Allowing rail operators to run non-transit businesses is a step in the right direction (Govt to review letting rail operators run non-fare business; Oct 24).
Business viability includes profitability.
In the service sector, customer service determines viability more critically than profits. Without excellent customer service, a business will eventually lose its viability.
This is intuitive.
Focusing on providing excellent public transport as a viable business without charging high fares is unattainable because of the nature of the service. It is capital intensive, with high operating overheads. Hence, the public transport service has to be run by the authorities with various outsourcing mechanisms.
The Government must take ownership of installing and maintaining effective public transport as an essential good that contributes to the well-being of the public and the economy.
Profitability cannot be the ultimate criterion to measure if an operation is successful. Instead, customer satisfaction should be the basic criterion.
Separating the core business of operating a rail system from other businesses creates focus for the rail operator. This can be achieved only if public transport is subsidised.
Hence, the Government must receive all revenues generated from the transport and non-transport businesses in running the total infrastructure of a rail system to make subsidising public transport sustainable as a public good.
It requires political will to do so, not business acumen.
Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)