Transport fares to be adjusted 'from time to time' to ensure long-term sustainability: Ong Ye Kung

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Singapore's Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung addresses Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate on Thursday, 4 March 2021. (SCREENGRAB: Ministry of Communications and Information YouTube channel)
Singapore's Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung addresses Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate on Thursday, 4 March 2021. (SCREENGRAB: Ministry of Communications and Information YouTube channel)

SINGAPORE — Transport fares will continue to be adjusted "from time to time" in order to keep the public transport system sustainable for the long term, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Thursday (4 March).

"This is needed as costs do go up, including the wages of public transport workers, who look forward to earning more. The Public Transport Council makes a careful decision on fares every year," said Ong, who spoke during the Committee of Supply (COS) debate for the Transport Ministry.

He pointed out that the government has been spending about $1 billion a year to subsidise rail operations, as well as another $1 billion of taxpayers’ funds to subsidise bus operations. Operating costs include manpower, electricity, maintenance, and the renewal of operating assets like trains and signalling systems.

For example, the Thomson-East Coast Line will cost more than $25 billion to build. Over this decade, authorities will also spend more than $60 billion to expand and renew the rail network, and with new stations or lines opened almost every year.

"The government needs to continue to subsidise the operations of MRT and buses. But the bill to taxpayers cannot keep ballooning. If it does, we would leave our future generations a growing financial burden," said Ong.

The minister also listed other measures that must be undertaken to ensure long term sustainability, such as reducing excess capacity and making the system more efficient by making the morning and evening peaks less pronounced.

Transport operators must also train their workers well and find new ways to be cost efficient. "This includes keeping train services reliable, and not trying to penny-pinch on maintenance cost, thinking that this will translate to savings. We learnt this major lesson, in a hard way."

From 2012 to 2018, Singapore saw a series of major train breakdowns and incidents.

For example, on 22 March 2016, two SMRT trainees died after being struck by a train while inspecting a mechanical fault on the tracks near Pasir Ris station. SMRT Trains director Teo Wee Kiat was eventually fined $55,000 for the safety lapses that led to the incident.

Former SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek's tenure from 2012 to 2018 was also marked by numerous incidents such as a tunnel flood that resulted in a 20-hour disruption in train services, a train collision that injured 38 people, as well as frequent breakdowns.

Clean, sustainable transport

Given that the cleanest and most sustainable way to move is still mass public transport, Ong said the government aims to raise the mass public transport modal share during peak hours from 64 per cent now to 75 per cent by 2030.

And while COVID-19 has delayed its plans, the MRT network will grow from around 230km today to 360km in the early 2030s. "Between now and 2025, we will open the rest of the Thomson-East Coast Line. By 2026, we will close the loop for the Circle Line, between Harbourfront and Marina Bay," said Ong.

"As for the men and women on the streets, we will bring buses and trains as close as possible to final destinations, with pedestrian pathways and covered linkways."

In addition, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has identified over 60 projects to convert suitable roads into footpaths, cycling paths or bus lanes, with Phase 1 kicking off in March. For example, it will look into widening a footpath along Havelock Road, between 715 Havelock Road and 745 Havelock Road.

Permanent infrastructural changes will be made in Phase 2 if there is support from the community.

"For every project, we will work closely with the community, and proceed only when we assess that on balance, the project benefits the community. So I don’t expect all 60 projects to proceed, but we will learn from each experiment."

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Up to 34 per cent reduction in road tax for electric cars: Ong Ye Kung

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