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.