Penalty framework for transport to be reviewed

Fann Sim

Singapore will review the regulatory and penalty framework over transport operators to strengthen where necessary following the worst train breakdowns in the city-state last month, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said.

In a statement for Parliament on Monday, Lui noted that one of the questions that needs to be answered by investigations into the breakdowns on 15 and 17 December is whether the regulatory regime is sufficient.

At present, transport operators that fail to comply with operating performance standards can be penalized up to S$1 million per incident, taking into account the severity.

In response to questions from Members of Parliament, Lui declined to speculate what fines should be for the two incidents as the underlying causes of the breakdowns and contributory factors should be understood first.

“So we will take some of that into consideration, as well as past performances, relative benchmarks such as the one I have just mentioned, and depending on the findings of the COI (Committee of Inquiry), we will then determine the penalty accordingly,” he said.

The last known security-related incident was in January 2008 and the fine then, the largest such in Singapore, was more than S$300,000.

Oversight into operators’ maintenance regimes will also be looked into, he said.

He reported that five to 10 minute delays in train services had gone up. From 213 incidents in 2007, the number went up to 271 incidents last year.

Lui also said that the train disruptions "exposed gaps in emergency preparedness and crisis response."

"SMRT could have better handled the evacuation of the passengers in the stalled trains to reduce the sense of distress, and provided clearer and timelier information and instructions to the public, instead of leaving commuters confused and apprehensive in the already disordered circumstances," he said.

Lui said, however, that improvements have since been made by SMRT even as the COI looks into the incidents.

The three-member COI, formed independently by the Ministry of Transport, will look into both technical and non-technical aspects of the incidents and will look into the larger systems beyond that which SMRT and LTA will cover in their own separate probes.

The COI will also make recommendations to minimise the recurrence of similar incidents, as well as improve the management of such incidents.

Lui said that improvement measures with regard to communication with commuters, bus bridging, and coordination between government agencies and the public transport operators have been initiated.

Changes have been implemented to enable the SMRT Operations Control Centre (OCC) to broadcast announcements timely and directly to passengers on a stalled train. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is also working on having emergency announcements in other languages besides English.

Lui also added that SMRT has also set up a Twitter account to provide information on service delays and are looking into the use of mass SMS broadcasts to alert commuters to service disruptions.

On bus bridging services, Lui said that the activation of such services sometimes took too long and encountered various execution and logistical problems. As the regulator, Land Transport Authority (LTA) is working with both SMRT and SBS Transit (SBST) to improve contingency plans for train service disruptions.

Lui added that instead of relying on bridging shuttle bus services, which could take some time to activate, LTA is working with SMRT to allow free travel on its bus services that serve SMRT stations where train services are disrupted. This arrangement could be further extended across both operators.

On coordinating between operators and agencies, Lui said that the communications protocol has been streamlined so that LTA, Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) can be alerted more quickly.

He asked the MPs and public to be understanding and patient while the COI gets to the bottom of the matter.

Additional reporting by Jeanette Tan