One-off public transport voucher 'worth too little'

Applying for it a hassle, so poor go elsewhere for aid, say MPs, help agencies

The lukewarm response to the one-off vouchers that are meant to help the poor cope with fare hikes could be due to the amount offered and hassle in applying for them, MPs and help agencies told The Straits Times.

In Parliament on Monday, it was revealed that just over half of the 200,000 public transport vouchers available for needy residents to offset the fare increase in 2011 were taken up.

And this was after the Government had made two public announcements for applications.

"Maybe we could increase the amount given and simplify the administration so more people will come forward," MP for Holland- Bukit Timah GRC Liang Eng Hwa said.

Needy residents who qualify for the Citizens Consultative Committees (CCC) Comcare Fund have to go to the Community Clubs and Centres to apply for the vouchers, which are only given once and usually vary between $20 and $40.

If successful, they will only be notified about a month after the CCCs have processed their applications.

Ms Rachel Lee, assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centre, said the low take-up could be because the poor are turning to welfare organisations that have longer-term schemes to help them cope with fare hikes.

"They prefer to apply for something longer term, and not go through the trouble just for a one-time small sum," she said.

Still, a People's Association spokesman said grassroots leaders do look out for residents who qualify for the vouchers during house visits and community events and encourage them to apply.

First given out in 2004, public transport vouchers are disbursed to poor Singaporeans in years when there are fare hikes.

Financing for the vouchers comes mainly from the Public Transport Fund, which was set up by the Government, but transport operators SBS and SMRT contribute to it as well.

The Transport Ministry said it will look into improving the application process and distribution of the vouchers, and raising awareness for the scheme.

Several MPs told The Straits Times about their efforts to distribute the vouchers to needy residents.

MP for Woodlands ward in Sembawang GRC Ellen Lee said that her team had some leftover vouchers after giving them away.

"We have a list of the families who are on social assistance, and we go to them," she said.

But MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Lily Neo, whose Kreta Ayer ward is home to many low-income residents, ran out of vouchers within a week during the last distribution.

"With the one-off voucher, the money runs out very quickly especially if you make daily trips," she said. Instead, Dr Neo suggested that giving a concession pass for transport to these residents will be more useful.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Monday that his ministry is looking into introducing such a pass to provide discounted fares for lower-income and disabled commuters.

Commuters who qualify for the vouchers said that a concession pass would be more effective in helping them cope with their transport expenses.

"It's a good idea. I don't go out much because the money I spend on fares is used up very quickly," said Madam Tina Many, 57, who spends one-sixth of her $600 monthly income on transport.