Driving me round the bend

In Money, News Reports on December 8, 2012 at 4:02 am

I don’t know why anyone would bother to ask about how you feel about raising bus fares. Of course, the answer is no. No to higher fares, charges, taxes, fees and the price of kopi-o.

You want us to pay more? Better deliver more. That would be the layman’s answer. So Lui Tuck Yew’s very tentative kite-flying proposal on having to raise fares so operators can pay their bus drivers more has been universally derided. Far more productive is experts had been canvassed for their views on whether this is the only way to get a man to don a uniform and get behind the wheel.

Here’s a look at some facets of the “should we increase bus fare’’ question:

  1. The Government already subsidises the transport infrastructure, even giving away buses for free. That is, with taxpayers’ money. And these are being given practically on a plate to transport operators.
  2. The bus operators aren’t just bus operators. They operate a whole transport system and while the bus services might not be making money, other parts of the business are. And they are making money.
  3. Which raises the question of why revenue from one part of the business can’t be shifted to another, unless there is some accounting barrier that can’t be crossed.
  4. If the problem is paying bus drivers enough, then operators should look at their pay structure across the ranks, from top down and see what sort of re-calibration should be done to get more people to drive buses. They are “essential’’ manpower after all. And what about looking at private transport operators elsewhere which manage to ensure their drivers make a decent living?
  5. A committee is looking at the fare formula which doesn’t seem to be working because it’s pegged too late to inflation. Also, seems costs have gone up what? 30? 40 per cent? Compared to small revenue rises. What’s this cost increase all about? Is there no way the bus companies could have trimmed that down? We don’t know yet what the new fare formula will look like but there seems to be a hint that a fuel or energy component will be included.
  6. The G is tendering out routes to private bus companies, a sign which ST’s Chris Tan said today, of the G dipping its toes into a new way of structuring public transport. In other places, operators tender to run a service, and the G collects the fare. Problem is, operators tend to get tardy in such a scenario and not cost-efficient. Which brings us back to point e. Are the bus companies operating efficiently in the first place?

Finally, are we looking at this all wrong? So a COI was convened to look at MRT disruptions, SMRT is chided for bad HR practices, unions want in on the transport sector, LTA doesn’t seem to be strong enough regulator, a new committee looks at fare formula, bus drivers should be paid more, questions are raised on whether it is prudent for foreign labour to man essential services.

Is it time to take a more (I hate this word) holistic look at Singapore’s transport system than recommend piecemeal changes?


  1. If the transport companies aren’t efficient, then what was the point of privatising them in the first place? What’s the point of paying these guys private sector pay if the trains break down all the time, and they have to haggle over a $25 per month pay increase for 200 PRC drivers?

    Many of the problems SMRT faces reflect some of the government’s biggest and yet under-publicised mistakes. We can’t get any Singaporean drivers because for many years, the government has given people the impression that regardless of educational qualification, we can all be a PMET. That fuels our thirst for foreign labour. Unpleasant as it is, the government has to start recalibrating expectations.

  2. Perhaps a better way to solve the performance issue is to allow users to tip the bus captain directly on the quality of the service provided and keeping the fare unchanged. That would be direct incentive to the ones that matter and not affect the coys that we are all having lots of issue with.

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