More MRT lines, buses on the way, says Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew

Construction work on the Downtown Line (DTL) taking place along the Bukit Timah Road on Sept 16, 2011.
Construction work on the Downtown Line (DTL) taking place along the Bukit Timah Road on Sept 16, 2011.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
(From left) Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, LTA group director of rail (Thomson and Existing Lines) Chua Chong Kheng, LTA chairman Michael Lim, and LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong, Chief Executive of LTA, at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Tua
(From left) Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, LTA group director of rail (Thomson and Existing Lines) Chua Chong Kheng, LTA chairman Michael Lim, and LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong, Chief Executive of LTA, at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Tuas West Extension of the East-West MRT line on May 4, 2012.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew speaking to reporters at Changi Airport on Dec 16, 2011, after he cut short a working trip to Cambodia after the SMRT breakdown.
Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew speaking to reporters at Changi Airport on Dec 16, 2011, after he cut short a working trip to Cambodia after the SMRT breakdown.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Transport Minister reveals more measures to improve public services

The Government will keep up its efforts to improve public transport, even looking to build yet more MRT lines beyond 2020.

The new lines will be much like the existing Circle Line, in not only connecting new towns but also linking commuters from one area to another without having to go through the city centre.

It could be, say, from the eastern or north-eastern end to the south-western end, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in an interview this week.

But more immediately, the Government is looking at the possibility of using tourist buses during rush hour and implementing measures to ensure more taxis are on the road at all times.

  • At a glance

  • NEW MEASURES TO MEET DEMAND FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT
    Build more MRT lines;
    Explore use of tourist buses at peak hours;
    Better align the way the bus and rail businesses are supported;
    Ensure more taxis are out on the road

  • EXISTING MEASURES
    $1.1 billion plan to buy 550 new buses;
    $900 million improvement to rail systems and infrastructure;
    More trains and trips added

Also being studied by Mr Lui’s ministry are measures to better align the way the bus and rail businesses are supported. This will pave the way for competitive tendering of bus routes and ensure the viability of public buses, which have been less profitable to run than trains.

These efforts are on top of recent moves that include a $900 million improvement to the existing MRT network and a $1.1 billion plan to buy more buses.

They were announced by Mr Lui in an interview to mark his first year at a ministry that was widely criticised in last year's General Election for overcrowded and infrequent buses and trains.

He sees raising capacity to match the unexpected growth in ridership in recent years as "the biggest challenge". 

His mind clearly on the recent series of MRT disruptions, he said another priority is to improve the reliability of train and bus services on the final leg of a commuter’s journey to work or home.

 

Mr Lui said more details on the new MRT lines can be expected at next year's Budget debate, usually held in March.

They will be built after the Downtown, Thomson and Eastern Regional MRT lines are ready in 10 years' time. In the meantime, buses will plug the capacity gap.

Besides buying 550 new buses, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is looking at using tourist buses to supplement public buses, as they start business only after the morning rush hour.

And to ensure the $1.1 billion injection yields higher bus service standards, the LTA will send people down to bus stops to check the actual times that buses arrive.

This move is seen to be more reflective of commuters’ experience than the current method of measuring bus frequencies by the intervals at which buses leave the interchange, as a bus may be delayed by traffic jams. The audits will cover how packed the buses are as well, instead of just relying on passenger data captured from the equipment on board the buses. 

A study on ways to ensure taxis are used to the optimum is also being undertaken.

Apart from biggest player ComforDelGro, taxis owned by the five other operators here are hired out to mostly cabbies driving a single shift a day, instead of two shifts with a relief driver, Mr Lui noted.

"We need to be even more vigilant about this going forward because now driving a taxi can, with high COE prices, become a substitute for owning a car," he said.

Industry players feel the plans are promising. 

Mr Chew Chong Choon of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore said tours tend to start at 9am, so tourist buses would be free until about 8.45am.

But COE premiums should be reduced for them as public bus operators are not required to pay these fees, he added.

An expert in MRT systems, Mr Rajan Krishnan, feels the future MRT lines could form part of an outer ring that bypasses the downtown area.

It will give people a choice to take a longer but less crowded route along the northern perimeter of Singapore, said Mr Rajan, CEO of engineering firm Kok Thong Holdings.

chinlian@sph.com.sg