LTA deficit widens as fare revenue shrinks on back of Covid-19 pandemic

Public transport ridership is now around 60 per cent of what it was before the outbreak.
Public transport ridership is now around 60 per cent of what it was before the outbreak.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Fare revenue collected by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has plunged, dragging its deficit farther south, according the authority's latest annual report.

As the pandemic enters its second year, the LTA posted a 30 per cent drop in fare revenue to $607 million for its 2020/21 financial year. This was on the back of a sharp reduction in bus ridership as people worked from home and cut back on discretionary trips in response to government efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Transport Minister S. Iswaran said last week that public transport ridership was now around 60 per cent of what it was before the outbreak.

The authority's other operating income fell by 10 per cent to $275 million.

This was partly offset by a doubling of rail transit licence fees to $43 million, and a 6 per cent rise in management fee to $717 million.

Its total operating income thus shrank by 12 per cent to $1.642 billion, while its operating expenditure expanded by almost 6 per cent to $4.586 billion. About $1.7 billion of expenses was attributable to bus contracts awarded to operators, which was just over 10 per cent more than the year before.

Another $955 million of expenditure was attributable to depreciation of plant, equipment and property, followed by staff salaries (almost $400 million) and interest paid for its bonds (about $300 million). These figures were not vastly different from the year before.

The biggest percentage increase was largely owing to incentives paid to rail operators for meeting reliability targets. This amount more than doubled from the year before to $538 million.

The authority did not break down similar incentives paid to bus operators, and has declined to furnish figures when asked repeatedly by The Straits Times.

Elsewhere, the LTA posted a non-operating gain of $40 million, which was 32 per cent less than the year before.

In all, the numbers resulted in a deficit of $2.904 billion (up 19 per cent). After government grants amounting to $2.888 billion (up 25 per cent), the LTA's net deficit narrowed to $16 million. This was 85 per cent narrower than the previous year's deficit of $107 million.

Going by its five-year trend, the LTA's operating expenditure has ballooned continuously from $2.718 billion in FY2016/17 to $4.586 billion in FY2020/21. Its net deficit over the five years went as high as $172 million (FY2017/18), but has narrowed considerably with a doubling of government grants funded by taxpayers.