Bus, rail ridership soars to new high

The MRT chalked up a 7.8 per cent rise to 3.1 million rides a day - the first time it has breached the three million mark. Buses posted a 1.2 per cent increase to 3.9 million rides a day. They are still the dominant form of public transport.
Buses posted a 1.2 per cent increase to 3.9 million rides a day. They are still the dominant form of public transport.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
The MRT chalked up a 7.8 per cent rise to 3.1 million rides a day - the first time it has breached the three million mark. Buses posted a 1.2 per cent increase to 3.9 million rides a day. They are still the dominant form of public transport.
The MRT chalked up a 7.8 per cent rise to 3.1 million rides a day - the first time it has breached the three million mark.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Taxis, however, record fall in ridership, likely because of popularity of private-hire options

Bus and rail ridership rose by 4.3 per cent last year to hit a daily average of 7.2 million - a new record and the 12th consecutive annual rise since 2005.

According to just released statistics from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the LRT led the growth with an 18.4 per cent increase in ridership to 180,000 a day.

The MRT followed with a 7.8 per cent rise to 3.1 million rides a day - the first time it has breached the three million mark.

Together, the two rail modes posted an 8.3 per cent growth to 3.3 million rides a day - closing in on buses, which remain for now the dominant mode.

Buses posted a 1.2 per cent increase to 3.9 million rides a day.

Meanwhile, taxis, which are sometimes viewed as a cross between private and public transport, posted a 5.5 per cent drop in ridership last year to 954,000 rides per day.

Observers attribute this to the growing popularity of private-hire alternatives such as Uber and Grab.

Academics have cheered the continued rise in bus and rail ridership.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der- Horng attributed the growth to the "multiplier effect" of new MRT lines.

This meant that a new line would attract riders beyond those who lived or worked in its immediate vicinity.

"The Downtown Line 2 (which opened in December 2015) may have played the role as a game changer," Dr Lee said.

"With the completion of more and more new lines, public transport will become the 'preferred mode' of travel," he said.

He also said service improvement in buses has encouraged more people to switch to public transport.

"I personally am 100 per cent on public transport during weekdays, even though I still have a car," said Dr Lee, adding that he believes there are "others like me".

Dr Walter Theseira, an economist and senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, concurred, saying: "Transport demand is not fixed - people will increase their travel when the costs of travelling fall, because it becomes more attractive to visit friends, go out socially, or to use public transport for commuting instead of driving."

He added that "cost" is not merely monetary.

"The main costs of public transport come from the time and ease of completing a journey.

"The improved supply of services has made it easier and more comfortable for people to travel in Singapore."

Unlike previously, the growth in public transport ridership numbers has in recent years been driven more by the local population.

"Population growth has been somewhat stagnant," Dr Theseira said.

"So I think increased demand from existing users is the most likely cause."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'Bus, rail ridership soars to new high'. Print Edition | Subscribe