Regulatory role needs separation
Two transport experts welcome the new bus contracting model and suggest improvements.
Published on Jun 4, 2014 6:51 AM
In the past, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had failed to properly separate the regulatory function from its other functions, such as building the rail systems.
Instead, it had often held the operators responsible for faults that were clearly the result of poor quality control during construction and a clear lack of stringent acceptance-testing procedures.
With the new bus-contracting model, a good way to separate the two functions will be to have the regulatory function assigned to another, independent entity, such as the Ministry of Transport.
One missing feature that can be incorporated into the bus-contracting model is published and strictly adhered-to timetables for the bus services.
All major cities in the world operate bus services on published timetables. This requires that 100 per cent of the services be performed.
Currently, the LTA lets operators get away with performing only 96 per cent of the scheduled trips without a penalty.
As a result, operators do not have any standby drivers in case one of the scheduled drivers reports sick or otherwise fails to show up. Instead, the scheduled frequency is then adjusted for the reduced number of buses operated.
In order to properly monitor timetable adherence, timing stops need to be identified and strictly monitored.
This can be done with the analysis of the ez-link database and does not require any costly, high-technology systems.
Examples of this approach can readily be found in Australian cities visited by the Ministry of Transport.
The MRT was originally designed to provide basic service for the heavy movements in major corridors where rail service is far more efficient than bus services. To that extent, even improved bus services will not be able to replace the MRT.
Unfortunately, the lack of proper attention by the LTA to the upgrading needs of the original MRT North-South and East-West lines, such as the long overdue replacement of the outdated signalling system, have caused the MRT's current lack of adequate capacity and hence popularity.
The LTA will have to prove its capability to plan for more appropriate bus services, given that the current routes are anything but efficient and often far too long to operate reliably. The LTA needs to find the relevant talent to plan better bus services.
With the LTA planning the bus routes and presumably the required frequency of service, who will be responsible for determining a realistic and achievable timetable and hence the required number of buses?
Will it be the LTA or the bus operator bidding for the route?
This is an important issue that does not seem to have been addressed by the LTA's announced changes.
If the LTA establishes the timetable, which then turns out not to be achievable, then who will hold the LTA responsible?
If the task is to be part of the bus operator bidding for the contract, then the LTA will need to provide all the necessary data available to establish a realistic and achievable timetable. A clear indication of the process is required from LTA.
The writer, a veteran transport consultant, was closely involved in planning for the MRT in Singapore in the 1970s.