About 250,000 more households eligible for public transport vouchers as fares rise on Dec 26

Generic photo of MRT trains on the tracks near Jurong East MRT Station and buses at the bus interchange taken on August 1, 2020Can be used for bus, trains, public transport, fare hike, LTA, land transport authority stories.
A total of 600,000 public transport vouchers have been set aside to help lower-income commuters cope with the latest fare hike. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Commuters who took the bus or train on Boxing Day may not have noticed their fares had gone up by a few cents as a public transport fare hike announced last month kicked in on Sunday (Dec 26).

But for Madam Hashimah Hassan, every cent goes a long way.

The 54-year-old is a full-time caregiver to her brother, who has cerebral palsy, and her 83-year-old mother, who is wheelchair-bound.

So while she does not take public transport often, having to pay more for fares will impact her finances as she receives only about $430 each month from social assistance programmes.

Depending on distance travelled, the cost of bus and MRT trips on Sunday rose by three to four cents for adults paying their fares by card.

Concessionary fares for seniors, students, people with disabilities and low-wage workers went up by one cent, while prices for cash fares, single-trip tickets, monthly concessions and travel passes were unchanged.

Of the 10 commuters The Straits Times spoke with, five only realised that fares had gone up when interviewed by this reporter, while three said the increase was negligible as it would amount to a few dollars each month.

This was especially so since working from home has become the default due to Covid-19 and they spent less money commuting to work.

Still, the fare hike was felt by some, like Ms Siti Nurhaliza, 21, who has to pay adult fares as a part-time student who does not qualify for a concession card.

Her home is about two bus stops from the Woodlands Integrated Transport Hub and the short ride will now cost her almost a dollar.

"For me, it is not affordable," said Ms Siti, who gets $100 a month in allowance from her parents.

Sunday's fare hike was also painful for former dishwasher Lee Poh Lim, 69, who relies on the $500 in social assistance he receives each month.

After a bout of colon cancer wiped his savings and Central Provident Fund clean, finances have been tight as Mr Lee, who shares a rental flat in Pasir Ris with another tenant, has to pay for rent and utilities.

So he was relieved when he got a letter in his mailbox several days ago notifying him of a $30 public transport voucher that he can redeem from Tuesday (Dec 28).

While it will cover only a portion of the $50 that he spends on public transport each month, "any amount of money is useful to me", Mr Lee told ST.

A total of 600,000 public transport vouchers, which can be used to top up fare cards or buy monthly concession passes, have been set aside to help lower-income commuters cope with the latest fare hike.

This is the largest number of public transport vouchers issued to date.

The Public Transport Council decided to raise fares by 2.2 per cent after its annual fare revision exercise this year, citing cost pressures on public transport operators and a sharp plunge in ridership due to Covid-19.

The hike was largely the result of a fare increase that was carried over from 2020.

Public transport fares were frozen that year.

When fares were last raised in 2019, a total of 450,000 vouchers worth $50 each were made available.

To benefit more commuters this year, the income ceiling was raised so that more households would qualify for a public transport voucher.

Those with a monthly household income of $1,600 or less per person will be eligible for the voucher distribution exercise compared with the $1,200 income ceiling that was set in 2019.

This means about 250,000 more households will be eligible for the vouchers this time, the Ministry of Transport said.

This year, the public transport vouchers will be given out in three phases.

In the first phase, households that received public transport vouchers in 2019 will automatically receive a notification letter by the end of the year that will allow them to redeem the vouchers.

In the second phase, which will start from early next year, households that meet the income criteria but did not receive a voucher in the first stage can apply for it online.

Finally, households that meet the income criteria but prefer to apply in person, as well as households that need further assistance, can go to their local community centres or community clubs to make their applications.

All public transport vouchers must be redeemed by March 31, 2023.

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