Monday, December 10, 2012

Nationalisation of the transport industry

In view of the complexity of the public transport problem, the most baffling question in the mind of the public is why the PAP Government is apathetic, if not aversed, to the idea of nationalisation of the transport industry. The recent so-called illegal strike by SMRT PRC bus drivers and the proposed bus fare increase next year to pay for wage increase of bus drivers announced by the Transport Minister have emphasised the need for the government to pay urgent attention to the idea of nationalisation.

The transport industry as is constituted now is run by two private transport enterprises - the SMRT and the SBS Transit - oriented to the accumulation of profits to the shareholders as the first priority. So the interest of public commuters has to be relegated to that of secondary importance and has to suffer as a result. The frequent fare increases in the past can be said to be a significant burden on the lower-income workers who make up the majority of the commuters.It is hardly a surprise that a chorus of protests was raised by the commuters and opposition parties when the insensitive Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew had the temerity to propose raising bus fares to pay for proposed wage increases for bus drivers amid slowing economy and high inflation with the bus service standards remaining unsatisfactory. They argue that wage increases of bus drivers should be paid from the huge profits of the two transport enterprises.

The Workers' Party is known to have advocated the nationalisation of the transport industry but somehow it is keeping a low profile on this subject. It is however unlikely that it has changed its stand. Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where the transport industry is not nationalised. So far the PAP Government has remained uncommitted on this topic but on the other hand it has not given any cogent argument against it. The time has come when the government will have to make a decision whether or not to nationalise the transport industry.

A government-run transport industry will unquestionably give priority to commuters' interest and cannot be profit-oriented like a private enterprise. It can be run more efficiently and commuters, especially the lower-income workers, will be spared the agony of frequent fare increases as is the present case with SMRT and SBS-Transit which are profit-oriented. The running cost will be tightly monitored and audited and one thing certain  is that commuters will not be made to pay fare hikes in order to pay for wage increases of bus drivers. Where the transport service is not run to make profits for its shareholders, the commuters will be the main beneficiaries.

It is unlikely that bus drivers' grievances of the kind that resulted in the illegal strike by 171 SMRT PRC bus drivers will be allowed to fester to such an intractable strike situation in a nationalised transport enterprise. The political benefits of a nationalised transport industry, among others, will be a more contented community of commuters and more satisfactory bus service standards. The commuters will be more contented as they will not be subjected to erratic fare hikes and will enjoy satisfactory service standards.The PAP Government should be prudent enough by now to give serious consideration to the introduction of nationalisation of the transport industry before any unforseeable intractable deterioration of the service.The unpopular intended fare hike next year will be but one example of commuters' dissatisfaction.

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