Bus, train ridership in S'pore rises but numbers still far from pre-Covid-19 levels

Bus and rail rides averaged 5.259 million a day in 2021, a 4.3 per cent increase from the previous year. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Public transport ridership recovered in 2021 on the back of relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, but the numbers are still the second lowest since 2010.

Bus and train rides averaged 5.259 million a day in 2021 - 4.3 per cent higher than in 2020, based on figures released by the Land Transport Authority on Monday (Feb 21).

Buses posted a bigger improvement, with ridership rising by 4.5 per cent to more than three million, while MRT and LRT rides rose by 4.1 per cent to 2.251 million a day.

More people are expected to return to taking public transport as the economy reopens further this year.

Last month, bus and rail rides averaged 5.785 million a day - a 10 per cent jump from the 2021 average.

But observers reckon that it would take some time to go back to the all-time ridership high of 7.691 million seen before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019.

Meanwhile, taxi and private-hire car rides also improved last year. An average of 553,000 trips a day were made by these two point-to-point modes - a 7.2 per cent increase from 2020.

Private-hire cars chalked up an 8 per cent growth to 321,000 trips, while taxis posted a 5.9 per cent improvement to 232,000 trips a day.

In January, the two point-to-point modes made a modest gain of 3.8 per cent to 574,000 trips a day.

This is the second year that point-to-point ridership figures are released. Again, the combined number of trips is about half of what taxis recorded in the heyday before private-hire players arrived in 2013.

The increase in public transport ridership coincided with two consecutive dips in commuter satisfaction.

The annual public transport customer satisfaction survey, conducted by the Public Transport Council (PTC), revealed that 92 per cent of commuters were happy with bus and train rides last year - down from 97.6 per cent in 2020, and 99.4 per cent in 2019.

At 92 per cent, it was the lowest satisfaction level since 2015, when 91.8 per cent of commuters polled said they were contented with public transport service standards. Overall, trains fared better than buses on this front.

Although the PTC said the dip in satisfaction could have been because of the Covid-19 situation, the results came on the heels of bus services that were merged or rationalised as segments of new MRT lines opened.

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira said the rise in public transport ridership was consistent with the workforce's return to the office and residents' regular activities, and that "we can expect this to accelerate further once the current wave of infections is over".

But looking at last month's figures, Associate Professor Theseira said: "What is interesting is that the rise in public transport ridership is proportionately higher than that of taxi and private-hire, which is consistent with public transport being used more heavily for regular commuting purposes compared to taxi and private-hire."

In January, up to 50 per cent of employees who can work from home were allowed to return to the office. 

Remote video URL

Commenting on the public transport ridership increase in relation to the dip in commuter satisfaction, Prof Theseira said: "Unlike in other countries, public transport satisfaction is not going to drive or predict ridership very much, as private transport alternatives such as driving are not possible for the majority of public transport users here. 

"I see the data as being more useful as a 'soft' benchmark for the authorities and public transport operators to understand if they are delivering services that meet expectations."

The transport expert added that this "soft benchmark" is then used alongside a range of quantifiable "hard benchmarks", including indicators for reliability, on-time operations and accident rates.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.