Bus and train fare hike offset by slew of concessions

Targeted help means many will pay less under adjustments starting April 6

Around a million commuters will pay less for travel, even as bus and train fares increase by two to six cents when the biggest price adjustment in 15 years kicks in on April 6.

This is because there will be a slate of new and enhanced concessions to go with the overall fare rise of 3.2 per cent, the Public Transport Council (PTC) said yesterday.

Releasing details of the first fare revision since 2011, the PTC also announced that although the two public transport operators here will make an additional $53.5 million in revenue, part of this will be contributed back to a fund meant to shield the poorest households from fare hikes.

SBS Transit and SMRT will have to contribute $7.2 million and $4.38 million respectively.

The fare adjustment means that ez-link card fares will go up by four to six cents for adults, two to three cents for senior citizens, and two cents for students.

Those paying by cash - who make up 3 to 5 per cent of commuters - will see costs shoot up by 10 to 20 cents every journey.

PTC chairman Gerard Ee pointed out that the 3.2 per cent rise is below last year's national average wage increase, which is "likely to be close to 5 per cent".

In the first direct travel subsidy of its kind, the Government will fork out $50 million in tax revenue to help defray the cost for two groups: low-wage workers earning up to $1,900 a month, and people with permanent disabilities.

About 400,000 low-wage workers and 50,000 people with disabilities will be informed by mail in April how to apply for concession cards that will entitle them to discounts of 15 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

Several new concessions were also announced, including a $120 monthly pass which will allow adult fares unlimited travel.

After years of lobbying, polytechnic students will now get the same monthly pass that their peers in junior colleges enjoy.

All other students - including those in university and Institute of Technical Education - will get cheaper hybrid passes which give them unlimited rides on buses and trains. National servicemen will pay $85 for such a pass - the same as university students.

Another enhancement gives senior citizens unlimited travel for $60 a month.

In all, some 500,000 people will enjoy bigger concessions.

With an estimated three million public transport commuters here, around one in three will benefit from yesterday's package.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Facebook yesterday that the PTC had "struck a good balance by keeping the fare increase a few notches below the average wage increase in 2013 while enhancing concessions for a significant segment of commuters".

He added that concessions for low-wage workers "will bring their... fares to price levels comparable to what they were paying 10 to 15 years ago".

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy associate dean Donald Low said the package was economically sound.

"You don't artificially suppress prices... and you don't subsidise across the board. Instead, you give targeted help," he said.

He also noted that the government-funded concessions to help the two needy groups were "significant". "But I wonder, how come they took so long to do this?"

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Cedric Foo said keeping fares affordable was just one part of the equation. The other is to put more buses on the road, expand the rail network, and improve service and reliability.

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