By Joy Fang
Two million dollars - that is what SMRT has to fork out for two major disruptions in December last year.
It is the maximum fine it could have received and the largest penalty ever handed to any transport operator. It will be donated to the Public Transport Fund, which helps poor families with transport fares.
In a statement yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that, under Section 19 of the Rapid Transit Systems Act, SMRT could be fined up to $1 million per incident.
An LTA spokesman said the operator failed to meet its licensing obligations. He noted that SMRT "has failed...to exercise due diligence and vigilance expected of a public transport operator, and to maintain its network in good and efficient working condition".
SMRT was also found to be in breach of the Operating Performance Standards for the North-South and East-West lines, he added.
The disruption on Dec 15 affected 120,000 commuters and lasted five hours, while the breakdown two days later inconvenienced 90,000 people and lasted seven hours.
A Committee of Inquiry, held to investigate the incidents, gave a damning verdict on July 5, stating that the two breakdowns could have been prevented by SMRT, and that LTA was partly to blame.
The committee highlighted the inherent defects in parts of the power-supplying third rail, and that SMRT had gaps in its rail-maintenance regime.
It identified a "gaping disconnect between what was formally on record and what was happening on the ground".
The LTA said its own investigation was consistent with the committee's report. It also found that there were "overall shortcomings in SMRT's maintenance and monitoring regime".
In assessing the penalty amount, the LTA considered the severity of the incident and mitigating factors. It will also consider any representations the operator may make.
The highest transport fine paid before this was about $380,000 in 2008. SMRT was penalised then for disruptions along the East-West Line on Jan 21 of that year. It lasted seven hours and affected 57,000 people.
In a separate statement, SMRT said it was informed by LTA of the fine yesterday.
An SMRT spokesman said the investigations "have provided us with valuable insights into enhancements needed in our previous maintenance regime, which was regularly validated by LTA". It will implement more improvements, and work closely with the LTA to enhance reliability and service levels.
In Parliament last week, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew acknowledged that the Transoirt Ministry and the LTA "could have done more, and could have done better".
Speaking to my paper, Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the amount was justified under the existing framework, given the severity of the two incidents.
"There were many commuters inconvenienced, so the maximum fine seemed to be commensurate with the impact that the operator created," the Member of Parliament said.
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