Motivating transport operators to change

Motivating transport operators to change

THE usual approach of fining public transport operators for disruptions is a slap on the wrist. Other forms of penalty have been suggested ("Train disruptions: Time for novel punishments" by Mr Sum Siew Kee; March 5).

However, the solution can be found only in the fundamentals.

The current transport system is run by profit-motivated firms, each responsible to its shareholders.

This misplaced responsibility is exactly where the problem lies. I propose a new model aimed at shifting this responsibility back to where it should rightly be: the people.

To do this, we can look to a model the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has adopted ("A step closer on road to nationalisation"; April 22, 2013), where contracts are bid for by private firms, providing the winning firm with a regular fixed "profit", while the Government collects the fare revenue.

Instead of a fixed sum of profit for the private firms, I suggest pegging this amount to a set of "performance indicators", including but not limited to: uptime (in contrast to downtime) of public transport, average waiting time at different time periods, and satisfaction rating by consumers.

By adopting this model, the profit of private firms is effectively controlled by the Government and directly influenced by consumer satisfaction. By changing the source of profit, we change the motivation of the firm and, thus, where its responsibilities lie.

This model is founded on the understanding that firms and humans are fundamentally different; we cannot expect firms to be inherently "socially responsible".

Can we really expect profit-motivated firms to forgo their primary motivation in service to society at large? As far as the history of Singapore's public transport system goes, we cannot.

We must not erroneously attribute inherent morality to the private firms, but, instead, shape their behaviour based on the understanding of their motivations.

Recent steps towards nationalising the public transport system, such as the rail-financing framework, are a step in the right direction.

However, instead of the nationalisation of the public transport system, we should aim for direct responsibility to the people.

Lim Yi Fan

This article was first published on March 13, 2015.
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