Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Can The Proposed Fare Hike Be Justified?

It has become a regular routine for the SBS Transit and SMRT to apply for increase of bus and rail fares every two or three years ostensibly to cover increased operating costs. It therefore does not come as a surprise for these two public transport operators (PTO) to apply for the maximum increase of 2.8 per-cent for bus and rail fares due, according to SMRT, to rising fuel prices and manpower costs. The sharp reaction from the commuting public to the proposed fare hike is something to be expected. They cannot understand the whim and fancy of the PTOs in proposing fare hike at this juncture when cost of living is on the rise thus increasing their burden of livelihood, especially the lower-income group. And ironically you have a comical Transport Minister saying blithely that it is not unreasonable for the operators to earn fair returns from the sizeable capital investments required to sustain their operations and to invest in future public transport needs.

In answer to the Minister's point, he may be aware that for the year 2010 SMRT made a profit of $162 million and SBS Transit made a profit of $72 million. Would he not agree these were fair returns since public transportation is a public good and should not be profit-oriented? If it is operated strictly for profits at the commuting public's expense, then the Government should sincerely consider the Workers' Party's (WP) proposal for a National Transport Corporation to oversee and run major transport services. Such a transport body would not be driven by profit but would operate on a cost-recovery basis. Just because the proposal comes from an opposition Party, in this case the Workers' Party, it should not be viewed as an anathema. The way the Transport Minister dismissed it off-hand by saying the proposal "might seem like a very attractive idea but it has serious downsides in reality" is not very helpful in wanting to solve a complex public transport problem. His thesis on the "serious downsides" appears to be his own version of the negative effects of the nationalisation of the public transport. Whether the Minister's arguments will be accepted by the commuting public is a moot point. He should therefore seriously reconsider his hasty conclusion of the WP's nationalisation proposal for its feasibility and eventual adoption in the public interests.

Be that as it may, the immediate problem facing the commuting public is the PTOs' fare hike proposal. The Public Transport Council (PTC), helmed by Mr. Gerard Ee, says it will review the current fare adjustment formula which is valid until next year and will bear in mind the interests of commuters and long-term viability of the PTOs. It is hoped that the PTC should consider, for a start, whether under the current adverse cost-of-living circumstances there is a need for any fare hike since the PTOs have earned fair returns in 2010 and will be expected to do the same this year. The proposed maximum increase of 2.8 per-cent for bus and rail fares will be an onerous burden on the commuting public, especially the lower-income group when they are already shouldering adverse cost-of-living burden. There is a Chinese saying: Lift up high your esteemed hand (to help) (高抬贵手). All eyes are now on the PTC on which is placed the public hope that it will come up with a solution equitable to the commuting public.

No comments: