Transport review panel looking into cheaper season passes

THE Fare Review Mechanism Committee (FRMC) is looking into cheaper season passes which could see frequent commuters save a further $70 a month on unlimited bus and train rides.

The Straits Times understands that the pass would cap the monthly cost of bus and train rides to $120 or less. That works out to about $4 a day.

This new season pass will replace the current ez-link season pass, which costs $190 a month for unlimited bus and train rides.

Separate monthly travel passes with further discounts for low- income individuals, the elderly and polytechnic students may also be introduced.

These proposals are now being finalised by the FRMC before it submits its recommendations to the Government by the end of the month. The committee declined to give further details and would only say: "The review is currently in progress."

However, sources said it was re-examining the concessions to balance the needs of cash- strapped commuters and the financial viability of bigger travel subsidies.

The committee previously said it was looking at households earning $4,000 a month, which make up the bulk of public transport users. It also held talks with the two public transport operators, SBS Transit and SMRT, and commuters.

The committee, appointed last June, suggested the monthly pass scheme in March.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has said that the calls to raise bus drivers' salaries and keep fares affordable are challenging, given the worsening financial health of bus operators here.

He previously said that it will be a challenge for transport operators to "do more without fare increases or government subsidy".

Former senior district judge Richard Magnus, who chairs the FRMC, suggested in a blog post that average-income earners who spend $120 or more on public transport each month needed help.

The Straits Times understands that this group, classified as heavy users, makes up about 5 per cent of commuters. Most commuters, on average, spend between $60 and $70 a month on public transport.

According to a Lianhe Zaobao report, both SMRT and SBS Transit give out more than $160 million in concessions each year to the elderly, children, students and full-time national servicemen.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport member Lim Biow Chuan said any move to lower travelling expenses would be welcome. He added it is understandable that the fare review committee is taking a longer time to finalise its recommendations.

"They probably need more time to crunch the numbers because... someone has to pay for extra subsidies," he said.

jermync@sph.com.sg