Transport fare hike offset by slew of concessions

Around a million commuters will pay less for travel, even as bus and train fares increase by two to six cents when the biggest price adjustment in 15 years kicks in on April 6.

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Fare hike and a helping hand

By Adrian Lim and Darren Tang

SINGAPORE - Bus and train fares are set to increase from April 6 after staying constant for more than two years, but the hikes borne by the average commuter will partially provide concessions and discounts to needy individuals and households.

The Public Transport Council (PTC) has approved a 3.2 per cent fare hike, which means every journey by adult commuters will cost 4 per cent to 6 per cent more.

But the Government will be spending $50 million to subsidise half-a-million individuals, in particular, low-wage workers and people with disabilities.

On top of that, students, full-time national servicemen, senior citizens and those who travel frequently will get more travel discounts on their monthly concession passes, subsidised by the fare hike.

Although revenues for SBS Transit and SMRT will increase by $53.5 million from the fare hike, about a fifth of this will go to the Public Transport (PT) Fund to help commuters.

About $7.5 million will be drawn out of the PT Fund to pay for public-transport vouchers for around 250,000 needy households.

The measures follow recommendations made by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee, which said that enhancements to concession schemes and monthly passes could be cross-subsidised by, among others, full-paying adults.

PTC's chairman, Mr Gerard Ee, said that fares will likely go up by another 3.1 per cent next year.

Commenting on the hikes, Dr Park Byung Joon, head of the Urban Transport Management Programme at SIM University, said the PTC's responsibility is to maintain a "balance between the commercial viability of the public-transport operators and fare affordability for commuters".

Transport economist Michael Li from the Nanyang Business School said the phenomenon of fare increases matched by subsidies and concessions may become a pattern to ensure "certain groups of people, such as the economically inactive, can still enjoy public transport".

SBS Transit chief executive Gan Juay Kiat said the company's operating costs have gone up significantly in the past three years.

Total operating expenses in the third quarter of last year went up by 9.5 per cent, compared to the same period the previous year. The company's bus operations have been making a loss since 2011. SMRT's expenses went up by 15.8 per cent in the second quarter of last year, compared to the previous year.

SMRT said the PTC's decision has made "an attempt to achieve a balance between public affordability and the increased level of operational costs".

Some remain unconvinced.

Real-estate agent Linda Tang, 48, said: "I'm not sure if the (fare) increase is justified, given the recent breakdowns. Hopefully, we will see an improvement in services and frequency."

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