Public transport needs time to catch up with population growth

The recent debates on public transport ("Mixed model for public transport better" by Mr Aaron Lee Zhou Rui; Nov 27, and "Call for national transport agency"; Nov 19) have neglected a major factor that contributes to the problems - the rapid increase in Singapore's population within the past two decades.

When the public transport system was planned and built in the 1980s, our population was perhaps about 3.5 million people. Today, we are talking about 5.4 million.

Thus, both the hardware and software systems just cannot cope with such a rapid increase in population, and, with it, the drastic increase in ridership.

Some major upgrading of the system is needed and that will take time. We should not lay too much blame on the current operators.

Perhaps most people do not realise that the Government has been heavily involved in managing public transport even before independence.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were many small bus companies operating throughout the island. The Government pushed for merger, resulting in two big bus operators: SBS Transit and SMRT.

Later, SMRT took over the operation of the rail system.

Certainly, we have our public transport woes and improvements are needed. However, our public transport system is not broken.

The current Land Transport Authority (LTA) tender system is flawed and full of uncertainties ("Foreign operators' entry a win-win for public transport"; Nov 25).

It is well known that outsourcing and contracting systems have many risks. The control over quality of the outsourced/contracted work is always a problem.

In addition, contractors come and go, or go bankrupt. The newly introduced tender system does not afford any real competition.

With the new system, the Government is even more heavily involved, contributing bus fleets, depots and towards maintenance efforts.

With only a five-year operating lifespan, I doubt the operator will make any long-term development plan, and if it goes bankrupt, the Government will have to foot the bill.

With the prospect of changing employer every five years, how can we expect the workforce's morale to be high?

Wong Ming Keong (Dr)