PTC may call for standardised bus, train fares

A SBS Transit bus driver closing the doors of the bus as he ends his shift at Toa Payoh Interchange.
A SBS Transit bus driver closing the doors of the bus as he ends his shift at Toa Payoh Interchange. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The Public Transport Council (PTC) may recommend standardising fares for all MRT lines and bus routes here, said its chairman Richard Magnus.

In a blog post yesterday, he said: "It is clear that commuters prefer a simple fare structure. All public transport fares should be calculated simply, using distance travelled, regardless of the chosen mode and route, air-con or fan ventilation."

Fares are currently differentiated based on the type of journey taken.

Mr Magnus' comments came after rail operators SBS Transit and SMRT made submissions last Friday for this year's fare review exercise, which began last month.

The PTC, a statutory board under the Ministry of Transport that regulates public transport fares, had earlier announced a negative quantum of 5.7 per cent - the maximum amount that fares can be cut due largely to reduced energy prices.

The PTC will deliberate on the fare adjustments, with a decision to be made by the year end, said its spokesman.

In his post, Mr Magnus said fare structures will become more complex with the expansion of the rail network, which will double in length to 360km by 2030, and the rollout of 1,000 more buses by next year.

He cited the North East, Circle and Downtown lines, which are all entirely underground, as lines where fares are slightly higher than those for journeys of similar distance on above-ground lines or buses. Indeed, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked in Parliament in January why fares for trips between certain Downtown Line stations were "exceptionally high".

Mr Magnus noted yesterday that this is because they are more expensive to operate and maintain, citing air-conditioning at underground platforms as one of the additional expenses. But, he added, "with the significant -5.7% quantum we are seeing this year, it certainly seems like an opportune juncture for PTC members to make a recommendation to standardise fares for all rail lines and bus routes".

He said the 5.7 per cent quantum may lead commuters to hope for a similar drop in fares, but added that it is necessary to balance the interests of commuters, operators and the "financial burden" of government expenditure on public transport infrastructure and assets.

"A fine balance is therefore necessary to ensure that our public transport system remains viable and sustainable in the long run," he said.

Asked about the possibility of standardised fares, SIM University economist Walter Theseira said there are "huge benefits" to a simplified fare structure, adding that the move would make it easier for commuters to understand their fares.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'PTC may call for standardised bus, train fares'. Print Edition | Subscribe