Public Transport Council takes on advisory role to the Transport Minister

Singapore's public transport system is set to undergo a thorough assessment.
Singapore's public transport system is set to undergo a thorough assessment.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - Singapore's public transport system is set to undergo a thorough assessment, through research studies, surveys and focus groups.

They will include a study to compare the island's bus and train services with those of other Asian cities and examine issues facing commuters, such as their needs, experiences and expectations.

The assessment will be led by the Public Transport Council (PTC), which was conferred an additional role as an independent advisor to the Transport Minister on Friday.

While the council, formed in 1987, will maintain its primary role of regulating fares, it will also be tasked with making recommendations on how to improve public transportation. In doing so, the PTC will look to promote public transport and lessen the reliance on cars.

PTC chairman Richard Magnus said it will be the first time that an independent body has assessed Singapore's public transport system.

He told The Straits Times: "We have got a Government which is committed to improve transport - a lot of political will and desire. Then you have got the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the operators - they also want to achieve a good outcome.

"And now you have an independent body - which is not involved in (any) operations whatsoever - looking at it from an arm's length basis, to give an overview (of) where the gaps are, where the challenges are."

Mr Magnus said the report should be ready this year and is confident that the council will take an unbiased position: "The law says we need to be an advisor (and) has given us the authority. It's not as if (we are) an administrative third-party body... We don't have any operational interests."

The council is in the process of signing memorandums of understanding with local universities, to commission research projects.

The PTC has also sought an in-principle agreement from a Tokyo transport institute to collaborate on a study.

It will also take over from the LTA its annual surveys on public satisfaction with buses, trains and taxis.

Under the PTC Act, which came into force on Friday, the PTC will become a body corporate, which will allow it to legally own the rights to publications it produces, and to engage consultants and researchers.

In August (2015), a bill was passed to transfer the roles of regulating the bus services industry from the PTC to the LTA, in view of the transition to a Government contracting model. Under the regime, the LTA will own all bus assets and tender out routes to operators to run, with revenue risk borne by the state.

The difference between what the Government collects in fares and the amounts it pays operators will be covered by subsidies. This will impact the current fare review mechanism, in which the public transport operators apply for fare changes annually.

Mr Magnus said the current fare review mechanism and formula is valid until next year (2017) but a review will take place before then.

He said: "It will take into account the transition to the bus contracting model and evolving changes to the cost environment and operating structure of the public transport operators.

"PTC will pro-actively look into various international fare models, evaluate the strengths of each model and consider what is suitable for Singapore."