Parliament: Public transport ridership halves amid Covid-19 outbreak, safe distancing ambassadors to be deployed

This is from a fall of 20 per cent or so last month, reflecting more people working from home now. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Public transport ridership has halved since the coronavirus outbreak emerged in January, and is expected to fall further when stricter stay-home measures kick in on Tuesday (April 7).

This is from a fall of 20 per cent or so last month, reflecting more people working from home now.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), which provided the figures on Monday, also said it is training transport ambassadors "who will be deployed progressively from this week" to remind commuters to keep a safe distance from one another.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan told the House on Monday: "We accept the fall in demand for buses and trains. It means that Singaporeans are staying at home more, and doing what they need to do around their immediate neighbourhood.

"This is not the time to use our public transport to get to the other side of Singapore for your favourite hawker dish.

"When the Transport Minister had to suspend ERP, COE and discourage the use of public transport, you know the situation is serious."

The LTA told The Straits Times the demand for public transport has dropped by around 50 per cent since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

The elevated set of safe distancing measures, including full home-based learning for students and the closure of most physical workplaces, that kick in from Tuesday till May 4 "is expected to further lower ridership".

Nominated MP Walter Theseira, an associate professor of economics at Singapore University of Social Sciences, said the anticipated further drop in ridership should be enough to allow safe distancing on buses and trains to happen.

With this, public transport operators will not be able to recover costs, he added. "It's clear that with these measures, train operators are going to need subsidies, and for buses, Government will see more losses."

In cities which have implemented lockdowns to combat the pandemic, public transport ridership figures had plunged by as much 90-plus per cent, according to Israeli mobility app company Moovit last month.

Two weeks ago, New York City cut back bus and train services as ridership plunged by as much as 90 per cent. Some subway lines are not running on weekdays now.

Meanwhile, Nominated MP Yip Pin Xiu suggested staggering school hours when home-based learning ends, "like how we encourage the staggering of office hours to deal with peak hour traffic on public transport".

This, she said, will avert the "large crowds in trains and buses" in the morning and when schools end.

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