Rail reliability and service levels may not be direct determinants in a new public transport fare formula, but Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that he will personally see to upkeeping these standards.
Responding to MPs - including Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), an engineer by training - who asked why rail reliability and service were not factored into the new formula, Mr Khaw said: "Service level may not be picked up directly through the fare formula but the sentiments will be picked up by me very quickly, because engineer Lee Bee Wah will make sure that I fully understand what is happening on the ground and I am very attentive, of course, not just to Yishun but the whole of Singapore."
Mr Khaw added that the service component is indirectly included in the new formula.
For instance, "if we do not expand the rail network but demand grows, as it happened a few years back, that means resulting in crowded trains", the Public Transport Council (PTC) "will be asking for a reduction in fares".
But "if things improve through more comfortable rides but costs go up... there may be a need for fare adjustments," he told the House.
The minister said that even though the PTC had decided against including rail reliability in the fare formula, he would deal with it directly himself "through the sort of focus and pressure" he exerts on the operators.
"Because that is my priority and I will see to it that it happens, whether or not this is included in the fare formula," he said.
He explained that one of the reasons why the council decided not to include reliability was that it may worsen the situation.
"When a system is very unreliable, in fact, that is the time to pump in more resources," he said.
"And if you punish them through reduced fares, you are withdrawing resources from the operators, and you will be doing exactly the opposite."
Mr Khaw also said rail reliability has improved: "In my many house-to-house visits, it used to be about trains. But honestly, the last few months, I have not heard about trains. Instead, it is e-scooters; e-scooters and bicycles being thrown all over the place."
He added that the PTC will continue to balance the long-term sustainability of Singapore's bus and train system with affordability of fares.
The minister said the monthly expenditure on public transport as a proportion of household income for the lower-income group has come down from 4.2 per cent to 2.7 per cent over the past decade.
Still, assistance will continue to be rendered to those in need.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng said that over the last five years, the number of Singapore residents holding concession cards has increased from 1.4 million to 1.8 million.
Senior citizens account for more than 40 per cent of residents with concession cards, he said, in response to Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC).
"By 2020, we expect that there will be close to 900,000 Singapore residents aged 60 and above who will qualify," he said.
Mr Baey noted that over the last five years, the average number of journeys made by senior citizens has increased by around 50 per cent, while the number of senior citizen concession pass holders has risen by around 30 per cent.