More people steering towards private transport in Singapore amid Covid-19 pandemic: Survey

22 per cent of the 459 respondents in Singapore said that they were "less willing" to take buses and trains since stay-home measures were implemented.
22 per cent of the 459 respondents in Singapore said that they were "less willing" to take buses and trains since stay-home measures were implemented.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Public transport usage may not return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon, a survey has found.

Nearly a quarter, or 22 per cent, of the 459 respondents in Singapore said that they were "less willing" to take buses and trains since stay-home measures were implemented. Another 4-6 per cent were unwilling to do so at all.

More than 6,000 people in eight countries took part in the survey conducted between June 3 and 10 by American management consultancy Oliver Wyman.

The poll found that ride-hailing and car-sharing services took a heavier hit among people in Singapore, with 26 per cent saying they were less willing to use these now, and another 20 per cent indicating they would steer clear for the time being.

Shared active mobility services bore the brunt of the change, with 19 per cent of respondents saying they were less willing to rent bicycles or e-scooters, and another 54 per cent saying they would stay away for now.

Conversely, people were warming up to personal transport, with 39 per cent of those polled saying they were more willing to take to commuting by car now. Among those who had been driving before the crisis, 61 per cent were now "more willing to use a car".

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira said the attitude changes were likely to be short-lived.

"Based on experience in other cities, it looks like many commuters are quite limited in their choices," said the associate professor. "That means that many of the big changes that cities talked about in the middle of the lockdowns may not materialise."

He noted that London Tube users "are back to a considerable extent" despite earlier government advisory encouraging people to "avoid public transport".

"It's easy to talk about big changes, like people giving up public transport and going to biking or driving," Prof Theseira said. "But for many people, it's simply too difficult or impractical to change.

In Singapore, options are limited "if you don't own a car, you can't afford to take the taxi every day, and you live too far from work to ride a bike".

 
 
 
 

"And that describes a large number of public transport commuters."

He reckons that once people stop working from home, public transport ridership will largely revert to what it was. Hence, a 20 per cent public transport ridership drop over the long run "is a vast overestimate... I don't see how it is possible to accommodate that 20 per cent on other transit modes".

Late last month, the Transport Ministry said public transit ridership was around 40 per cent - up from as low as 20 per cent when the so-called "circuit breaker" measures were implemented in April.

A check on Facebook cycling community pages revealed a number of people have begun cycling to work, though. Among them is Mr Xavier Lum, who lives in Ang Mo Kio and works in Outram. He now cycles to the MRT station instead of taking a bus.

The 38-year-old biotech engineer said one reason for doing so was to "minimise contact with crowds". He said he might cycle the full distance to work eventually.

He said taking his foldable Brompton bicycle onboard the MRT was not a problem, even during the morning peak hours.

Cycling advocate Han Jok Kwang said it has clearly become more popular, with bicycles now in short supply in Singapore, and "a waiting list worldwide".

 
 

As for those who do not cycle, Mr Han said: "In comparison to other major cities, I have confidence in the safety on our public transport."

Besides Singapore, the Oliver Wyman poll covered China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.