Thursday 22 May 2014

Bus Contracting: Big revamp of bus services from 2016

Govt to own all buses, plan routes in move aimed at improving services
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 22 May 2014

IN THE most sweeping shake-up of bus services here in years, the Government plans to overhaul the public bus system from the second half of 2016, which will see it owning all buses and deciding on bus routes.

These routes will be tendered out to both local and foreign operators to run, and fares collected will go to the Government.

The move will dismantle the current duopoly enjoyed by SBS Transit and SMRT, and aim to significantly raise service standards while ensuring the long-term viability of operators.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), which announced the change yesterday, said operators under the current model are reluctant to run routes which are unprofitable. But in the new system, operators will not have to worry about how much fare is collected.

The bus fares will instead go to the LTA, which will use them to pay the operators.

The revenue, however, is likely to fall short, which means that the Government will have to increase the amount of subsidies it currently puts into public bus services.

Commenting on the move in a Facebook post yesterday, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "I believe this new model will enable us to respond more speedily to changes in ridership patterns and commuter needs and provide a better service to commuters."

As contracts under the current system run out at the end of August 2016, bus routes across the island will be bundled into 12 parcels, which will go up for bidding.

The first three parcels will be awarded by 2016, and the remaining nine by around 2022.

Winning operators will be paid a sum to run the routes, plus incentive bonuses if they meet or exceed service standards.

These standards will be significantly higher than those in place today. For instance, during peak periods, all buses will have to arrive at intervals of no more than 15 minutes, down from the current 30 minutes.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chair Cedric Foo said that, with the new model, "fares will now rest squarely on Government". And there will be political and public pressures to keep fares low, he added.

"But the good thing is there'll be transparency," said Mr Foo, explaining that the real cost of running a comprehensive bus network will be known, as will the amount of subsidies.

The LTA, which has been studying similar models in Australia and London, said details of the first route parcel will be announced next week.

Each contract will span five years, with an extension of two years for good performance.

In all, the LTA expects the market to accommodate three to five players eventually.

Mr Foo said a strong incentive-and-penalty scheme, plus the relatively short contracts, will keep operators on their toes. Under the current system, in which contracts span 10 years, "there is no pressure to perform", he said.

Regular bus commuter Tan Pang Soon, 25, said he expects service to get better, as operators "no longer face revenue risk".

Dr Paul Barter, an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said: "If done well, it should offer the best of both worlds - strong capacity to plan an ambitious bus system that is needed, and benefits of competition via a tendering process."

Like other transport experts, Dr Barter believes that, for public transport to work well, government needs to have a strong involvement. And this new model allows for that, he noted.

Mr Foo added: "It won't be perfect but it'd be better than the status quo, and better than nationalisation."

Shift to contracting model for buses 'vital'
It will plug public transport gaps but better service may be costly: Experts
By Royston Sim and Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 22 May 2014

THE shift to a contracting model for buses is a necessary move that should plug gaps in the public transport system, experts believe.

However, they caution that expected improvements in service standards may not come cheap.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the current model is not sustainable for a high standard of bus services, as fare increases have not kept up with costs, while bus passengers are likely to switch to taking the MRT after the rail network expands.

Under the new model, the Government will put up 12 packages of routes for competitive bidding, and pay operators a fee to run services for up to seven years. It will retain fare revenue, thus freeing operators from the risk of losing money on unpopular routes.

Dr Park Byung Joon, an urban transport management expert at SIM University, said this means the quality of bus services will no longer be constrained by profitability concerns of private operators. Instead, it will be determined by how much the Government is willing to spend on improving service standards.

The LTA said commuters can expect shorter waits for 45 per cent of bus services during peak periods from 2016.

It will require at least half of all buses to arrive within 10 minutes, up from 30 per cent of buses today. In addition, all buses will have intervals of no more than 15 minutes, down from 30 minutes.

Dr Park said: "If it is achieved, the difference will be significant enough for commuters to feel."

Mr Cedric Foo, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said the new model will help determine the best price for bus services through competition - a process which he currently describes as "shooting in the dark". He noted there is no way to know what the best price is now as SBS Transit and SMRT operate monopolies in different parts of Singapore. It is also the Government's duty to keep fares affordable, he added.

The Government first mooted competitive tendering in its 2008 Land Transport Master Plan.

It rolled out a $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) in 2012 to boost bus capacity. The programme has since been expanded to put 1,000 state-funded buses on the road.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, a member of the Transport GPC, flagged irregular bus services as one gap that has to be addressed.

And while the BSEP has helped address this concern, it has not been enough, he said. "The situation has improved, but commuters wish more buses could arrive more regularly." He believes the "bold move" to introduce competition should lead to better and more efficient bus services.

Professor Lee Der Horng, a transport academic from the National University of Singapore, agreed with the Government's move to assume ownership of all buses and bus infrastructure.

"After we remove this barrier, new and potential operators are more likely to come," he said.

Still, he noted that the amount of government subsidy will be substantial. In London, the bus network subsidy amounts to several hundred million pounds a year, though the amount has fallen from £563 million (S$1.19 billion) in its 2009 financial year to £377 million last year.

In the long term, the LTA plans to introduce a common livery for all buses, similar to London where all buses are painted red.

While all basic trunk and feeder routes will be bundled into packages, the LTA said premium bus services run by private operators will not be affected.

City Direct services will likely remain as well, though peak-period short feeder routes could be added to the packages of routes.

Retiree and Chai Chee resident Gan Ah Soy, 68, hopes the increased competition can help keep fares low. He said: "For people like us who don't work, it's hard to cope. Of course, if buses come faster, it's better too."

Major overhaul for public bus services
Operators to bid for route packages decided by LTA, Govt to fund buses and pay bus companies; contracting model to cut waiting times for passengers
By Joy Fang, TODAY, 22 May 2014

The public bus industry will be radically overhauled, in what analysts have described as the biggest transport policy revamp in decades.

After several previous attempts to address persistent grouses from commuters over route coverage and waiting times, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday that, from the second half of this year, the Government will embark on a bus contracting model that will see operators bidding for a package of routes through competitive tendering.

The Government will own, provide and fund all bus operating assets and infrastructure such as buses, depots, interchanges, bus monitoring and operations systems, and fare systems.

The LTA will determine the bus services to be provided and the service standards, and operators will bid for the right to operate these services.

Revenues from fares will go to the Government, while operators will pocket the non-fare revenues from advertising on buses or commercial rentals at interchanges, for example, on top of the amount it is paid by the Government to run the services.

Higher service standards will be enforced in the new contracts. Under the contracting model, 45 per cent of the bus services will have shorter waiting time during peak periods. The waiting period for all buses should not exceed 15 minutes during peak periods.

The LTA added that under the current privatised model, operators may not run services if these are assessed to be unprofitable. Having studied the London and Australian bus contracting models over the past two years, the LTA noted that these models have run well and brought improvements to services.

The LTA stressed that the job security and welfare of bus drivers and workers will be a key priority. It will work with the National Transport Workers’ Union and the operators to ensure a smooth transition for affected employees. Under the new model, an operator is required to make employment offers to workers previously hired by its rival on terms that are not worse if it wins the tender for a package of routes.

Who will pay for higher service levels?

Transport analysts lauded the move as commuters will benefit from the expected higher service levels.

However, the new system would be “very expensive” for the Government, noted Dr Park Byung-joon, head of the Urban Transport Management Programme at SIM University. “To be able to achieve the standard the Government is going to ask for, it will probably cost more than the fares we are currently paying,” he said, adding that it is unlikely the additional costs will be fully passed on to the commuters. Hence, the amount of taxpayers’ monies the Government spends on public transport could increase significantly, he noted.

In London, bus fares have gone up by 59 per cent since 2005, while the number of journeys increased by about a quarter over the same period.

In Perth, taxpayers pay for two-thirds of the costs of providing the bus and rail systems while commuters pay the remainder. Mr Colin Barnett, the Premier of Western Australia, recently said commuters would need to pay as much as half of the cost eventually.

The LTA stressed that the Government will continue to ensure the affordability of public transport fares.

Speaking on Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point programme last night, LTA director of policy Looi Teik Soon said the practice of having the Public Transport Council set the fares is “here to stay”. “We already have a fare review mechanism ... The contracting is merely to make sure the operators … provide the services at the most competitive cost,” he said. The Government will pay for the shortfall between the fares set by the PTC and the cost of running the services, he added.

Operators to be kept on their toes

Both the public transport operators — SMRT and SBS Transit — said they welcomed the restructuring.

Still, SBS Transit — whose sister companies in London and Sydney operate under a contracting model — said the new regime would have a major impact on its operations. Its chief executive officer Gan Juay Kiat described the restructuring as “one of the most significant developments in the local bus industry in recent times”.

Yesterday’s announcement came about six years after the Government first signalled its intention to introduce greater contestability in the bus industry in its Land Transport Master Plan 2008. Since then, several moves have been made in that direction.

In 2009, the LTA took over from SMRT and SBS Transit to become the central bus network planner. In 2012, the Government announced a S$1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) to buy and pay for the running costs of 550 additional buses. In March, the BSEP was expanded, with 450 more buses to be rolled out.

The LTA said the new model will lower barriers of entry and attract more bus operators. Since last year, it has experimented with competitive tendering on a small scale with the City Direct Services and Peak Period Short Services. “The privatised model has served Singapore well, but with the changes in the social and operating environment, a contracting model would serve us better going ahead,” it added.

Writing on Facebook, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said that, during his visit to London, he could see that commuters there were able to enjoy enhanced bus services over time, under the bus contracting model, “because the operators need to compete for the right to run the bus services”. This model has kept the operators on their toes, he said.

TODAY understands foreign operators that are potentially interested include joint venture firm Veolia Transport-RATP Asia, French transport group Keolis, Australia’s Tower Transit and United Kingdom’s Go Ahead.

Acknowledging the existing challenges of hiring enough bus drivers, LTA’s Mr Looi said policymakers are discussing whether to grant flexibility to prospective operators under the foreign manpower regime during the transition period.

The best of both worlds?

In Parliament, the Workers’ Party has been calling for the public transport system to be nationalised.

Some analysts felt the restructuring of the bus industry was a step closer to nationalisation, with Professor Lee Der Horng, a transport researcher from the National University of Singapore, describing the move as “semi-nationalisation”.

However, an LTA spokesperson reiterated: “Bus contracting is not nationalisation. A nationalised public transport system is one where the Government runs the bus services itself, keeps the fares, and pays for all operating costs.”

She added: “Our model thus seeks to secure the responsiveness of a nationalised system by Government being the one to decide on the bus services and standards to be provided and paying for the operation of such services, while tapping the efficiencies of the private sector, by getting private companies to operate the bus services.”

With the restructuring of the bus industry set in motion, the question now is when the rail sector will follow suit. The authorities are studying a proposal submitted by SMRT last month to sell its rail assets to the Government.

Noting that the contracting model applies to the Downtown Line and future rail lines — under a rail financing framework introduced in 2010 — the LTA spokesperson said: “For existing lines, there will be a need to go through a process of consultation and mutual agreement if the existing operators were to come on board the new financing framework.” Transition to the new framework will only proceed on terms that are “mutually acceptable” to both the Government and operator, she said.

Switch in model frees operators to focus on service
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 22 May 2014

AFTER four decades of relying on the profit motive to ensure buses are run efficiently and, in turn, keep public spending in check, Singapore has admitted that a model change is due.

The Government will now implement a contracting model, where operators bid for the right to operate routes in a competitive tendering system.

Tenders will be awarded based on, among other things, the competitiveness of a bid and the track record of the bidder.

Having secured a contract, operators will be released from the tension of having to balance revenue and service standards - something which they have been trying to do in the last 40 years or so.

They will also be freed from having to acquire and hold on to operating assets which translate into hefty depreciation charges on their profit-and- loss accounts.

The Government will own all infrastructural and operating assets.

Operators will thus be able to focus on meeting service standards, which the regulator - in this case, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) - monitors periodically.

Those who meet or exceed standards will be rewarded with bonuses. Those who fall short forgo bonuses and, in severe cases, risk not being able to take part in future contracts.

Such a system has proven to be successful in several cities, including London, Sydney and Copenhagen.

The question is, how well will it work in Singapore?

In principle, it is a superior system. For one thing, it facilitates price discovery, where the true cost of providing a service is arrived at via competition.

For another, it allows government subsidies to be disbursed more elegantly. The billion-dollar Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) - where the Government pays for a fleet of buses and their running cost for 10 years - for instance, has been criticised as an indirect subsidy for the operators. It is, in fact, a subsidy for commuters. In a contracting regime, there will be less ambiguity.

Moving to the contracting model will also mean that Singapore will at last harmonise the way it finances its buses and trains. Up till now, the rail system has received more support, ostensibly because of its huge capital outlay.

Most importantly, a contracting regime will allow the Government to have more say and control over service standards, simply because the state will now pay the operators for their services. And because it is paying, the state now has a more direct interest in getting desired outcomes.

Previously, it was difficult for the Government to push for higher standards in the face of declining bus profits and, in some instances, outright losses. That was why it had to roll out the Bus Service Enhancement Programme.

So, contracting is a better system. But it may not be a more cost-efficient one, as similar systems have demonstrated.

In London, bus subsidies grew from £41 million (S$86.5 million) - 6.5 per cent of the cost of contracts awarded - in 1999/2000 to £653 million (40 per cent of the contracts' cost) in 2007/2008.

According to a study done by KPMG, the reason for this was that costs rose faster than fare revenue, which the government collects and keeps.

In Singapore, The Straits Times understands that City Direct services, which conform to the contracting model, have been running with hefty subsidies.

According to insiders, the LTA has been able to recover only 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the contract cost through fare collection.

The simple solution would be to increase fares. But the pressure to keep fares affordable will remain in the new model. In fact, the pressure may be greater.

In London, for instance, bus fares in real terms have been sliding steadily since the contracting system was adopted in the mid-1980s. And even though Transport for London (the LTA equivalent) has the mandate to increase fares annually via a fixed inflation-plus formula, adjustments are not always carried out to the letter, according to KPMG.

In Singapore, it is still unclear how bus fares will be adjusted. Transport operators should no longer be the ones applying for a fare hike, since their earnings are not affected by fares. Their income will be from the contract sum, service standard bonuses and operating efficiency.

It would be strange if they carry on the practice of applying for fare adjustments. But it would be doubly strange for the Government to apply to the Public Transport Council - which it appoints - for fare revisions.

Whichever way, it is clear that subsidies will be central to the contracting regime. From a public policy perspective, using tax dollars to defray the cost of public transport - a common practice worldwide - is sound. It makes sense in the big picture too, especially to a small country like Singapore, which cannot accommodate widespread car ownership.

But how big a bang it gets for the buck - especially in terms of improved service - depends much on how well the new model is implemented.

SBS Transit and SMRT welcome new system
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 22 May 2014

BOTH current public bus operators have welcomed the new contracting model.

SBS Transit said it is a more sustainable option but added that the "paradigm shift" would have a major impact.

It said it is prepared for the challenge and will tap sister companies in London and Sydney, which operate under a similar model. SBS Transit chief executive Gan Juay Kiat said: "This is one of the most significant developments in the local bus industry in recent times. We look forward to working closely with the authorities as we transit into the new operating environment."

SMRT spokesman Alina Boey said: "We are geared up to participate in the competitive tendering exercise."

Both operators will begin negotiations with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on moving to the new model after their operating licences expire on Aug 31, 2016. SBS Transit and SMRT have suffered losses on their bus operations in recent times. SMRT reported a loss of $28.4 million for the financial year ending March 31.

The Straits Times understands several international operators have expressed interest, including French firms Veolia Transport RATP Asia and Keolis, and Australian firm Tower Transit.

Keolis spokesman Segolene Deeley said it may be interested in bus and rail contracting in Singapore. The largest public transport operator in France, Keolis runs various transport systems such as the bus, tram and metro in 15 countries.

Job security, welfare of workers a 'key priority'
By Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 22 May 2014

TRANSPORT chiefs say they will help workers who face upheaval in the upcoming overhaul to the bus industry, which unions hope will also lead to pay rises.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will allow more transport operators, including foreign ones, to bid to run bus services here.

About a fifth of routes will be tendered out to both major incumbents, SBS Transit and SMRT, and new operators in the next two years. The rest will be gradually tendered out as contracts expire.

Contracts will be offered every five years, with a possible two- year extension.

It will mean bus workers - from technicians and engineers to drivers - may have to change employers every five to seven years.

It has set up a tripartite workgroup, roping in operators and the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) to "ensure a smooth transition for affected staff".

The group is chaired by Senior Minister of State for Transport and Finance Josephine Teo.

A key safeguard requires incoming operators to make job offers with terms and conditions no worse than what staff enjoy under the incumbent, said LTA. SMRTsaid that regardless of the bidding outcome, there are "transition issues that will need to be worked out... so that the interests of affected staff will be looked after".

In a Facebook post yesterday, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "We will see to it that the welfare and interests of bus workers are well taken care of."

Bus drivers said they do not expect to change jobs, even if their employer changes. A bus driver of 34 years who wanted to be known as Mr Tan said: "As long as the pay, benefits and job scope are the same, I will stay in this job."

SBS Transit has over 5,500 drivers, while SMRT has over 2,500. NTWU's executive secretary Ong Chin Ang said the union looks forward to "better jobs and wages".

The change could spell better pay amid a shrinking labour pool, said human resource expert David Leong of PeopleWorldWide: "It's not just about getting people who can drive buses, but about people who are familiar with routes and can deliver good service."

24 routes in first bus package
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 29 May 2014

THE first bus package to be tendered out under a new operating model will comprise 24 existing routes in the west of Singapore.

Announcing details yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the routes originate from the Jurong East, Bukit Batok and Clementi bus interchanges.

Operators can bid to run the package, starting with about 380 buses, and expanding to about 500 buses by 2021, in tandem with the development of Tengah New Town and Bukit Batok West.

In a radical restructuring of the public bus industry, the Government will now own all fleets and infrastructure, and contract out routes to be operated by transport companies.

The first bus package will operate from the new Bulim depot off Jurong West Avenue 2, which will be ready in 2015 and have facilities for refuelling and maintenance.

The LTA will put the package up for tender later this year, and open it to all parties - incumbents SBS Transit and SMRT, local operators and foreign ones.

The operator that wins the tender will start running the routes from the second half of 2016. Of the 24 routes, 16 are from SBS Transit and eight from SMRT.

Announcing the change to a contracting model last week, LTA said it would inject more competition to the industry and raise service levels.

This bus package is the first of three to be tendered out over the next two years. The remaining 80 per cent of buses will be bundled into nine packages, to be run by SBS Transit and SMRT until they are put up for tender around 2022.

Some local and foreign operators - including Australia's Tower Transit - have expressed interest in submitting bids.

Mr Roger Wong, general manager of private bus company Woodlands Transport, said his firm would study the tender documents and consider issues such as whether it can recruit enough manpower. It has not ruled out partnering local firms or forming a joint venture with interested foreign operators, he added.

SBS said it will assess the tender, while SMRT said it was ready to take part in the exercise. Both operators have met their staff, together with the LTA and National Transport Workers' Union, to explain the impact of the changes and reassure them. The LTA will require the successful tender applicant to make competitive employment offers to affected workers.

Energy analyst and part-time master's student Oliver Yuen, 26, takes service 96 home after night classes at the National University of Singapore. He thinks contracting out the route might help improve its off-peak frequency.

"Sometimes, the crowd comes when night classes end and buses are not frequent," he said.

The 380 buses in the package are likely to be a mix of new ones purchased under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme and replacement buses for the operators. Existing buses plying those routes will be redeployed.

Two transport experts welcome the new bus contracting model and suggest improvements.

PTC has to set expectations right
By Park Byung Joon, Published The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2014

AS A long-time advocate of the implementation of a full operating subsidy model for the public bus services in Singapore, I was delighted to read that the Government is moving to a bus-contracting model.

Under this model, the Government takes over the ownership of buses and assets, and contracts the running of bus routes to private bus operators for a fee. Fare revenue goes to the Government.

This is different from the current public transport model where the Government pays for and provides the infrastructure, such as railways and bus depots. The Government thus subsidises capital spending in public transport, especially for the MRT train system.

But these assets are held by the public transport operator, which has to pay operating expenses and the cost of depreciation for trains and buses. The operator recoups these in the form of fare revenue. In this way, it is ultimately the commuting public that pays these costs.

But commuters could expect only a level of service that the fare revenue could pay for. It has become increasingly obvious that the public demands a higher level of service than what is available with the current fare levels.

The concept of public transport has also evolved. No longer regarded simply as a service for people who do not own private vehicles, public transportation is also vital for the nation's economy and social integration. Once this latter concept is accepted, the idea that the Government should fund public transport whenever necessary should be embraced.

There are many ways that taxpayers' money can be used. One is to simply inject public money into private operators and hope, or pray, that they will spend the money wisely.

Another way is to nationalise public transport. In this model, the Government does not just own infrastructure and assets. It also takes on the responsibility of operating public transport on a daily basis.

Among the models available to policymakers, I believe the full operating subsidy model - known in Singapore as the government contracting model - is the best approach.

Under a nationalised public transport scheme, the Government must prepare daily operation plans, maintenance schedules, the recruitment of bus drivers and so on.

Some criticise this model on the grounds that it leads to the undesirable intrusion of Big Government. An equally important issue, perhaps, is whether it is practicable. It is always better if the relevant minister does not have to worry about whether there are enough bus drivers to run the system on a daily basis.

Under the government contracting model, however, the Government only needs to set the desired service level for the bus service and to evaluate the chosen operator based on the pre-specified quality standard. The details of running bus services will be the responsibility of the operator which offers the best price for delivering the service level specified by the Government.

If we believe in the power of the free market, we can be reasonably confident that competition among operators from all over the world will give the Government, and eventually Singaporean taxpayers, the best service and best price (or at least, something very close to it).

At the same time, however, it is important that local officials have the tools necessary to ensure that the system works smoothly.

The role of the Public Transport Council (PTC) may need to be expanded beyond setting fares. After all, the service level required of bus operators will be higher than what can be afforded by fare revenue alone. The difference between the two will have to be borne by the Government.

If commuters pay lower fares, taxpayers will have to pay more to cover higher public subsidies. Through the fare adjustment exercise, the PTC will determine the portions recovered via fare revenue and taxpayers' top-up.

A fundamental truth in life is that we get what we pay for. The bill that taxpayers have to pick up could be huge. There must therefore be a mechanism by which a consensus can be reached on the desired level of service and how it will be financed.

In addition to the fare adjustment exercise, the PTC may have to take on the vital role of striking a balance between the desired service level and the price people have to pay.

The writer is head of the master's programme in urban transport management at SIM University.

Regulatory role needs separation
By Bruno Wildermuth, Published The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2014

IN THE past, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had failed to properly separate the regulatory function from its other functions, such as building the rail systems.

Instead, it had often held the operators responsible for faults that were clearly the result of poor quality control during construction and a clear lack of stringent acceptance-testing procedures.

With the new bus-contracting model, a good way to separate the two functions will be to have the regulatory function assigned to another, independent entity, such as the Ministry of Transport.

One missing feature that can be incorporated into the bus-contracting model is published and strictly adhered-to timetables for the bus services.

All major cities in the world operate bus services on published timetables. This requires that 100 per cent of the services be performed.

Currently, the LTA lets operators get away with performing only 96 per cent of the scheduled trips without a penalty.

As a result, operators do not have any standby drivers in case one of the scheduled drivers reports sick or otherwise fails to show up. Instead, the scheduled frequency is then adjusted for the reduced number of buses operated.

In order to properly monitor timetable adherence, timing stops need to be identified and strictly monitored.

This can be done with the analysis of the ez-link database and does not require any costly, high-technology systems.

Examples of this approach can readily be found in Australian cities visited by the Ministry of Transport.

The MRT was originally designed to provide basic service for the heavy movements in major corridors where rail service is far more efficient than bus services. To that extent, even improved bus services will not be able to replace the MRT.

Unfortunately, the lack of proper attention by the LTA to the upgrading needs of the original MRT North-South and East-West lines, such as the long overdue replacement of the outdated signalling system, have caused the MRT's current lack of adequate capacity and hence popularity.

The LTA will have to prove its capability to plan for more appropriate bus services, given that the current routes are anything but efficient and often far too long to operate reliably. The LTA needs to find the relevant talent to plan better bus services.

With the LTA planning the bus routes and presumably the required frequency of service, who will be responsible for determining a realistic and achievable timetable and hence the required number of buses?

Will it be the LTA or the bus operator bidding for the route?

This is an important issue that does not seem to have been addressed by the LTA's announced changes.

If the LTA establishes the timetable, which then turns out not to be achievable, then who will hold the LTA responsible?

If the task is to be part of the bus operator bidding for the contract, then the LTA will need to provide all the necessary data available to establish a realistic and achievable timetable. A clear indication of the process is required from LTA.

The writer, a veteran transport consultant, was closely involved in planning for the MRT in Singapore in the 1970s.

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