Poll: Many prefer government-owned transport system in Singapore

PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - While nearly half of 50 Singaporeans polled were in favour of a government-owned public transport system, some experts appeared to favour a hybrid model.

Instead of overhauling the entire sector and taking ownership and control of it, they felt that the Government could own the assets but leave the day-to-day operations to private operators.

At a transport symposium last Wednesday, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, called for the public transport system to be nationalised.

He had also said at a forum last month that Singapore's public transport woes are the result of privatisation "taken too far".

Prof Mahbubani's sentiment resonated with many on the ground.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of the 50 people polled by The Straits Times said that the public transport system should be nationalised.

Housewife Elizabeth Tan, 41, said: "Now, public transport is run by operators like businesses, so profits come first. Some things, like maintenance of railway tracks, may be compromised and they may tend to focus on more profitable bus routes."

Another 13 commuters surveyed were opposed to nationalisation, while the remaining 13 were not sure which transport model would suit Singapore best.

Said Madam Fatimah Alias, 62, a hotel supervisor: "If the Government takes over, taxes will probably get higher. Every country experiences train breakdowns. The problem lies with the system, not who manages it."

Dr Park Byung Joon, adjunct associate professor at SIM University, said a model where the Government takes full management and ownership of the operating assets, such as railway tracks and trains, but engages operators to run the services may be ideal.

"Upgrading and maintenance of assets will be done based on public utility, rather than on ROIs (returns on investment)," he said. His view was echoed by some others.

In Singapore, the Government is already taking a bigger hand in the transport system, through a bus contracting model where routes are put up for competitive tender and revenue risk is state-borne, as well as a new rail financing framework.

Some of those who opposed the idea of the Government taking over said that a hybrid model could be more effective.

Civil servant Eileen Chua, 26, said that private operators "are well placed to be motivated to provide the best service . But the Government should step in where private companies don't see profitable opportunities, like transport services for the disabled."

This article was first published on Nov 23, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.