Is government’s ‘Factually’ simply propaganda when it comes to public transport fare hike?

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Prominent socio-economic commentator Leong Sze Hian has faulted the Government’s Factually website. Factually is a fact-checking microsite of the Singapore Government. In May 2018, in responding to a question: “Did the PTC change the fare formula to raise public transport fares?”, the website said:

“No, the fare formula is reviewed every 5 years to ensure that public transport fares remain relevant even as the public transport landscape evolves. How the fares change will depend on macro-economic trends and the extent to which capacity is added beyond demand.”

In repudiating the ‘facts’ of the website, Leong pointed to a Straits Times article, ‘Public transport fare formula to take into account network expansion and usage’, published in March 2018.

The report said: “The formula for public transport fares from this year to 2022 will include a new component that reflects the growing network capacity and ridership.”

Another Straits Times report, “Bus and train fares set to rise by not more than 10 cents per journey in latest fare review exercise”, noted:

“Bus and train fares next year are set to rise by as much as 4.3 per cent, or 10 cents per journey, going by a new component in the public transport fare review formula. The Public Transport Council (PTC) said in a statement on Monday (Sept 3) that the 2018 review will include a network capacity factor (NCF), which tracks how much bus and rail capacity has changed in relation to actual usage.

Of the possible increase, 3 percentage points can be attributed to the NCF, indicating that ridership growth has not kept pace with the growth in network capacity. Much of this came from a move to grow the bus fleet, which resulted in a 2.1 per cent rise in distance covered to 33.6 billion place-km last year. At the same time, ridership fell by 1.8 per cent to 5.5 billion passenger-km.

Together with increases in the wage index, energy index and core consumer price index, the formula would give rise to a fare increase of as high as 7.5 per cent. But because of a 3.2 per cent fare cut which was carried over from last year, the cap would be 4.3 per cent.”

Leong asked if commuters found it somewhat disturbing that when the old (existing) formula resulted in a decrease last year – 3.2% of the decrease was carried over to this year.

“Why are we helping the transport operators?,” he asked.

Adding: “Then, by changing the formula now – it magically results in a net increase of as much as 4.3%. Isn’t this akin to changing the rules to arguably help the transport operators? Why not also tell us what would have been the result, under the existing rules, so that we can compare the difference?”