Following the application for fare adjustment – made upwards – by the public transport operators to the Public Transport Council (PTC), there has been an explosion of perspectives lamenting not only over the poor timing of the announcements, but also the lamentable service standards provided. Anecdotally, public transportation passengers have been forthcoming with their plethora of online criticisms over unreasonable waiting times, chronic overcrowding during peak-hour traffic and poor customer service displayed – seemingly laissez-faire attitudes – on trains and buses. The Ministry of Transport (MOT) and its minister have taken a comparatively more proactive approach in the explanation of policies or potential hikes; however, all stakeholders should recognise that a panacea is practically impossible given the diverse interests involved.
But as the PTC and MOT begin to evaluate the numerous concerns highlighted and consider the validity of the proposed fare increases, their corresponding departments and administrators must recognise the immediate dangers of overcrowding – especially with surging demand and limited capacity – and the need for heightened, holistic customer orientation in its future approaches. It is imperative in the future that both demand- and supply-based solutions in the future comprehensively take into account the aforementioned considerations, so as to keep prices low and journeys smooth.
Overcrowding can have severe ramifications: it compromises the basic safety and comfort of commuters, raises risks of accidents, renders passengers more vulnerable in emergency situations, and makes it impossible for elderly or disabled individuals to board buses or train carriages during rush-hours. In the short term, beyond the installation of safety doors in open-air train stations, the providers should start to explore different recommendations: making train and bus speeds faster and arrivals more frequent, configuring the queue system on a first-come-first-entry basis, dedicating carriages for specific groups of people, instituting infrastructural changes in interchanges et cetera.
Supplying additional capacity through the expansion of vehicular fleets, manpower enhancements and the improvement of stops or stations – as supply management strategies – should not be financially daunting given the fiscal health of the operators and staunch support from the government. Methodologies must evolve to be more applicable and customer-oriented; solutions to the squeeze must come in fast and furious.
The PTC, as a regulator, also bears heavy responsibility to ensure that standards are adhered to; the status quo – in terms of the reliance upon the Quality of Service (QoS) guidelines – is clearly insufficient. Policy-makers and service staff members would definitely be enlightened – and more appropriately empowered to make right decisions – if they are more serious about soliciting on-the-ground feedback from travelling Singaporeans on a regular basis. Overcrowding and perpetual wrangling over fare adjustments cannot go on indefinitely; the PTC and MOT must start to show greater resolve, together with the service providers, to eliminate this daily struggle with smarter practices. Obsession with fares, unfortunately, is but one side of the problem.