Sunday, July 11, 2010

Transport crawl

The transportation powers that be changed the method of charging for public transportation from 3rd July 2010. They named it "Distance Fares". The previous method of charging for travel, which I suppose we should refer to it as 'Non-distance Fares', has been in place since day one, or at least when the MRT started running together with the bus services. Actually nobody has complained about the old way of charging for travel. But many people complained when the fares were revised, almost every year. And they complained about the upward fare revisions because they do no perceive any improvement in value they get for more of their money. Buses (and sometime trains) do not run on time, causing many to spend more time than necessary on the roads. Buses AND trains are crowded during rush hour, with many only able to board the second (or even the third) bus/train that comes along. So there is a lot that need improvements. But we hear the same complaints year in and year out, showing that either we are people difficult to please, or there is something really wrong with the way transportation is being organised or run within the transportation providers' organisations. I think it is the latter.

Why is that? For example, I travel along the Clementi area almost everyday, and it has been my experience that SMRT Service 184 (and in fact most of the buses run by SMRT) are pretty regular. SBS Transit's buses almost always manage to irritate me and are a constant source of ranting to my longsuffering friends. I have always felt that SBS Transit should relook at its people and it scheduling, to provide more consistency to its bus services, but alas, I have waited years and years and nothing has changed, except the bus and train fares.

So you can forgive me if I am cynical about the latest Distance Fares. Isn't it just another way of increasing the fares of public transport? It is said that some commuters (some 34%) will see their transport cost increase and 63% a decrease, and the balance 3%, I suppose, status quo. But this itself is unfair. If I belong to the 34%, I will remain in that 34% until and unless I change jobs or house. So the net effect is that 34% of us are subsidizing 63% of the others in the long run. I don't see in this anything equitable and to be happy about. Neither party gets a better bus or train to ride in.

But having said this, my sense is that the 30, 40 cents increase/decrease is not the real issue. The real issues are the service standards, the predictability and the availability of services that is uppermost in commuters' minds when they set out everyday to work, or try to get home in time to join the family for dinner in the evenings. I know of some people who leave work late in order to avoid the crush of people, but alas, it appears that everyone is doing the same thing. That is why trains are standing room only even as late as 10pm.

This tweaking that is going on and continues to go on isn't bold and innovative enough. What now is willing to step up to the plate to really improve public transport service?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hub and spoke

Well, finally somebody is talking sense and thinking out of the box. The Transport supremos in the government are now suggesting a 'hub-and-spoke' model for public bus services, in place of the 'cross-country' type of bus services which has been in place for all these many years. The hub is the MRT stations, the spokes are all the feeder services from the 2 bus companies. Bus services will travel shorter distances, which will minimise delays caused by unexpected road congestions, resulting in more timely and regular bus services. Generally, MRT train services run like clockwork, so this new model of public transport appears logical and may even work. I suppose the viability of this is new service model was just waiting for the rail network to become more comprehensive. But it could have been tried out earlier. Come April 2010, more stations on the Circle line will be opened.

But of course, there are people who are not certain that this will improve things. People fret about having to change multiple transport services getting to their destinations. This is a valid concern, given that people have suffered all these many years from irregular services from the bus companies. Hopefully, with shorter end-to-end trips, service will improve significantly and dispel the bad experience. We should try this out and tweak the system so that it becomes better over time. But of course, by going hub-and-spoke, the transport people should remember that there are exceptions, particularly for places that are not served adequately by the rail network. There are some places which will be served well by one model, but other places where a cross-country model could still be better. The frequency can be less for these cross-country routes, which will help to raise, if not improve the scheduled arrival times for these bus services. The other concern is that the train companies should ensure that their services are not so overcrowded that people need to wait for the next train service because the first one is too full. Then we'll all be back to square one.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Damned Slow

The standard of public transport services came under the radar on Thursday in Parliament. As usual, promises have been made and there is smug satisfaction that the public's perception of Public Transport Services in Singapore have improved, reportedly from 89.5% 2 years ago (i.e. 2008) to 93.8% this year. But as any good student of Statistics will tell you, these numbers on their own do no tell the whole story. I was thus amused when I read today's (Friday 12 March) edition of myPaper. This is a bilingual paper. On page 4, the English edition gave a positive account of the public transport services in Singapore, highlighting the many plans and promises that the LTA and Minister Raymond Lim made yesterday in Parliament regarding public transport services. One of the reasons for these is to wean people off the owning of private vehicles.

Yet, on the first page of the Chinese section of the same paper, we had reports of complaints by some commuters about long waits for buses (a commuter reported waiting 40 minutes in the evening for a bus), and bus bunching. When the long wait seems to be over, and the bus does arrive, it is so full that you can't even board it. So you have to wait another 30 minutes for the next another bus, if you haven't hopped onto a cab already, that is. This story is no fiction. For the last 2 to 3 months, I have encountered the same problem, buses coming infrequently during rush hour, that I have had to wait for a second bus because the first one that finally appeared was full. Those in a greater hurry just hailed for a cab. One wonders if the bus company is cahoots with the cab company.....oh yah, some bus companies (SMRT, SBSTransit) do own cab companies...

So for those who read English only, the transport situation is as rosy as can be. For those who read Chinese only, the transport situation is in a bad shape. For those who read both, well, we don't know what to think.

Of course, to be fair, this doesn't happen for all services. Some are regular, but it just takes one regularly erratic service to leave you with a bad taste, and, inspite of the high cost, to make a beeline to the motor vehicle showrooms.