Free rides: 'Flexi-work is key to success'

Experts say travel habits can change if bosses agree to stagger work hours

Transport analysts are optimistic that the Government's upcoming year-long experiment to offer free train rides would help ease the city's morning peak hour crunch.

This is because the authorities are also encouraging bosses to stagger work hours.

Last week, it was announced that, starting June 24, commuters will pay nothing if they exit 16 MRT stations in the city before 7.45am. They get a 50 cent discount between 7.45am and 8am.

But a straw poll by The Straits Times found that nearly 60 per cent of commuters would change their travel habits only if they got to finish work earlier.

That is the key, said Nanyang Technological University adjunct associate professor Gopinath Menon. He believes perks must go with efforts to get employers to stagger their working hours, and encourage staff to travel before the 8am to 9am crunch.

He also noted that a campaign in the 1970s to stagger work hours in the civil service and private sector did not take off.

"Things might be different now because there is a carrot to entice people to switch and travel earlier," said Prof Menon, pointing to the free trips.

Currently, seven organisations with a combined staff of more than 10,000 are part of the Government's pilot Travel Smart scheme to motivate staff to change their travel habits.

Dr Park Byung Joon, who heads the master's programme in urban transport management at SIM University, believes flexible work hours can become the culture with the Government in the lead.

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

"Flexi-working arrangement in just a few to a dozen companies will not have a significant impact," said Dr Park. "But if it works well for those companies, other companies can be encouraged to offer a similar work arrangement."

Another plus is the 7.45am cut-off time to get the 100 per cent discount. National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng called it "generous", and that it complements the lifestyle some are adopting here.

"Most young parents have to send their children to school before 7.30am and many commuters are also changing their routines like getting up earlier to exercise before they go to work," he said.

Melbourne tried a similar scheme, but peak-hour traffic in the Australian state was reduced by just 2 per cent. One reason was that it required commuters to end their trips before 7am.

Transport analyst Graham Currie, who studied the Melbourne scheme, said it would have been more popular if the cut-off time was extended to 7.30am.

While the free travel scheme here applies to only 16 stations in the city, such as City Hall and Outram Park, other early travel perks, such as a chance to win a $200 cash prize each month, are run across all stations.

Ms Doreen Lai, who can save up to $90 a month with the free travel scheme, is willing to get up earlier. But it all boils down to her also getting to leave work earlier.

Said the 25-year-old analyst: "So long as I can end work early, I wouldn't mind having an earlier start."