all know the type) who would have continued to hang around the office till 7, 8 or 9pm regardless of their workload, just because their boss was around.
It’s clear employers’ inflexible attitudes have a large role to play in the failure of the free MRT ride scheme. Hello, would you want to turn up at work at 8am instead of 9am if you still ended up leaving at the same time in the evening? Singaporeans already work long enough hours, and it’s obvious nobody wants to work an extra hour every day just to save $1.50.
2. The scheme is too rigid
The free MRT ride scheme wants to reward you—but only if your travel patterns are exactly what they have in mind.
In order to qualify for free fares, you have to tap out at 18 designated MRT stations before 7:45 am on a weekday. If you miss by a few minutes but still manage to tap out between 7:45 am and 8am, you get 50 cents off.
The 18 stations are all in city centre, namely Bayfront, Bras Basah, Bugis, Chinatown, City Hall, Clarke Quay, Dhoby Ghaut, Downtown, Esplanade, Lavender, Marina Bay, Orchard, Outram Park, Promenade, Raffles Place, Somerset, Tanjong Pagar and Telok Ayer. If you start your journey at any of these stations, you don’t qualify for the free or reduced fares.
As you can see, there’s a number of people who would be excluded.
For instance, if you take the bus from your home in, say, Pasir Panjang to Tanjong Pagar and then hop onto the MRT to get to your office at City Hall, you do not qualify for the free rides.
If you get off at Bugis to buy breakfast early in the morning and then get back on the MRT to continue on to work, the second leg of your journey will not be free.
And then there’s the fact that the cut-off time is so early. If you regularly take the train to work during rush hour, you’ll know that the peak hour crush is infinitely worse for those people who arrive in the CBD between 8:45am and 9am, than it is for those who arrive between 8:05am to 8:30am.
Asking people to arrive at frigging 7:45am is a little too much. If the scheme could be extended to a more reasonable 8:30am, it might work better.
While experts might complain that distributing some of the 9am crush to 8:30am wouldn’t do that much to reduce congestion, the important thing is that more people would be encouraged to try to wake up earlier, since running a little late wouldn’t immediately cost them their free ride.
Right now, if you’re planning to take a train from which you alight at 7:40am, just oversleeping by 10 minutes means you might as well as give up and take the 9am train instead. A more nuanced system would prevent situations like that.
3. Nothing is open that early
Many people are turned off by the fact that they have nothing to do at 7:45 am in the CBD, other than put in an extra hour of work, which sounds as appealing as getting an extra asshole.
In order to entice commuters into taking up the offer, the LTA website suggests having “a good workout at the gym” or enjoying a “leisurely breakfast with your colleagues”.
Well guess what, if you’re the type of person who actually cares about saving $1.50 on your commute to work, you’re probably not paying over $100 a month for a membership at some expensive gym with a Raffles Place branch.
And if you’re going to have breakfast with your colleagues, you’ll easily spend more than the money you just saved by hopping on the train early, so why bother?
The only way people would feel travelling to the city early wasn’t a waste of their time is if shops or other banking and professional services were open that early.
That way, people would be able to run the errands they would normally run after work, thus freeing up time in the evening.
For instance, people wanting to go the bank or post office might choose to do so early in the morning rather than wait till after work if only these services were available.
Likewise, those who work at Raffles Place and want to do their groceries would be able to if NTUC FairPrice at Chinatown were open earlier.
Right now, businesses only start operations much later in the day. Someone heading to the CBD at 7:45am is entering a ghost town, and it’s hard to convince people that an hour of dead time is worth only $1.50.
What would it take to get you to travel to the CBD before 7:45am every day? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credit: mroach