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Public Transport Fare Hike 2005 : The Tree And The Woods

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    From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling 1 June 2005 Public Transport Fare Hike 2005 : The Tree And The Woods Singapore Review (1) The Tree Bureaucracy had never been so
    Message 1 of 1 , May 31, 2005
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      From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
      1 June 2005
      Public Transport Fare Hike 2005 : The Tree And The Woods
      Singapore Review

      (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
      public.

      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
      the PTC.

      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
      transport cartel.

      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
      horizon.

      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
      economic puzzle.


      (Mr) Law Sin Ling


      Footnotes

      (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.


      ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

      http://forums.delphiforums.com/sammyboymod/messages/?msg=72847.1

      ST Forum
      May 18, 2005

      No compelling reason to raise bus, train fares

      SBS Transit’s 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 won’t 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
      too wide.

      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
      fare increase.

      The fact is we don’t 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
      group.

      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
      City.

      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
      Singapore Review

      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 masses.
      .
      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
      their fees.
      .
      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
      symbolic ones.
      .
      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 ...
      .
      Sigh …
      .
      Lim Boon Hee
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