'Let Govt manage public transport'

Professor Kishore Mahbubani.
Professor Kishore Mahbubani.PHOTO: ST FILE

The public transport system should be managed by the Government instead of private operators, according to a prominent academic.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said Singapore's public transport woes are the result of privatisation "taken too far" and the country should have the "political courage" to make changes to the system, given its shortcomings.

Prof Mahbubani, who spoke of the challenges facing the nation at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum yesterday, said the Republic should not "remain a prisoner of old economic ideas". This includes the notion that public transport should be privatised.

Private corporations are judged on the basis of quarterly financial results and have less of an incentive to spend on long- term maintenance, he noted.

Prof Mahbubani also drew comparisons with Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR), which Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has identified as the system that local rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit should use to benchmark reliability standards.

Hong Kong's MTR Corporation spends a significant share of revenue - 37 per cent - on maintenance, compared with the 19 per cent spent by Singapore.

Privatising Singapore's transport systems also resulted in the loss of many engineers who worked in the public sector, said Prof Mahbubani.

"I hope, as we write our economic history, we will honestly admit that we made mistakes... Have we learnt from our mistakes and are we prepared to move ahead?"

Chia Yan Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline ''Let Govt manage public transport''. Print Edition | Subscribe