Beefed-up PTC to lead review of transport system

The state of Singapore's public transport system is set to undergo a thorough assessment, through research studies, surveys and focus groups, the Public Transport Council (PTC) said yesterday.

This will include a study to compare the island's bus and train services with those of other Asian cities and examine issues facing commuters, such as their needs, experiences and expectations.

The assessment will be led by the PTC, which was conferred an additional role of an independent adviser to the Transport Minister yesterday. While the council will maintain its primary role of regulating fares, it will also be tasked with making recommendations on how to improve public transport. In doing so, it will look to promote public transport and lessen the reliance on cars.

PTC chairman Richard Magnus said this will be the first time that an independent body is assessing Singapore's public transport system. He told The Straits Times: "We have a Government that is committed to improve transport - a lot of political will and desire. Then you have the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the operators - they also want to achieve a good outcome.

"Now you have an independent body - which is not involved in (any) operations whatsoever - looking at it from an arm's length basis, to give an overview; where the gaps are, where the challenges are."

Mr Magnus said the report should be ready this year and is confident that the council will take an unbiased position.

The council is in the process of signing memorandums of understanding with local universities to commission research projects. It has also sought an in-principle agreement with a Tokyo transport institute to collaborate on a study.

The PTC will take over from the LTA its annual surveys on public satisfaction with buses, trains and taxis. Under the PTC Act, which came into force yesterday, the PTC will become a corporate body, which will allow it to legally own the rights to publications it produces, and to engage consultants and researchers.

Last August, a Bill was passed to transfer the roles of regulating the bus services industry from the PTC to the LTA, in view of the transition to a government contracting model. The LTA will own all bus assets and tender out routes to operators, with revenue risk borne by the state.

The difference between what the Government collects in fares and the amounts it pays operators will be covered by subsidies. This will have an impact on the current fare review mechanism, in which the public transport operators apply for annual fare changes.

Mr Magnus said the current fare review mechanism and formula is valid until next year, but a review will take place before then: "It will take into account the transition to the bus contracting model and evolving changes to the cost environment and operating structure of the public transport operators."

This article was first published on January 23, 2016.
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