Even as Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced yesterday in Parliament that the current public transport fare formula is “inadequate” and that the Public Transport Council (PTC) is reviewing it to better track “total costs,” another ruling party parliamentarian criticised the PTC for lowering public transport fares.
Khaw had opined that local public transport fares are presently affordable and that the Government needs to ensure that the transport network remains sustainable: “We must be careful that (fares) are not priced too cheaply, as maintaining a high-quality transport system requires resources. Cheap fares are popular, but they are not sustainable.”
On the PTC fare review, Khaw said: “I am confident that they can work out a fair and sustainable arrangement. Please support the PTC when they make their recommendations.”
Khaw seemed to indicate that public transport fares will be hiked as he explained how expensive it has been to improve and expand the public transport network:
“Over the past five years, improvements to public transport services have increased operating costs by about 60 per cent. One major contributing factor is the large increase in network capacity as we opened new lines and added more buses and trains.
“This huge cost increase has been borne by the Government. Against such rising cost, fares have gone down by 2 per cent over the same period.”
“Every dollar spent on transport is a dollar less for other expenditure – like schools, healthcare and security,” he added, explaining how the Transport Ministry’s budget has surpassed the budgets for the Ministry of Health, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education to become the second-biggest budget after the budget for defense.
Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui echoed Khaw’s concerns and asked why the Council recommended fare reductions while operating costs grew over the past three years:
“The additional operating cost was clearly not captured in our current fare formula setup as a result, operating cost has increased drastically while fares have lagged behind a for the last few years. This needs to be urgently addressed for a more sustainable public transport system and to prevent increasing burden on taxpayers.
“Given that operating costs have increased drastically, it is surprising to see the Public Transport Council has granted three consecutive fare decreases.”
Minister Khaw wholeheartedly agreed with Cheng’s assessment: “I agree with Ms Cheng Li Hui that the current formula is inadequate. It can be improved to better track total costs.”
Interestingly, the MPs criticisms of fare decreases come after Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on Tuesday that $5 billion of the exceptional budget surplus of FY2017 would be set aside for a Rail Infrastructure Fund “which will benefit all MRT commuters”.
He had added that using part of the surplus for MRT network improvements is a part of the government’s bid to “give back” to Singaporeans.