Annual fare review: Simpler fare structure a boon for commuters, say observers

Across the board, bus and train fares will be cut by 4.2 per cent - translating to savings of between one and 27 cents for adult commuters.
Across the board, bus and train fares will be cut by 4.2 per cent - translating to savings of between one and 27 cents for adult commuters.PHOTO: ST FILE

But long-term sustainability of the public transport system needs closer study, say observers

The simpler fare structure announced by the Public Transport Council (PTC) yesterday is a boon for commuters. However, industry observers say the long-term sustainability of the public transport system warrants closer examination.

From Dec 30, train commuters will pay the same fares regardless of which MRT line they use.

Adult commuters using travel cards currently pay between five and 25 cents more if they use fully underground rail lines - such as the Downtown, North East and Circle lines - to reflect higher operating costs such as air-conditioned station platforms. This additional charge will soon be removed.

This restructuring of rail fares is part of a 4.2 per cent fare reduction granted by the PTC, under its annual fare review exercise.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the simplification of fare structures will go a long way in allowing commuters to understand what they are paying for.

 

SIM University senior lecturer Park Byung Joon said: "The PTC is taking this rare opportunity to harmonise the fare system, without increasing fares for any commuter."

Dr Park said this is possible only because of the substantial fare reduction percentage allowed during this year's exercise, on the back of falling energy prices last year.

"Everybody will get some reduction in fares, with some more than others," he said.

Across the board, bus and train fares will be cut by 4.2 per cent - translating to savings of between one and 27 cents for adults.

About one in five of all public transport trips involves fully underground MRT Lines, and commuters are expected to benefit from this.

Economist Walter Theseira of SIM University said the current fare formula, which applies until the end of next year, will have to be re-examined with regard to the sustainability of the public transport system.

"The current fare formula merely reflects the changes in the operating costs year on year," he said.

However, he noted that the Government has made massive capital injections in recent years - such as an ongoing $1.1 billion programme to enhance bus services and the takeover of SMRT's rail assets for $1.06 billion. These have changed the costs of the public transport system "tremendously".

He added: "There is a longer- term question of how we want to apportion the costs of the system. Historically, we have been holding to the principle that commuters cover the operating cost. But it's quite obvious the Government is moving away from this model to one of subsidising more of these costs."

The Dec 30 fare reduction will see revenues cut by $8.9 million for SBS Transit and $34.6 million for SMRT. SMRT said it will continue to focus on improving service and reliability for commuters. SBS would say only that it was guided by the PTC's decision.

Mr Melvin Yong, executive secretary of the National Transport Workers' Union, said fares impact the income of public transport workers. "To maintain service reliability and long-term sustainability of our public transport system, large fare fluctuations should be minimised where possible," said Mr Yong, who is an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

But he added that with the simpler fare structure, front-line public transport workers will be better able to advise on fares when asked.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Simpler fare structure a boon for commuters'. Print Edition | Subscribe