Opinion

What the Two New Transport Bills Mean for the Average Singaporean

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Peter Lin

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Yes, we’ve made fun of his name. Yes, we’ve turned his “catchphrase” into a meme. But with the benefit of hindsight, I’m “extremely concerned” that we’ve actually underestimated one of the most hardworking members of the Cabinet.

I’m talking about outgoing Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, of course. As one of his final acts in Parliament last month, he helped to get two important transport bills passed – the Bus Services Industry Bill and the Public Transport Council (Amendment) Bill. Here’s how they affect you and why you should care:

 

Just a second… what two bills?

On the 18th of August in Parliament, the Bus Services Industry Bill and the Public Transport Council (Amendment) Bill were passed. These were Bills first proposed in the Parliament session held on 13th of July.

The more important Bill is the Bus Services Industry Bill. It is meant to give power to the Land Transport Authority to plan bus routes, own public buses and tender contracts to run them. They will also take over the regulation of public bus services. In the past, these four responsibilities were actually handled by three different organisations, if you can believe it. With the new consolidation, it should make any new changes easier and quicker to implement.

The other Bill is the Public Transport Council (Amendment) Bill. In the past, the Public Transport Council (PTC) was the organisation that regulated the bus service industry. This means that it was the PTC that controlled things like bus fares and also imposed fines on bus operators SBS Transit and SMRT Buses if they failed to meet service standards. These powers have now been given to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Instead, the PTC will now become an “independent advisor” when it comes to transport issues. They will do research, evaluate and present recommendations to the Transport Minister.

 

Oooookay… but how does this affect me?

Any changes to public transport will affect us Singaporeans. In fact, we predict that transport will be one of the hotly debated issues in the days leading up to the General Elections.

By consolidating power under the Land Transport Authority, it means that they’ll be solely accountable for the service quality of bus services in Singapore. Say for example, there are changing travel demand and expectations, and a bus service is constantly full at peak periods because the bus frequency is not high enough. Instead of bouncing the problem back and forth between multiple organisations like in the past, and taking months to solve, LTA now has the visibility to see the problem and deal with it directly.

Not only that, LTA now has several options to choose from when solving an issue. They could outright penalise the operator for not meeting service standards, or they could put more buses on the road, or they could implement new routes in order to reduce the demand on one service. In the past, each of these solutions would require going through a different organisation.

Basically, a more efficient bus system would mean wasting less of your time. It could even mean wasting less of your money, since you don’t have keep hailing an expensive taxi when things go wrong.

 

Speaking of expensive taxis…

The Public Transport Council (Amendment) Bill also gives PTC the power to standardise the structure of taxi fares. We know that in Singapore, it’s almost impossible to keep track of which is the cheapest taxi to take. However, we’ve also been told, by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo no less, that after discussing it for almost 2 years, it’s “not possible” to standardise taxi fares “to the satisfaction of all”.

With some of its responsibilities now going to LTA, the hope is that the PTC will be able to focus on this seemingly impossible task.

The danger, of course, is that any standardisation of taxi fares may result in fares being standardised upwards. However, in the long run, it would make it easier since there would be less guesswork for us, the consumers. Queueing up at a taxi stand will no longer become a mini-game of Wheel of Fortune anymore.

 

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t just be about profits

Ultimately, public transport should never have become a profit-driven industry. By making public transport companies private, you complicate services by trying to find a balance between consumer satisfaction and cost-cutting measures. Hopefully, as we move towards what public transport should always have been, the government would be able to control prices of public transport as well as ensure that buses are properly maintained.

At the end of the day, this means that when bus services (and public transport in general) fall below an acceptable standard, when we complain to the Transport Minister, he can actually do more than just be “extremely concerned”.

 

Is public transport an important issue for you as Singaporeans? Share your thoughts with us.

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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.