As the year comes to an end, let’s look back at what our transport ministers – past and present – have to say about transport, including the MRT.
Yeo Cheow Tong, 2001 – 2006
“Only 5% are unemployed. We still have 95% who are employed.”
Born in 1947, Mr Yeo served in the PAP Cabinet from 1990 to 2006, and was a MP for Hong Kah constituency from 1984 to 2011. Before 1984, He worked for Economic Development Board from 1972–75, before entering the private sector. In 1985, he was appointed a Minister of State at the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He then went on to hold a number of different Cabinet positions including Minister for Community Development (1991–94), Minister for Trade and Industry (1994–97), Minister for the Environment (1997–99), Minister for Communications and Information Technology(1999–2001), and Minister for Transport (2001–06). In June 2006, Yeo resigned from the Cabinet to return to the private sector. He continued to serve as an MP until 2011.
In 2002, Mr Yeo stressed the need for a fare increase in Parliamentary Speech, in which he said,
“the PTC found that in 2001, the operating costs of the operators had increased by 6.9% on average. The recent fare revision, as Members know, will increase the revenues of the bus companies by 2.3%. The revision, therefore, will only partially offset the increase in operating costs.”
At the same speech, Mr Yeo also highlighted there had been rising wage costs, and there would be service and productivity improvements, and there would be road tax reduction and extension of bus lifespan.
Raymond Lim, 2006 -2011
“Based on figures provided by ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s biggest taxi operator, cabbies are pocketing about $11 more a day, earning about $318.”
Mr Lim was born 1959. A member of the governing PAP, Mr Lim had been an MP representing the East Coast Group Representation Constituency (Fengshan Division) from 2001 to 2015. He served as the Minister for Transport from 2006 to 2011, and as a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office from 2005 to 2006.
In 2008, Mr Lim highlighted the new philosophy to be incorporated into the transport system, namely “a people-centred transport system”, addressing the decade-long issues of long waiting time, long travel period and over-crowing (read more). He also stressed that public transport needed to be a good alternative to private cars. At a dialogue with about 300 MacPherson residents, Mr Lim said that falling oil prices need not necessarily translate into a similar drop in fares, as “there is no direct correlation between the two“.
There had been a fare hike in 2008. Mr Lim said the fare revision was ‘effective’ in meeting the increasing demand of taxis in the Central Business District (CBD). He said waiting times in the city area during peak hours have ‘gone down substantially’. As such, commuters in the city only have to wait for up to 6 minutes for a cab, significantly less than the 5 to 22 minutes before the fare hike. Mr Lim said their earnings have however gone up, according to the mainstream media, Mr Lim said cabbies earned about $318 daily.
Then, there was a fares reduction in January 2009. In response to media queries, Mr Lim said:
“I understand the concerns of Singaporeans over transport costs in these difficult times. I am pleased that the public transport operators will pass on the savings from the Budget to commuters.”
In 2010, extra costs on transfers were removed so that commuters get to decide their best ways of travelling. Mr Lim said this could reduce waiting time as commuters no longer needed to take direct services. Another change was increasing public transport capacity such as increasing frequency of services(read more).
Lui Tuck Yew, 2011 – 2015
“Remember to have a thick skin and tender heart, and not a thin skin and a hard heart. Because if we have a thin skin and a hard heart, then we are probably not quite suitable to do what we need to do. But a thick skin and a tender heart, that is something I try to constantly remind myself of.”
Lui began his career in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). He became the Chief of Navy in 1999. He left the RSN in 2003 to join the Administrative Service, and was appointed the CEO of the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA). In 2004, he became the Deputy Secretary (Land) at the Ministry of Transport, while continuing to serve concurrently as CEO of the MPA. In 2005, Mr Lui was appointed the CEO of the Housing and Development Board. At the 2006 GE, Mr Lui was elected to Parliament as a member of the PAP team. He was appointed a Minister of State at the Ministry of Education(MOE) in 2006. On 1 April 2008, he became the Senior Minister of State at the MOE and the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. He became a full member of the Cabinet in 2010. In 2011, Mr Lui was appointed the Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs. He relinquished his portfolio in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 1 August 2012, and remains the Minister for Transport.
Mr Lui truly embraced the transport system by taking public transport while driving a 9-year-old Nissan Prairie. He told ST:
“I tend to spend more time sitting at bus stops and standing at MRT stations rather than just taking public transport. If I take a bus, I know how crowded that particular bus is, but I am more interested in seeing how the buses are over the one-hour period. Occasionally, of course, and sometimes during weekends and holidays, I still take the trains.”
In 2013, he expressed his desire to purchase a second-handed car and encouraged Singaporean to do so. “The depreciation (of a new car) is fastest in the first two years. So if you are not those who hanker after driving a new car, but actually a reliable car, a two to three year old secondhand car makes very good sense.”
Khaw Boon Wan, 1 October 2015 – present
“No LRT is designed that way – in such a masochistic manner where you force yourself up and down, twist and turn…I’ve taken the BPLRT a few times as a commuter, and I won’t say I enjoyed the ride because it caused me dizziness also – but that is life.”
Every sentence Mr Khaw says is a quote of the year, which is well-intentioned but inadvertently makes us angry.
Born in Penang, Malaysia in 1952, Mr Khaw began his career in the Singapore Civil Service, working in the Ministry of Health in 1977. From 1992 to 1995, he served as the Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. From 1995 to 2001, he became the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Mr Khaw was a member of parliament in 2001. He was the Minister for Health from August 2004 to May 2011. He became the Minister for National Development from May 2011 to September 2015, and the Chairman of the governing PAP since 2011.
In July 2016, reporters from Hong Kong FactWire have uncovered 35 faulty SMRT trains being secretly shipped back to China for repairs, as these PRC-made trains have developed cracks in their car bodies as well as in key structural components. Mr Khaw said the LTA did not publicise the hairline cracks as there were no safety risks involved and “undue panic” might be resulted. This had raised public concerns over transparency of the MRT system.
In July this year, Mr Khaw also openly criticized the media for “holding a pen and writing a few articles” while having little understanding of SMRT’s technical struggles.
“Even the main media have turned tabloid. Yes, exciting and so on… frightening readers… I wish it was so simple. If it were so simple, they don’t need us. We can ask the reporter to run the train system.”
On the evening of 7 October 2017, the tunnels along the NSL were flooded as a result of a malfunctioned pump. Train services were disrupted for 20 hours. Khaw addressed the media 9 days later, holding the SMRT maintenance team responsible for failing Singaporeans. Blaming bad fortune, he said:
“but I supposed that is life”
On 15 October 2017, DTL 3 suffered its first disruption lasting 40 minutes during a pre-opening launch. Responding to media queries the following day on the disruption, Mr Khaw remarked:
“Sometimes things will happen … For it to happen when we are doing an open house, that is bad luck.”
Mr Khaw delivered a 47-minute Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 7 November 2017. In his speech, Mr Khaw expressed sadness and embarrassment on the continuous bad publicity received. Mr Khaw also stated in Parliament that the tunnel’s pumps are not critical components and insisted that there is no shortcomings or lapses in regulatory oversight by LTA or MOT staff. He further suggested that the responsibility of SMRT’s failures, including that of poor work culture, vests in the CEO. He also believed that they could have avoided the fiasco if Temasek Holdings had appointed Seah Moon Ming to replace Koh Yong Guan as the SMRT chairman earlier, as he recommended.
Workers’ Party Secretary General and Aljunied GRC MP Low Thia Khiang asks pointedly
“There are easier ways to make money. You don’t have to use SMRT to make money.”
On 15 November, two trains crashed at Joo Koon Station, causing 28 injuries, among whom 5 were warded. Speaking to the media, Mr Khaw said:
“It’s an awful day today. Commuters were inconvenienced, and some even injured. So we are deeply sorry for that.”
“This is a multi-year effort. I gave myself four years, we are halfway through. If not for this incident as well as the flooding incident, we are actually making good progress, as PM described it before.”
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