All systems go for free pre-peak MRT ride trial

Operators plan to add more train trips and staff in anticipation of crowds

TRANSPORT operators and some companies are gearing up for the launch of a one-year trial that offers free or discounted train rides from Monday.

SMRT will inject additional train trips at stretches along the North-South and East-West lines when necessary to increase capacity during the pre-peak hour.

It will also deploy additional station staff at city stations in anticipation of an increase in passenger traffic, and set more fare gates at those stations to "exit mode".

The Straits Times understands SMRT has also put extra buses on standby at interchanges to cater to any increase in passengers.

Announced in April, the trial allows MRT commuters to travel for free if they exit 16 stations in the city before 7.45am. Those who get off trains in the city between 7.45am and 8am will get a 50 cent discount on fares.

Expected to cost $10 million, it is meant to spread out peak-hour crowds and ease congestion on city-bound stretches of the MRT. The free rides will apply to stations such as Raffles Place, Outram Park, Lavender, Promenade, Orchard and Clarke Quay.

A Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman said the additional trains will be introduced at more crowded stretches to reduce intervals between trains, which now run every three to four minutes in the pre-peak period.

She gave the assurance that there is "significant spare train capacity" just before the peak hour from about 8am to 9am. Some commuters had expressed concern that free travel would shift the congestion forward and create a new peak hour.

There are usually up to twice as many commuters travelling on the train into the city in the half hour after 7.45am compared to the half hour before, she said. LTA will work with operators SMRT and SBS Transit to monitor the crowds and make necessary adjustments. It already has surveyors at various stations to monitor operations. Additional surveyors will be deployed when the trial kicks off. Its spokesman said the scheme has to be as targeted and specific as possible to "minimise unintended travel behaviour".

"Observations on the ground will enable us to respond quickly and make adjustments," she said.

The Straits Times understands that these additional eyes are to take note of commuters who might try to take advantage of the scheme by cheating on their fares.

Meanwhile, some firms have made provisions for their employees to take advantage of the trial.

Ernst & Young country managing partner Max Loh said his firm had implemented staggered office hours since May 1, which allow staff to start work any time between 7.30am and 9.30am. "This allows the option of starting and ending work earlier, thereby enabling employees to leverage the free MRT rides if they wish to."

Retail leasing executive Darylyn De Silva, 24, said she would try out the new scheme. She usually takes the train from Ang Mo Kio to Raffles Place, and has to give multiple trains a miss before boarding one. Travelling earlier means she would have to wake up at 6am instead of 7am. "Hopefully I get the chance to come to work feeling less... stressed."

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