Member of Parliament Liang Eng Hwa on Wednesday called for a freeze in public transport fares until “significant improvements” in service quality and enhancements are made.
Addressing Parliament on the second day of the Budget debate, Liang, who represents the Holland-Bukit Timah ward, said costs need to be looked at not only from the public transport operators’ (PTOs) perspective, but also from the standpoint of the public and commuters.
He said that commuters have been let down by the under-provision of services, as well as the numerous disruptions that have occurred on trains and buses.
“LTA and the PTOs have to restore public confidence before we can even talk about fare increase," he asserted.
At the same time, Liang called on the Ministry of Transport to tap more private operators to accelerate the expansion of the existing bus network since rail networks take longer to build.
He shared the difficulty he and other MPs have had in the past with negotiating additional bus routes with operators, which often responded after long drawn-out discussions that they lacked enough bus drivers to support the increment in services.
In contrast, private operators are “very entrepreneurial and resourceful”, he noted.
“If the two PTOs are incapable of increasing the bus capacity fast enough, we should not waste time with them and quickly look to other private operators to do the job.”
Liang also backed Pasir Ris-Punggol MP Janil Puthucheary’s call on Tuesday for a period of free off-peak travel for commuters, noting that this is currently practiced on Melbourne’s Metro system, where fares are free before 7am in its city zones.
“We should study the Melbourne experience. Even a shift of say 10 per cent of commuters from peak to non-peak would ease the crowdedness a great deal,” he said.
The MP qualified, however, that the compensation for these free trips should not come at the expense of other commuters, but instead from other transport revenue sources like the COE, car taxes or electronic road pricing.
Dr Janil, who spoke at the tail end of the first day of debate, suggested that there could be a window period in the early mornings where commuters could travel for free, in order to benefit commuters who can travel to work earlier, while making life “more comfortable” for those who cannot.
Calling it a “pragmatic, utilitarian” approach to changing commuters’ travel behaviour in order to reduce congestion, he said taking up his proposal is in line with “what it has done all these years”.
“(The government will be) finding the best way to solve problems by putting Singaporeans at the centre of the issue... this idea would benefit Singaporeans, it can be done,” he added.
Alongside Tampines MP Irene Ng, Liang also called for government institutions, statutory boards and parts of the civil service to “take the lead” in experimenting with the use of flexi-work hours, or to start and end office hours at off-peak timings, in order to help ease public transport congestion.