Only two feeder bus services generated enough revenue to cover operating costs in 2020

In 2019, only 11 out of a total of 356 bus services could generate enough fares to cover costs. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - With public transport ridership falling last year due to Covid-19, only two feeder bus services were able to generate enough revenue to cover their operating costs, Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat disclosed on Wednesday (Feb 24).

In 2019, only 11 out of a total of 356 bus services could generate enough fares to cover costs, with the difference made up by government subsidies, which amounted to $1 billion.

So for the Land Transport Authority to maintain financial prudence and meet new demand, it needs to continually review bus routes and implement changes to those with low ridership, such as bus services that run parallel to new rail lines, Mr Chee said.

"Past experience shows that the opening of new rail lines (will) lead to significant falls in ridership of parallel bus services. If we keep the services as they are, it will mean more operating subsidies, and greater use of public funds," he added.

This was in response to Mr Ang Wei Neng (West Coast GRC), who asked whether the LTA had plans to revamp bus routes following the staged opening of Thomson-East Coast Line. Mr Ang also wanted to know whether public subsidies would increase as more bus services are rolled out to new housing estates such as Bidadari and Tengah.

Mr Chee said some bus services, although not commercially viable, are nonetheless required because, despite low ridership, they serve areas that need the connectivity.

Likewise, residents in new housing estates need to be connected to key transport nodes such as MRT stations and bus interchanges, he said. But, at the same time, the Government cannot keep increasing the amount of subsidies to cover deficits.

"If we are going to cater to new demand and yet we do not wish to take away or adjust existing bus routes, then I think... mathematically, it is clear to everybody that the total amount of public subsidies will have to go up," Mr Chee said in response to Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC), who had asked if the LTA could conduct surveys and let buses continue to ply routes that are popular, especially among the elderly, at reduced frequencies.

"The concern with doing that is that, over time, it becomes financially unsustainable and we are increasing the fiscal burden for this generation and the next," Mr Chee added.

The Government, therefore, has to strike a balance between quality of service, fare affordability for commuters and the financial sustainability of Singapore's public transport system, he said.

"Ideally, we want to be able to do all of them but we know there are practical trade-offs."

Singaporeans also need to get used to the idea that public transport connectivity will be provided through a combination of both bus and MRT services, he added.

This means ensuring residents have adequate connectivity between their homes and the MRT station, with buses increasingly focused on first and last mile connectivity.

This will complement the expanding MRT network, which will provide the connectivity for longer travel distances.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.