Early birds get free MRT rides from today

Year-long trial aims to ease peak-hour crush

COMMUTERS are still weighing the idea of starting work earlier, as a year-long trial offering free and discounted train rides to early birds kicks off today in a bid to ease the peak-hour crush.

While some have said they are willing to give the free MRT rides a try, others are hoping their bosses offer more flexible work arrangements for them to benefit.

Accountant Amanda Lee will wake up half an hour earlier to catch a train at 7am from Khatib to Tanjong Pagar, if her managers agree. "I wouldn't mind waking up a little earlier, so long as I can start and finish earlier and get more free time to do other things in the evening," said Ms Lee, 28.

As part of a government trial announced in April, early starters who travel into the city area's 16 stations before 7.45am on weekdays will get free train rides.

Those who get off trains there between 7.45am and 8am will enjoy a 50 cent discount on fares.

The Government is expected to fund the incentives with $10 million, to spread peak-hour crowds on city-bound MRT stretches.

The Government and private sector already allow their employees to start and finish work earlier and expect more to do so.

Some 14,000 civil servants who work in the 40 or so public agencies in or around the Central Business District area can take advantage of the free train rides.

The Public Service Division's career development and management director Tan Hoe Soon said that besides part-time work and working remotely, these officers have been allowed staggered work hours for several years.

Figures for the number of those who have switched to flexible work arrangements are unavailable. He told The Straits Times: "Flexibility is offered in the start- work hour as long as service to the public and work outcomes are maintained and the officers put in the required hours a week."

Ernst & Young country managing partner Max Loh said his firm has started allowing staff to start between 7.30am and 9.30am since May 1. The firm is also piloting an increase in staff working from home.

Mr Tony Matthews, general manager of London Underground, said many commuters have shifted journeys to off-peak times without the offer of free rides.

During last year's London Olympics, more than 30 per cent of commuters changed their travel patterns to avoid the peak-hour crowd. Even after the Games ended, 15 per cent continued to travel during off-peak hours.

He said: "It is not financially feasible to offer free rides. Employers need to be convinced to be part of the equation and have a sustainable system."

Bank analyst Jonathan Lee, 34, is still undecided about waking up earlier to shift his journey.

He said: "I may give it a try to see if I can avoid the crowds and get a seat. But if I know I have to work late, I'd rather get a bit more sleep and squeeze a little."