04 February 2008

Are the planned bus and rail improvements enough?

The Transport Minister recently announced new plans and changes to the public transport system. While the direction is sound, don't expect things to improve greatly. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

one suggestion I have is to permit the kind of mini-bus services so prevalent in hongkong; they can provide local commute services, such as between HDB estates and MRT stations, at much higher frequencies and more stop locations (you can hop on/hop off anywhere on the bus route except at no-stopping road sections) than the current buses, though at slightly higher cost; in particular, private bus companies can use their vehicles as school buses in early morning and early afternoon, but operate as commute buses at other busy hours


Anonymous said...

Hello Alex,

I see several other points that make me believe that public transport is not going to improve soon:

The PAP target itself is simply underwhelming: 2020 to go from 63 to 70% public transport usage...
It does not sound like a strong vision.

Second, SMRT and SBS are publicly listed companies, which means that shareholders are expecting not just profits but increasing profits; public transport is not an area where increasing profits is easy to achieve at a constant level of services.

Third, the PAP is unwilling to take the real measures that would make public transport more viable than cars: to make cars not just more expensive (COE, ERP, Road Tax) but less viable.
Such a system would be for example to allow only people born on even/odd years to drive on even/odd days (or some some that could not be biased by buying more cars/plates/drivers).
Another possibility would involve closing Orchard Road and CBD during week-ends (I know people who bought such expensive cars would not be happy about the inconvenience and nor would the luxury car owners)

Car users should pay for lower income public transport users.
A monthly flat fee card should be introduced at least for lower income families.

The PAP decided often went for expensive rather expensive rather than practical:
- ERP with ERP modules in each car AND cameras
- plasma displays: used 90% of the time for advertising rather than for informative use e.g. the no train to/thro PasirRis issue in Jan 08.
- TransitLink with cards that have a S$5 unredeemable value
- Single exit/two stairs platforms/stations (the temporary/long-term situation at Orchard is ridiculous and should have been better planed).
All this with marble and glass lifts(at least where it is seen by business-men, and not too zealous invited journalists)

But it is true that the trains are not packed by other city standards, and that they only seem pack due to people lack of consideration and of practical judgment (well, kiasuness hinders both).
So some small change could easily improve the situation:
The whole 'central control' philosophy does not help, with single entry/control point in the buses; let's change that.
Replacing the permanent seats with foldable ones (strapontins) would improve the situation by increasing capacty and the flow of people.
As in HongKong to have the gates stay opened unless someone does not present the ticket, which makes the flow of passengers faster; but Singapore admitting taking something out of HK's book? nah, won't happen.
Or re-think the city planing: why is the whole country converging to Orchard, Novena, CityHall, RafflesPlace, Tanjong Pagar? will it ever change?

How long did it take to have lifts at the stations? it will take even longer to develop public transport because the PAP does not see it as important and or rewarding (the big Private Banking plan does not require it).

Anonymous said...

Good points raised by Yawning Bread.
Just want to add 1 more point. In many European and American cities or suburbs, a substantial proportion of people do not live in their own properties. They rent, and they would choose rental locations that work best for their commute to the workplace. In Singapore, this is not the case. Very often, people don't give priority to the relative position of home and workplace when they choose where to live. (if they in fact can choose...some are used to living in one part of the island, some want to live with/near parents and in-laws, some cannot afford the high prices in central parts, etc)

Teck Soon said...

This point by anon 1103 is a really good one. Of course, people from other parts of Britain moving to London for a job will try to find a place with a short commute. French citizens moving to Paris for work will try to live nearby. Singaporeans do not move around our country for career moves. It means that we cannot directly compare, for example, track density or public transport use per capita between cities since Singapore may need more to achieve the same level of satisfaction given our inability to easily shift houses. HDB policies and stamp duties also discourage potentially commute-saving moves. Anyway, maybe comparing it to other cities is not the full answer. We know our system is broken. No need to compare how broken it is relative to other cities' systems - let's fix ours until we are satisfied.

Jason said...

I think the point in the yellow box about car kilometres is a little unfair to SMRT.

Previously, SMRT operated trains along a Boon Lay - Changi Airport route concurrently with a Boon Lay - Pasir Ris route.

I suppose after a while they realized that this was rather inefficient and probably bad for residents in traffic heavy Tampines who just want to go west.

A better idea would be to make all Boon Lay trains go to Pasir Ris, and then run a 15 minute interval train from Tanah Merah to the airport.

It is quite possible to reduce the number of car kilometres this way and yet benefit more passengers.

Anonymous said...

Ah! Where does one find a diamond, in a place where it is dark, dank and smelly. Tell me Jason have you considered joining the brotherhood?

How can we contact you? With your exceptional skill sets, there will always be a place for you called home.Darkness 2007.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't compare Singapore to Europe re: public transport fares. Firstly, the difference isn't that large (if we exclude London, where everything is priced atrociously). Secondly, median incomes in Singapore are way lower than, say, in Vienna or Copenhagen. We have to compare ourselves against the likes of Hungary or Czech Republic. And no, public transport doesn't cost more in Prague or Budapest. The annual ticket in Prague costs about 400 SGD, way less than an average Singaporeans pays through EZ-link. Even in Vienna and Berlin, which both have public transportation system to die for, fares are not that high if we take into account multiple discounts and concessions. Also, operating costs in Singapore are much lower than in Europe. Bus drivers there don't work long hours for peanuts. The main reason why Singaporeans get royally shafted by the current system was mentioned here: it's a duopoly and both companies are listed. There are generally two routes to take: either introduce more competition (and make it more like HK) or nationalize public transport and operate it like in Continental Europe. The second option is a big no-no, of course. So, if we read the signs correctly, the government moves slowly towards the HK model (possibly introducing more players, at least for MRT). The problem is that they are doing too little too late. Singaporean public transportation system is currently simply bursting at the seams.

cognitivedissonance said...

Taking up Jason's point: YB, to say that the Boon Lay - Changi Airport route served "lots of other passengers moving around along the stretch unrelated to the airport" is to ignore the fact that the present Boon Lay - Pasir Ris route serves this category of passengers equally well, since they don't move around the stretch related to the airport anyway. As I recall, the Boon Lay - Changi Airport train was not a special train inserted between the frequencies of the regular trains. It was a regular train.

I live in Tampines and commute across the island on the East-West line every working day. When the Boon Lay - Changi Airport route existed, every fourth train along the East-West Line was taking that route. It was annoying to the point of being ridiculous when more than 3/4 of the remaining passengers after Bedok alighted at Tanah Merah to wait for the next train to Pasir Ris, leaving a few scattered handfuls of people still on the train, going to Changi Airport.

I felt that restoring the Boon Lay - Pasir Ris line as the only East-West line, leaving the airport service as a shuttle service from Tanah Merah, was an appropriate service rectification on SMRT's part, to correct their original error of running the direct Boon Lay - Airport service.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Cognitive Dissonance -

The fact is, the number of car kilometres was reduced 14 percent as can be seen from SMRT's own data. The company itself attributed this reduction to the discontinuation of the BoonLay - Changi route.

If SMRT replaced the BoonLay-Changi runs with the same number of BoonLay-PasirRis runs, then the total car kilometres would not fall, as the distance between BoonLay-PasirRis would be similar to the distance between BoonLay-Changi.

Yet a fall occurred. This strongly suggests that there was no replacement over the full distance (only replacement in terms of the shuttling distance), and therefore that the total frequency of the BoonLay-TanahMerah sector was reduced.

cognitivedissonance said...

Ah, I see it now. Thank you. The total frequency of the BoonLay-TanahMerah has reduced, as you say. (actually the entire East-West Line of BoonLay-PasirRis since the train does not go noticeably more slowly after Tanah Merah)

Anonymous said...

"Singaporeans too intolerant of crowding?"

Intolerance towards crowding is merely a reflection of the seething concern of being crowded out by foreigners in one's own country.

Two major cause of transport woes
1. The fast growing population in the past decade leading to infrastructure inadequacy.
2. Under investment in meaningful public transport infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

If public transport is not able to take the load and the government wants to reduce car ownership, one viable solution is to encourage taking of taxi. It thus does not make sense to raise the price of taxi and ERP at the same time.

Besides, why give out so many COE when public roads are unable to take the load? In US, some people work in New York but take public transport from their home in Jersey City due to the high cost of parking. This makes no sense in Singapore however. If someone buys a car, our government should encourage them to use it more often rather than keep it in storage. Every car that Singaporean buys results in a net cash outflow to car manufacturing countries. Once bought, might as well make sure they use it often.

The battle is not won when people take public transport because of the artificial high cost of driving due to measures such as ERP, instead it is won when public transport is efficient and cost effective. There is a difference.