“Train commuters who travel during peak morning periods could get more monetary rewards if they change their travel times to off-peak periods” (It Pays To Take Off-Peak Trains, Mr. Daryll Nanayakara).
The public transportation research study conducted by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Stanford University – as explained in the news report “It Pays To Take Off-Peak Trains” (January 11, 2012) by Mr. Daryll Nanayakara – is a constructive endeavour to address demand-management techniques in Singapore. While it is a worthy effort to study how the use of financial incentives, introduction of web-based interaction and increased insights into peak commute times can potentially reduce overcrowding, attempts to encourage off-peak train travel might be an uphill struggle.
Would Encouraging Off-Peak Train Travel Be Realistic?
Proposals to persuade Singapore commuters to take the trains during off-peak hours or decongested periods appear to be disproportionately idealistic, because working hours – and corresponding starting hours – are inflexible. The monetary incentives could encourage some households to make minor adjustments to their daily lifestyles, from arranging earlier childcare to adjusting timings of meetings and appointments, but the end-results might turn out to be marginal. In essence, most individuals have neither the luxury nor the liberty to make significant changes to their daily travel times.
Researchers might contend that there was a lack of awareness and public consciousness; however, SMRT’s rebate scheme of up to thirty cents for trips before 7.45am – launched in October last year – has not yielded positive benefits during rush-hour traffic. The impact of such negligible monetary motivations seems to be largely-limited.
Singaporeans would be interested to learn about tangible, cited instances in other countries, where similar incentivised methodologies have led to a sizeable reduction of travellers on board trains. It is imperative to comprehend how different strategic frameworks have generated varying results in dissimilar parts of the world; at the same time, other, more viable demand-management techniques can be explored. Singapore’s scenario is particularly unique given the geographical concentration of the central business district, and how employees descend upon it from the heartlands; therefore, external examples cannot be conveniently extrapolated here.
Tackling Supply-Side Considerations
Besides the present study, it would be intriguing to understand if the Land Transport Authority (LTA) would be developing more coherent studies to tackle supply-side considerations. Overcrowding has been a chronic, persistent problem; naturally, the LTA should look into traditional solutions – such as raising the frequency of train services, giving more detailed information about parallel routes et cetera – and determine their feasibility.
Addressing the problem of overcrowding requires a concerted effort from both the people and the authorities; still, the latter cannot blame the former for its apathy if the aforementioned plan of incentivising non-peak-hour travel crumbles. Solutions to our woes, in the future, must definitely be premised upon a degree of necessary realism.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.