Kishore Mahbubani calls for national transport agency in Singapore

Professor Kishore Mahbubani suggests creating a new agency and calling it the Public Transport Board. He said it should merge all the trains, buses, taxis and shared vehicles in Singapore, including bicycles and scooters for hire.
Professor Kishore Mahbubani suggests creating a new agency and calling it the Public Transport Board. He said it should merge all the trains, buses, taxis and shared vehicles in Singapore, including bicycles and scooters for hire.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

It can help S'pore develop the best ecosystem of public transport, says Kishore Mahbubani

SINGAPORE - Singapore's public sector is world class. But its private sector is not. So if the country wants the best public transport system in the world, shouldn't the public sector be in the driver's seat?

Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, asked this in an address at yesterday's Future Mobility symposium, reiterating his call for public transport to be nationalised.

"We should create a new agency and call it Public Transport Board," Prof Mahbubani said.

"It should merge all the trains, buses, taxis and shared vehicles in Singapore, including bicycles and scooters for hire.

"If Singapore has already become the most successful society in human history in the first 50 years, there is no reason why we cannot develop the best ecosystem of public transport in the world."

GOOD TRACK RECORD

If Singapore has already become the most successful society in human history in the first 50 years, there is no reason why we cannot develop the best ecosystem of public transport in the world.

PROF KISHORE MAHBUBANI, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

In this "ecosystem", there would be "zero car ownership", and the percentage of land space devoted to roads would be halved from 12 to 6 per cent.

Instead, there would be jogging and cycling tracks, and "air-conditioned walkways", the professor said in his speech that began with Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" declaration.

Citing the success of agencies like the Housing Development Board and Economic Development Board, Prof Mahbubani said a similar agency could "take over the management of all the limbs of our public transport".

Repeating his clarion call for a state-run transport system - one made by the Workers' Party for a number of years now - Prof Mahbubani said that by 2050, a smartphone app created by the new "Public Transport Board" would "tell me the cheapest and fastest way to get to work".

Trips would be made predominantly by trains, and the app would be able to arrange for autonomous pods to make the first and last miles.

The professor called for public transport to be nationalised last month when he spoke at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum, saying that Singapore's public transport woes are the result of privatisation "taken too far", and the country should have the "political courage" to make changes to the system.

He said the country should not "remain a prisoner of old economic ideas", such as the notion that public transport should be privatised.

The Government is already taking fuller ownership of the transport system, with the new bus contracting regimen as well as the new rail financing framework.

And on Tuesday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan hinted in a blog that further changes may be afoot to pave the way for better integration between designers, builders and operators of MRT lines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Call for national transport agency'. Print Edition | Subscribe