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?