Opinion

Guess What? Lui Tuck Yew Says Fares NEED To Increase To Keep New Bus Model Sustainable

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Mark Cheng

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This is just brilliant. I almost choked on my morning coffee when I read the recent news article regarding Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s response to a Parliamentary debate on the sustainability of the new bus contracting model.

A couple of months back, we touched on the new model and why this should hypothetically result in lower bus fares across the board. Or at least, this is something commuters should demand and expect. The recent discussion in Parliament highlighted concerns on whether or not this new contracting bus model will be financially sustainable and how much taxpayers’ money it will require to run.

Just an extremely quick summary for the few that are unsure of what is going on: The Singapore Government is going to purchase all bus assets and infrastructure and contract out the services of operating the bus routes to outside contractors. Prior study of other systems in London and Australia have shown that this system has proven successful in increasing standards of bus service.

 

That’s What He (Lui) Said

Addressing the concerns raised in Parliament, Lui Tuck Yew mentioned that in order to make the new model sustainable, regular fare increases would be needed and new routes cancelled if there aren’t enough passengers after some months.

Mr Lui said: “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 by taxpayers in the form of Government subsidies.”

He also mentioned: “There is surely no free lunch… 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.”

Mr Lui also added that a new route could be tested for a few months and if the required passenger volume is not met, then the authorities may have to “sometimes make the painful decision to cut that route and eliminate it”.

 

What We Think

The few times that I’ve been to an event with an MP around, I’ve not seen anyone run up to them and point a gun to their head insisting that they create a bus route that brings them from obscure point A to obscure point B. If transport routes need to be cut due to a lack of sustainability, is anyone really going to lose their head over that as opposed to fares increasing across the board?

Also, whenever this debate on “financial sustainability” goes up, am I the only one who thinks they’re really talking about “financial profitability”?

Face it, Mr Lui. People are ALWAYS going to ask for more bus routes. When I was young, I wanted a slide from my bedroom window that led into the swimming pool (except I didn’t have a swimming pool). The look on my parents’ face led me to conclude that 1. It was a stupid suggestion and 2. It was never going to happen because of various logistical and, more importantly, financial barriers.

I’m not saying that requests for bus routes are stupid, but if they hamper the overall financial sustainability (NOT profitability) of the system, how hard is it to put that on hold? Also, here’s another suggestion which we’ve made plenty of times: How about GETTING THE DAMN TRAINS TO WORK? Or actually completing a new MRT line on time?

We’re going to take a look at Singapore’s public transport system as a whole and see how it compares to other countries in a cute little infographic, so follow us on Facebook as we release that later this week!

Mr Lui said: “If you operate more and more new routes and the ridership is low, the Government and, indirectly, the taxpayer, take on the burden of making sure it is financially sustainable,”

So I’m supposed to pay for your inability to say no? No thanks.

A Question of Necessity vs Sustainability

Now, we definitely have no perspective on how the Land Transport Authority (LTA) assesses routes or how they determine whether a route should survive or not. Heck, we don’t even know if they are really assessing routes on a measure of sustainability or a margin of profit. But the fact remains that there may be some routes which are a necessity to a significant amount of people, but not an amount significant enough to make that route sustainable.

What happens then? The bus route gets cancelled, while the people who end up suffering are also taxpayers supporting this entire transportation machine? And if fares get hiked and their particular bus route gets cancelled, then they end up paying higher fares overall for the same, longer bus route that they had to take originally.

A potential solution to that would be to increase the fares for that particular route, ala Express buses, in accordance or at least pegged to a certain degree to the cost of taking a more convoluted route. The bottom line is that we are sick of hearing transport companies turn huge profits at the expense of the consumer, while we have to spend 1 hour on a crowded bus hoping that our phone battery lasts long enough to entertain us for the duration of the miserable trip.

The eventual ideal is that LTA gets their act together and sorts out the MRT lines sooner rather than later, and buses primarily serve as feeder services and then LTA can look at more obscure routes to help those in need of a more optimised service.

What are your thoughts on Mr Lui’s statement? Wasn’t this new model supposed to make public transport more competitive and affordable? Share your thoughts with us here!

Image Credits:
Ministry of Transport Singapore

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Mark Cheng

I rant and rave a lot, but when I'm not busy doing that, I'm managing the content for MoneySmart. I love Singapore, but I also believe in helping it to improve bit by bit, and that's where MoneySmart comes in. Have some thoughts? Drop me an email at mark@moneysmart.sg.