SINGAPORE: Gerald Giam, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC, reiterated the critical need to safeguard commuters from facing diminished service levels due to reduced bus frequencies.
Mr Giam recently participated in an interview featured in TODAY’s article, where discussions centred on the reliability of bus services.
The report covered interviews with MPs and bus commuters, underscoring the necessity to prioritize ongoing reliability in bus services while minimizing the impact and inconvenience resulting from the rationalization of these services.
In the interview, Mr Giam highlighted a prevalent concern among residents at Bedok Reservoir.
The residents expressed distress over reduced bus frequencies for services connecting them to vital transport hubs like Bedok Reservoir MRT station and Bedok Interchange.
These issues surfaced after the removal of several bus routes in late 2021.
Mr Giam said that despite making multiple appeals to LTA to increase the frequency of the remaining bus service 228, he has been told that the overall reliability of the service is acceptable.
“The key question is, what is an acceptable frequency of feeder bus services to the closest MRT station?”
“Is a scheduled frequency of up to nine minutes during peak hours, and up to 19 minutes during off-peak hours acceptable?” he said.
He pointed out the inconvenience caused by extended wait times and overcrowded feeder bus rides, particularly impacting elderly commuters who prefer direct trunk services for shorter walking distances.
Mr Giam reiterated his stance that maintaining adequate service levels is crucial in establishing public transportation as the preferred mode of travel, especially concerning environmental sustainability efforts.
LTA’s recent U-turn on bus service 167 reveals disconnection from community feedback
On 28 November, the LTA overturned its previous decision to terminate bus service 167, following strong opposition from affected commuters and residents.
This backtrack occurred in less than a fortnight from the initial announcement of service 167’s cessation on 10 Dec.
In their earlier statement, the LTA highlighted a significant decrease in ridership—around 30 to 40 per cent—for some bus services operating along sections of the TEL.
This decline prompted the decision to discontinue service 167 and make other adjustments, aiming to optimize the allocation of limited resources.
The authority claimed that these changes were necessitated by a sustained reduction in demand and the availability of alternative transportation options.
The practice of rationalizing bus services—whether through withdrawals, mergers, or adjustments in frequency or operating hours due to diminished commuter demand—is not novel.
In its 2021/2022 annual report, the LTA acknowledged bus rationalization as an inevitable procedure accompanying the expansion of the country’s land transport system.
As per the authority’s website, the island is currently served by over 300 bus services.
Mr Giam’s persistent questions on bus services rationalisation
As for the bus services issue faced by Bedok Reservoir, common concerns involve decreased bus frequencies that connect them to Bedok Reservoir MRT station and Bedok Interchange.
These issues arose following the removal of several bus routes in late 2021, and Mr Giam has been brought to the parliament about the issues faced by Bedok Reservoir residents.
During the 2022 Committee of Supply debate, he already pointed out the critical aspect of rationalizing bus services.
Mr Giam highlighted the significant impact of four bus services being either cut or rerouted along Bedok Reservoir Road in December 2021.
He emphasized the importance of the LTA engaging in public consultations with affected residents before any decisions.
Proposing potential alternatives to the LTA, Mr Giam suggested the consideration of smaller buses or extending headways if bus services were rationalized due to low ridership.
“If bus services must be removed, the frequency of the remaining feeder services to bus interchanges or MRT stations should be increased to make up for them. Commuters should not have to wait more than 5 minutes during peak hours or 10 minutes during off-peak hours for feeder buses.”
However, Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Transport at the time, rationalized that shortening three bus services would save S$9.5 million in subsidies a year, which could be reallocated to new bus routes.
Mr Chee clarified that while some services operate with low ridership and run at a loss, they serve crucial connectivity needs for commuters in certain areas, necessitating government subsidies.
However, for certain bus services with low ridership that run parallel to MRT lines and have alternative bus routes available, Mr Chee explained that ridership had significantly declined.
Mr Chee outlined cost reduction measures undertaken by LTA before deciding to modify bus services, such as considering single-deck buses, reducing service frequency, and exploring various strategies to optimize resources.
Mr Giam raises alarm on bus route rationalization impact amidst rising fares
During a Parliament session in October this year, Mr Giam emphasized commuters’ concerns regarding the rationalization of bus routes, particularly trunk services favoured by the elderly, despite noticeable increases in bus fares.
He highlighted that while this practice benefits operator profits and government savings, it adversely affects service quality for affected commuters.
Mr Giam specifically mentioned the requests from his constituents for the reinstatement of bus services 66 and 506.
In response, Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat defended the government’s approach, stating that they do not rationalize or remove buses arbitrarily.
He outlined key considerations in the decision-making process when rationalizing bus routes. First, they don’t remove services without providing an alternative. Second, they evaluate if there’s a parallel MRT route available for affected commuters.
“The concept that I hope Mr Giam can help us as well to explain to his residents, is that we encourage people to take public transport as much as possible within the town, feeder services to bring them them from their homes or near their homes to the key transport notes like bus interchanges and MRT stations. ”
He proposed a more efficient approach, suggesting the utilization of MRT for longer trunk routes, highlighting the system as feeder services primarily for local transport, leading to key nodes, and MRT for longer journeys.
Mr Giam highlights impact on elderly commuters due to altered bus services
On the other hand, during the Motion debate on the Cost of Living Crisis on 7 November, Mr Giam shed light on the financial burden faced by the public due to the 2023 Fare Review Exercise, which notably escalated the expenses of public transportation despite government subsidies.
Highlighting the profitability of public transport operators, Mr Giam cited, “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.”
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.”
“Elderly commuters who favour direct trunk services, which facilitate shorter walking distances for the commute, are also affected by these changes.”
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.
However, Mr Chee dismissed the Workers’ Party’s proposal to nationalize Singapore’s transport system.
He stressed that while nationalization might remove the profit aspect and transform it into a Government department, it doesn’t inherently guarantee improved outcomes for commuters.
“I hope Mr Giam can agree with me that nationalising is not an assurance or guarantee that outcomes would be better.”
He said that nationalisation may take away the profit element and turn it into a government department, but just because a nationalised entity does not make profits or money does not necessarily mean commuters will get better outcomes.
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