Include service quality component

I am in two minds regarding the recent commentary on public transport fares (Make sure bus, train fare increases are tied to service improvements; March 29)

On the one hand, most people would accept a correlation between higher fares and higher service quality.

This is especially so, given how Singapore's bus and train fares are generally lower than those in comparable global cities, such that any minor upward adjustment would still be fairly tolerable.

For example, the 6km train journey between Toa Payoh and City Hall MRT stations costs $1.07. Covering a similar distance would cost the equivalent of S$1.44 in Hong Kong, S$2.12 in Tokyo, and S$4.20 in London.

On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the increase in revenue will necessarily be channelled towards service and infrastructure improvements.

Many writers have correctly pointed out that our public transport operators (PTOs) have recorded consistently high profits, even as service reliability continues to slip.

The issue is not that public transport is privately run - on the contrary, many private and for-profit systems, such as Tokyo's Keisei network, are considered global leaders in service quality.

Rather, it may be a matter of corporate culture.

Various former employees of the PTOs have supplied anecdotal evidence of lapses and cuts on various unofficial forums.

If there is any grain of truth in these stories, it is surely cause for grave concern.

Therefore, adjusting public transport fares to include a service quality component should have both quantitative as well as qualitative objectives.

The former pertains to securing adequate funding for maintenance and infrastructure improvements.

The latter, which is arguably just as important, is to provide incentive for PTOs to cultivate professionalism and a stronger sense of accountability, and exercise sound judgment in running these systems that are so vital to daily life in Singapore.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Include service quality component'. Print Edition | Subscribe