During Tuesday’s parliamentary session, Mr Gerald Giam, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, delivered a detailed speech supporting a motion, “Cost of Living Crisis” by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh, and Mr Louis Chua of Sengkang GRC, calling for a National Transport Corporation (NTC) to be established as a publicly-owned, non-profit land transport planner and operator of all MRT, LRT and trunk bus services.
“Singapore faces an undeniable upward trend in the cost of living, driven by factors such as global inflation, supply chain disruptions, escalating energy prices, and labour shortages,” Mr Giam explained, setting the stage for his argument that domestic policies are also exacerbating the financial burden on Singaporeans.
He further noted, “The PTC’s fare adjustment formula produced a whopping 22.6% fare increase, although the PTC chose to cap it at 7%.” Mr Giam illuminated the financial strain on the public through the 2023 Fare Review Exercise, which significantly increased the cost of public transportation despite a government subsidy.
Citing the profitability of public transport operators, Mr Giam stated, “Between 2011 and 2022, SMRT and SBS Transit have together posted profits averaging S$74.6 million a year, reaching S$110 million in the last financial year.”
He contrasted these figures with the fare hikes and subsidies, calling into question the efficiency and fairness of the current model.
In his critique, Mr Giam didn’t miss highlighting the effects on his constituents: “In the past three years, about 30 bus services have been shortened or removed. Such changes have affected my residents in Bedok Reservoir, who continue to voice their concerns to me about long wait times and crowded feeder bus rides to Bedok MRT station.”
Proposing an alternative, Mr Giam revisited the Workers’ Party’s 2006 proposal to establish a National Transport Corporation (NTC). He envisions the NTC as a “publicly-owned, non-profit, multi-modal land transport entity,” which he argues could redirect profits currently going to PTOs to benefit commuters instead.
“Such revenue could mitigate fare increases and subsidise transport for the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income households, directly addressing concerns about the cost of living,” he pointed out, underlining the direct benefits to the vulnerable demographics.
He suggested that this approach could result in more equitable fare adjustments: “Fare adjustments could be introduced progressively, avoiding abrupt changes during times of economic hardship,” thus cushioning the financial impact on commuters.
Mr Giam also touched on the potential for the NTC to leverage retail and commercial rents from transport hubs: “The NTC could manage bus interchanges, MRT and LRT stations, and their associated linkways, leveraging the rent from these prime retail and commercial areas to support its operations.”
Mr Giam said, “This new model will place the needs and well-being of our commuters at the heart of our transport policy,” offering a vision for a more efficient and commuter-centric public transport system.
On the nationalization of public transport, Chee Hong Tat, Acting Minister for Transport and Senior Minister of State for Finance, suggested that outcomes may differ without competition.
Mr Chee also asserted that transport companies’ earnings from advertising and overseas investments are separate matters. “In this debate, we should concentrate on numbers pertaining to fares,” he clarified.
However, in response to NCMP Hazel Poa of the Progress Singapore Party, who inquired about the inclusion of advertising revenue and rent in transport companies’ reported losses, Mr Chee implied that the companies are not profitable without providing a direct answer.
He emphasized that the government subsidizes transport to the order of S$1 billion annually. “I’m unsure of the advertising revenue Ms. Poa refers to, but if it could yield S$1 billion, I’d be keen to know,” he remarked.