Opinion

Public Transport Fare Hike: What You Should Really Be Concerned About

Peter Lin

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Oh look, the annual public transport fare hike is here again. Although it’s something generally expected, people still have the same reactions to it as finding a rat in a salted vegetable dish. What, too soon?

Also, we won’t deny that it was pretty silly for Lui Tuck Yew to even suggest that we might get lower public transport fares just before the announcement. Excellent timing, sir.

But even with the fare hike, we were assured that children, senior citizens, low-wage workers and persons with disabilities would not be affected. So for the rest of us average commuters, what is the real financial cost of the fare hike to the average commuter?

Let’s take a step back and be objective about it. Here are three typical commuting scenarios for a working adult:

1. From a HDB in Sengkang to workplace in CPF Building (LRT, transfer to MRT) – 16.7km

Currently, the fare per trip would cost $1.86.

With the fare increase in April, such a trip would cost $1.91, or 5 cents more per trip. That’s generally 10 cents more a day. If you were to make this same trip everyday for a whole month, it would cost you about $3.00 a month.

2. From a condo in Bukit Batok to workplace in Anson Road (Bus, transfer to MRT) – 17km

Currently, the fare per trip would cost $0.77 + $1.49 – transfer rebate of $0.65 = $1.61.

With the fare increase in April, such a trip would cost $1.65, or 4 cents more per trip. That’s generally 8 cents more a day. If you were to make this same trip everyday for a whole month, it would cost you about $2.40 a month.

3. From landed property in Serangoon Gardens to workplace in Bukit Merah (Bus, transfer to MRT, transfer to Bus) – 18.2km

Currently, the fare per trip would cost $0.77 + $1.58 + $0.87 – transfer rebate of $1.40 = $1.82

With the fare increase in April, such a trip would cost $1.87, or 5 cents more per trip. That’s generally 10 cents more a day. If you were to make this same trip everyday for a whole month, it would cost you about $3.00 a month.

(All computations done using MyTransport.sg’s Fare Calculator)

So MP Lim Biow Chuan is a little off the mark when he says the fare hike will only cost about $1 a month. But you have to agree that he’s not wrong when he says, “It’s still bearable”.

This means, if your complaint is about the AMOUNT of the fare increase, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. If having to pay a maximum of only $3 more a month, which isn’t enough to even buy your daily Starbucks fix, is causing you to lose sleep and spasm uncontrollably, then maybe you should do some intense self-reflection (and perhaps stop consuming so much caffeine).

So what’s the real issue here?

This morning, I waited at the Circle Line platform for 7 minutes before the train showed up. As one colleague said, “Why do the trains always slow down as soon as a fare hike is announced?” It’s almost a reminder that even though the public transport fare hike will only be 2 to 5 cents more come April this year, it’s really just the tip of the unhappy commuter iceberg.

Public transport in Singapore is a necessity. It’s become such a crucial part of our lives, especially with our small land area and ridiculously high COE prices. We really don’t have too many alternatives, regardless of how unhappy we are with the service standards. As a beloved MoneySmart writer put it, “What the [email protected]#$ are you going to do? WALK? LOL”.

Yet, because it is PUBLIC transport, there will always be certain expectations that the public has whenever there is a fare increase, even if it’s just a few cents. An expectation that your trains will run on time and that they won’t break down, for starters. These aren’t unrealistic expectations, surely.

What about the rising operational costs?

According to SBS Annual Reports, the transport provider has still been enjoying an increase in revenue and the number of commuters that use their services over the past four years. SMRT’s latest Annual Report also shows that revenue for buses and trains has also been steadily increasing over the same time period. Yet both companies have reported operational losses in the past year.

In their 2012 Annual Report, SBS cited “higher staff costs, higher depreciation, higher repairs and maintenance costs and higher fuel costs” as the reason for their rising operational costs. When the fuel costs went down in 2013, “higher fuel costs” was conveniently replaced with “higher premises costs”. Presumably, the fare hike is supposed to cover these operational costs.

So, put simply, the number of people using your service is going up. Your overall revenue is going up. But you’re STILL making an overall operational loss? I can’t be the only person who thinks there’s something wrong with the picture here.

If SBS or SMRT were a private company, someone would already have been sacked for incompetence. Oh wait, that’s right, these ARE private companies. So why does it become society’s problem when operational costs have gone up? Why are we supposed to pay SBS and SMRT more to still be incompetent?

At the end of the day, after each annual fare hike, if there’s still no improvement in service, then something needs to change. We as commuters shouldn’t be paying more, even if it’s only a few cents, if the issues that have plagued public transport continue to exist.

What do you think of the public transport fare hike? Share your thoughts with us.

Image Credits:
Anil Wadghule

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Peter Lin

I am the poster boy for reinventing one's self. I've been a broadcast journalist, technical writer, banking customer service officer and a Catholic friar. My life experiences have made me the most cynical idealist you'll ever meet, which is why I'm also the co-founder of a local pop culture website. I believe ignorance is not bliss, and that money is the root of all evil only if you allow it to be.