Public Transport Fare Hike 2005 : The Tree And The Woods
- From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
1 June 2005
Public Transport Fare Hike 2005 : The Tree And The Woods
(1) The Tree
Bureaucracy had never been so efficient. And if there is one
governmental promise which can be counted upon to come true, it is
"small, regular fare adjustments".
The official application happened shortly after the foreboding May Day
speech of the Prime Minister. Less than a month later, the Public
Transport Council (PTC) nodded.
Such is the amazing speed behind the latest approval of fare hikes in
buses and trains that it is easy to forget that the spectacle was
nearly 1 year in the making. In 2004, public transport providers
pledged that there would be no fare hike for that year. The good news
was somewhat dulled by certain `prophetic' Ministers (see
footnote 1) who forewarned that May 2005 would bear lesser joy for the
Every lame statistic unabashedly presented by the transport providers
as justification was knocked down by the public with embarrassing
ease. But despite the one month barrage, banditry expectedly won the
day. Typically, logic and wisdom have no place in the rationality of
So whilst "the (PTC) is satisfied that the current economic
condition is not considered to be adverse and that there is no
significant deterioration in the overall affordability of public
fares", it failed to explain why the same logic of a
`non-adverse economy' and guaranteed fare revenue (from
affordable fares) could not be used against the transport cartel.
So while the PTC proclaimed that "there are no signs that the
affordability of public transport has deteriorated in recent years,
even with a small fare increase for 2005", it failed to
appreciate the Hobson's choice confronting commuters who do not have
more affordable and practical alternatives to shun the services of the
So while PTC can spew the tripe that "the percentage of monthly
household income spent by the characteristic family on public
transport has decreased slightly from 5.4% in 2003 to 5.2% in 2004. As
an indicative check on a 2.4% fare increase, the affordability
indicator could even decrease slightly, given the likely prospect of
improving general wage level for 2005", it ignored the common
sense that a lower household income, whatever the significance may be,
leads invariably to less travelling.
The PTC, enthralled by the modest economic figures, was equally guilty
of turning a blind eye to the Service Standard criteria by which
public transport providers must satisfy before the latter can even cry
for more money.
And with that folly, commuters are left to continue to endure -
darkened cabins with poor visibility beyond the advertisement decals,
CCTV surveillance mechanism that are built to fail when most needed,
afterthought implementation of amenities for the elderly and
handicapped (with the continual threat of funding by commuters),
erratic schedule which can mean a peak-hour waiting time of more than
30 minutes (culminating in the arrival of a triplet of buses), jarring
and noisy high-decibel TV Mobile without onboard volume control
mechanism, rides on buses and trains which are evidently over the
legal capacity, and the endless problems with EZ-Link.
How much profit is sufficient profit to please the transport cartel
and the shareholders? With reported millions in profit annually, what
could possibly induce the transports companies to ask for more?
Perhaps their wealth was frittered away through undisclosed poor
business decisions, or top-heavy remuneration packages for the higher
echelon, or even the need for more capital for their immense overseas
investments (providing competitive price over there at the expense of
the local commuters).
Fare hikes hurt Singaporeans when they do not know where all the money
is going. In the end, commuters can only conclude that fare hikes are
a top-down greed-driven initiative rather than a bottom-up survival
necessity. And the government will be implicated in its failure to
safeguard the interest of the public in providing an essential public
service without the constant commercial overtone.
(2) The Woods
The fervent focus on the fare hikes can seriously eclipse Singaporeans
from a more menacing storm front. A moment of reflection is needed to
appreciate the enormity of the approaching dread rumbling over the
The period between 2001 and 2003 was an extremely trying experience
for Singaporeans as they endured a sustained economic doldrums. The
bitter pill was `helpfully' shoved down by a slew of
increment in utility tariffs, GST, road tax, parking fees, and
transport fare hikes on 2 separate occasions.
When the government of ex-premier Goh Chok Tong reneged on its promise
to restore the employers' CPF contribution rate, the sentiment of
the entire nation nearly came to a boil. Craftily, the ex-premier
abdicated his seat in 2004 before fresh election could be called to
inflict damages on the incumbent.
His successor, the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has a
mandate to win before the next election before 2007. The economy is
far from ready to be discharged from the emergency ward, but the
virtual respite of 2004 and 2005 hitherto nevertheless allowed the new
premier to regain the initiative to avoid repeating the political
gaffe of his predecessor which could cost him dearly at the polls.
PM Lee has little time to waste, and he could not afford to. The
Singapore economy is expected to slide unpredictably for an indefinite
period. Any hope of a quick rebound is undermined by persistently high
global oil prices (see footnote 2). PM Lee had solemnly forewarned in
his May Day speech of more inevitable structural unemployment through
economic restructuring, a thin euphemism for a depressed economy.
The PM and his government are caught in a dire undercurrent. Speed is
of utmost paramount, and the so-called `reforms' are
powerfully put through at a relentless pace within less than a year.
The incidental result is an unbroken wave of unpleasant measures seen
in the increment of University tuition fees (through a reduction of
government subsidies), increment of Polytechnic tuition fees, and
increment of MediShield to name a few. The rationale can be
extrapolated to the bet on the Casinos (in the grand hope that the
tourism industry can save the economy) and even the elevated urgency
to offload the unwanted new flats to locals and permanent residents
before this group of potential buyers rationalise their expenditure.
Private businesses programmed to ape the government jumped on the
bandwagon. Prices of cinema tickets rose, and private bus operators
joined the pillage.
The transport fare hike is thus just one of the many hastily concocted
gambits to capitalise on the "Now" to preempt the "Future". By the
next election, the PM will count on a mix of charm, fear, and habitual
collective amnesia of the population to clinch the mandate he sought,
assured that the coffer-fattening mechanisms for the following 5 years
and beyond would be in place when the storm hits the shore, never mind
that the citizens are paying till they bleed.
The fare hike of 2005 is but one piece of an elaborate political and
(Mr) Law Sin Ling
(1) Then Minister of State (Transport and Health) Balaji Sadasivan in
June 2004 and then Senior Minister of State (Trade and Industry)
Vivian Balakrishnan in November 2004.
(2) Besides a horde of economic reasons, the high oil prices is
possibly a response from OPEC, which is led by Middle East nations
hostile to the persistent US military aggression towards their fellow
Arabic brethrens. When it becomes more expansive to go to war with
oil-guzzling machines, the US and its allies would think twice.
Ironically, by unconditionally backing the US in their gallivanting
conquest of the world, Singaporeans unwillingly became deserved
receivers of this backlash.
May 18, 2005
No compelling reason to raise bus, train fares
SBS Transits Tammy Tan tells us that one of the reasons the company has asked
to increase bus and train fares is that it needs to pay its hardworking bus
drivers more (Extra revenue wont cover rise in fuel costs ST, May 14).
While I do not disagree that appropriate remuneration must be given to its
workers, the latter should not be used as a reason for fare hikes.
A better way would be to take a hard look at its manpower structure and examine
whether the organization is too top-heavy or the wage differential between those
at the top and those at the bottom is
Perhaps these are the real reasons why staff cost accounts for more than half
of our total operating cost and the figure is under pressure to go up.
SBS Transit also cites software and equipment purchases to ensure a safe and
reliable journey on 2.3 million commuter trips as a reason for asking for a
The fact is we dont need expensive high-tech stuff but more buses on the roads
to improve reliability and waiting times. Ironically, SBS Transit has trimmed
its total bus holding fleet by 5.2
percent to cut costs.
It claims that statistics showed that public transport makes up 5.7 percent of
the average monthly household expenditure for the lowest 20 percent income
If this is true, then for a family of three with an income of $1,000 a month,
the husband, wife and a schoolgoing kid would spend only $57 per month for all
their public-transport needs both to and
from work or school and other purposes. This is hard to believe.
SBS Transit also released figures showing that the average bus fare here is 65
cents, compared to $1.26 in Hong Kong, $1.30 in London and $1.40 in New York
While it may be statistically correct to say that one bus trip costs 65 cents on
average, SBS Transit fails to mention that most people here are forced to make
multiple MRT and bus transfers to get
to their destination because of withdrawal of bus services to avoid duplication
with MRT routes.
So it is relevant to cite statistics on how much an average trip costs (with all
the transfers) instead of just the average of a single trip.
The average bus fares of Hong Kong or London must also be shown together with
the average salaries of their workers for us to have any meaningful comparison.
Otherwise the comparison is invalid. I could have easily cited cities like
Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur where bus fares are much lower. Selective use of
statistics does not convey the whole truth.
Finally, we are given examples showing that SBS Transit has a caring heart
towards the young, old, poor, needy and less fortunate and told how much money
it has raised for charity.
This runs counter to its oft heard arguments whenever we appeal for more
concessions for traveling elderly or polytechnic students.
The appeals are rejected on the grounds that others would have to pay more to
subsidise these concessions. This shows that the charity shown is not solely
due to altruistic reasons.
Neither SBS Transit nor SMRT are in any danger of going into the red at any
time, judging by the millions they reap. There is no compelling reason to ask
for a fare hike.
DR LIM BOON HEE
By: Lim Boon Hee
22 Jan 2005
A pattern that leads to inevitable hikes ...
The masses are resigned to this 'natural order of things'
THE same symphonic pattern emerges.
First, the prelude, with the local media heralding a slew of
statistics announcing the arrival of better economic times.
Then, a premature suggestion to restore the ministers' and top civil
servants' pay cuts, which was greeted with unpopular feedback by many
who felt that the economic upturn benefits have yet to filter down
The main theme comes into play with miscellaneous school fees and
town councils' service and conservancy charges going up.
This will inevitably lead to more government and quasi-government
bodies following suit.
The crescendo builds up as everybody scrambles to raise charges,
taking the cue and green light from the early birds who first up
The finale ends in an anti-climax as the masses resign themselves to
their fate the swallows have arrived, spring has come, the flowers
are blooming and so prices must go up.
We are led to believe that this is the natural order of things.
Oddly enough, when times were really bad and many retrenched, things
took much longer to come down and the cuts were, if any, merely token
What is worse is every price increase is met with the rhetorical
reassurance that nobody would be deprived of basic services despite
the hikes and the social net is always there for those who really
cannot afford the increment.
The other tired argument to justify the hikes is that the charges
have not been increased for so many years and therefore the increase
is way overdue.
This is cold comfort as most Singaporeans would rather tighten their
belts than go through the hassle of applying for poor men's benefits
from the government.
So what is next? University and polytechnic fees, transport hikes,
hospital bills, parking charges, stamps ...
Lim Boon Hee