Public transport usage now at '40 per cent of pre-COVID level': Khaw

SINGAPORE — Ridership on public transport has recovered to about 40 per cent of the “pre-COVID level”, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday (22 June).

Although the pandemic has disrupted demand for public transport, the impact is only temporary as commuters would return once the coronavirus is gone, he said during an event at SMRT’s Bishan Depot to mark the decommissioning of 66 first-generation North-South East-West Line (NSEWL) trains.

Phase 2 of Singapore’s re-opening kicked in on 19 June and has seen crowds returning to shopping malls as well as eateries.

Khaw added that even as transport operators dealt with the effects of COVID-19, his team is pressing on with other issues, such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) and the Johor Bahru–Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS Link) projects – both of which remain in limbo after they were suspended due to the pandemic.

The RTS Link and HSR projects will be suspended until 31 July and 31 December respectively.

“In fact, the RTS Link discussions, over tele-conferencing, have been intensive, often running into the night, as the negotiators are mindful of the end-July deadline,” said Khaw, who is also Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

“This is the final extension, and the window is closing. I hope that there will be a successful outcome, so that we can re-start the project implementation.”

In his speech, Khaw also reiterated his ministry’s goal to expand the MRT network to 360km by the early 2030s. He noted, however, that there would be delays due to the pandemic’s impact on the availability of construction workers.

Decommissioning of 66 pioneer MRT trains

During the event, Khaw took a ride on one of the trains from the Ang Mo Kio station to Bishan Depot.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan entering a first generation train at Ang Mo Kio Station on 22 June. (Photo: Nick Tan for Yahoo News Singapore)
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan entering a first generation train at Ang Mo Kio Station on 22 June. (PHOTO: Nick Tan for Yahoo News Singapore)

The initial batch of trains, manufactured by Kawasaki, were first deployed along the North-South Line on 7 November 1987 – the day that the MRT network first began operating.

Speaking to reporters, Khaw recalled how Ang Mo Kio station was one of only five stations – from Yio Chu Kang to Toa Payoh – to exist at the time.

“Some of you may recall how excited Singaporeans were. Over 120,000 commuters bought $3 commemorative tickets on Opening Day, to ride on our fleet of first-generation trains,” said Khaw.

He added that the 66 trains would be progressively replaced by new ones built by Bombardier, starting from next year. As for the decommissioned trains, some will be used for educational and training purposes with private or public organisations such as schools, while others will converted into recreational spaces.

The rest will be dismantled and scrapped.

Also announced at the event was the winner of the Ministry of Transport Challenge Shield for last year, with the East-West Line bagging both titles of “Most Reliable Line” and “Most Improved Line”.

“The East-West Line has come a very long way, especially from the 2017 train collision incident, for which all of us would never forget. The turnaround of EWL is a good story, that no matter how low we have fallen, with determination, we can rise again, to emerge better and stronger,” said Khaw.

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