Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fair fares

It has arrived! The next round of public transport fare increases has been announced and they are set to take effect from 1 Oct 2008. The facts are all here. Nobody likes fare increases, except perhaps the public transport companies and their shareholders. So every time these announcements are made, Singaporeans wait with bated breadth - ready to pounce on why the regulators and transport operators have got it all wrong, that they are profiteering, especially in times where inflation seen to be running ahead of everyone.

Over the last couple of years, however, Singaporean's have been prepared for more smaller increases in transport fares so that objections would not be so vocal, and it isn't all that vocal now. Personally, I find the fare revision this time to be fair and, more importantly, fact-based. The PTC, under Mr Gerard Ee, has done a great job of dissecting the issues and looking up the books to come out with a justifiable fare revision. Not everyone needs to pay more. Those who take longer journeys with multiple transfers will see their transport fares reduced. On the other hand, those traveling shorter distances will pay more. Yet the net effect of these revisions will see the transport companies gain a couple of percentage points more in terms of revenue. I appreciate that benchmarks such as ROTA (Return on Total Assets) was used to prove to one and all (including the transport executives) where the transport companies stood in terms of profitability. It takes away the perception that the transport companies are always out to make a killing whenever it increased fares. And the paper does recognise that certain groups of people will still find the increases difficult.

This is what the PTC should be about. Looking into the transport issues in a holistic manner, neither seeking to advantage one over another. My erstwhile bad impression of the PTC was seared into my mind (and I believe most of the rest of Singaporean's mind) when, under its previous Chairman, commuters were always left high and dry. Then, whenever there was a fare increase, the then Chairman of the PTC will speak out FOR the transport companies without fail, to defend the need for a fare increase - viz - its been a long time since the last increase, operating costs have gone up, labour cost have risen, etc. etc. It was always the same refrain, so much so that what should be reasons for fare increases have become excuses for it.

When the PTC does not speak up for the long suffering commuters, who will? The MPs were largely ineffective in protecting the interests of its commuting public too. And the government? Well, there's the PTC where transport matters are concerned. But to be fair, the government did define a more predictable formula for transport fare increases and change the Chairman for the better.

So thank you, Mr Gerard Ee. Truly you have continued the good work of your father in looking out for the less fortunate among us.