The chairmen of town councils yesterday suggested ways to help reduce the number of lift breakdowns, even as they welcomed the new grants from the Government for lift maintenance and replacement.
They called for an increase in the pool of lift technicians in Singapore and for the Housing Board to team up with them to buy lifts that give value for money.
Jurong-Clementi Town Council chairman Ang Wei Neng said: "We need to look at who gives the best value holistically - not just the seller who is cheapest based on cost of installation alone, but also on the quality and price of maintenance services over the years."
Mr Ang is among four town council chairmen who gave the thumbs up to the Ministry of National Development's (MND) announcement yesterday of two new grants to help Singapore's 16 town councils cope with their lift expenses.
In all, the ministry is setting aside at least $63 million a year for the new grants: A potential $13 million for the Lift Maintenance Grant that will give town councils $600 for every lift they own, and more than $50 million for a grant that will match half of what they must contribute to the new Lift Replacement Fund (LRF).
These will further ease the town councils' financial burden, especially after the ministry announced last week that they must set aside 14 per cent of their income for the LRF.
Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council chairman Zainal Sapari said: "Town councils are facing cost pressures with the new requirements. The grants should moderate the adjustments we have to make to the S&CC (service and conservancy charges) over time."
Marine Parade Town Council chairman Lim Biow Chuan said the grants are a good start to building healthy reserves dedicated to lifts.
"We are dealing with a lot more lifts than before, and they also stop at every floor now. Town councils will have to replace them sooner rather than later," he added.
The new grants - coupled with the $450 million Lift Enhancement Programme announced last September that will give town councils an average of $45 million a year for 10 years - mean that town councils will get more than $100 million of additional funding for lift expenses.
This is on top of an existing goods and services tax subvention of $20 million a year and an S&CC operating grant of $100 million a year.
"With the new measures, MND will be doubling its funding support to the town councils," said the ministry, even as it said the town councils must ensure their long-term finances are sustainable.
While the additional funds may help minimise lift problems in the next 20 to 30 years, the chairmen feel extra steps need to be taken to ensure the recent spate of lift breakdowns is not repeated.
The shortage of lift technicians is the main reason lifts are not serviced or fixed on time, they said.
There are 2,000 such technicians for all the high-rise buildings here, including private residential blocks and commercial buildings. HDB estates alone have about 24,000 lifts.
To attract more people to the job, Mr Zainal suggested implementing career paths and the Progressive Wage Model to help push up their pay, like what was done for jobs in the security and landscaping sectors.
Mr Ang said people also need to get rid of their bias about the job. "Our society as a whole needs to start appreciating skills, rather than job titles."
Mr Sugumaran Pillai, president of the Singapore Lift and Escalator Contractors and Manufacturers Association, said the grants are useful, but are only one part of the solution.
"Lift safety is a national problem, the root of which is a manpower crunch. Meanwhile, the Government and industry players are doing a lot to make lifts safer, but this will take time," he said.