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No more free travel, but more commuters to benefit from discounted fares for pre-peak travel from Dec 29

SINGAPORE — Public transport fares will remain largely unchanged, the Public Transport Council (PTC) announced on Monday (Oct 30) after its latest review.

The Government could consider a rail link between the north of Singapore and the east as it mulls over rail projects beyond 2030, said transport analysts. TODAY file photo

The Government could consider a rail link between the north of Singapore and the east as it mulls over rail projects beyond 2030, said transport analysts. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE – Free morning pre-peak hour travel will cease from Dec 29, the Public Transport Council (PTC) announced on Monday (Oct 30) after its latest review, but discounts of up to 50 cents will be given to commuters who tap in at any MRT or LRT station before 7.45am. The discount will apply regardless of where they end their trips.

This is unlike the current arrangements under the Free Pre-Peak Travel (FPPT) scheme, which allows commuters to travel for free if they exit any of the 18 selected MRT stations in the city area, including Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar, before 7.45am.

From Dec 29, a commuter hopping on a train before 7.45am at Jurong East station and alighting at Bishan station, for instance, will enjoy the full 50-cent discount. For adults, the new fare will be S$1.11. For senior citizens and students, they will pay S$0.37 and S$0.08, respectively.

The 50-cent discount will amount to a 2.2 per cent fare reduction allowance, less than the 5.4 per cent range being considered by the PTC, based on the current fare formula.

The remaining 3.2 per cent possible reduction has been rolled over to next year’s fare review exercise, which will use a new fare formula that has not been unveiled. The PTC currently uses a fare formula pegged to changes in the Core Consumer Price Index, the Wage Index and the Energy Index (cost changes in electricity and diesel) over the preceding year.

All other public transport fares remain unchanged in the PTC’s fare review exercise for 2017. The Ministry of Transport said in a separate statement that the Government has accepted the council's recommendations.

Meanwhile, the PTC said the fare reduction of 2.2 per cent translates to a combined reduction of S$40.1 million a year in fare revenue, with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and rail operator SMRT bearing the brunt in loss of revenue. The council estimates that the LTA will see a S$20.2 million decrease in fare revenue, while SMRT will see a drop of S$15.1 million. SBS Transit is also estimated to incur a S$4.8 million decrease in revenue.

When asked why the fare adjustments will not apply to travel during other timings, the PTC said at a press conference on Monday that it found current fares to be generally affordable, after taking into consideration feedback from commuters and focused group discussions.

The council also decided to keep the remaining 3.2 per cent possible reduction as a "buffer" for rising manpower and operation costs.

PTC chairman Richard Magnus cited, for example, that the government has committed to spending S$20 billion over the next five years on new public transport infrastructure.

He said about 300,000 rail commuters travel before the morning peak hours. “We hope the lower morning pre-peak fares will encourage more rail commuters to make the shift to morning pre-peak travel,” said Mr Magnus.

“We thought that it would be more equitable to give the benefits to a wider commuter base, when you travel for free (during pre-peak), somebody is paying for your fare, and the persons that are paying for your fare are all the other commuters like you and I, so it’s more equitable now, to spread it out to other commuters,” he added.

Analysts TODAY spoke with generally felt the PTC fare recommendations were a fair move.

Singapore Management University’s Assistant Professor Terence Fan said that the 50-cents discount is a “fairer” system that will benefit a wider range of commuters. “Now, even students who travel to schools in a non-CBD areas like Woodlands, will get to benefit from the discounts,” he said.

The analysts were also optimistic that the new fare adjustments will help to reduce commuter loads during the “peak of the peak” travel period — the 8:30am to 9:00am belt.

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira said that it is important to use fare reduction and increases to further differentiate peak and off peak travel going forward.

“Peak period loads is an important consideration when talking about the sustainability of the rail system. If we reduce peak demand even by a small amount, it can save a significant amount of costs and reduce the number of trains needed, for example. This is because the rest of the time, much of the capacity is sitting idle,” said Dr Theseira.

“The new design makes it more realistic for people to adjust their commutes such that they tap in before 7:45am,” he added. “In contrast to the previous policy (which is based on tapping out before 7:45am), the new adjustment affects commuters in the later belt of travel, and therefore could potentially affect more people who are travelling in the “peak of the peak”.”

Mr Fan also noted that it gives commuters “more control” over their travel. “It was difficult for commuters to predict when they would tap out, given the increasing frequency of train breakdowns recently. Switching it to the time in which they tap in would give them greater control over their travel costs,” he said.

Meanwhile, commuters like Ms Claudia Chew felt the 50-cent discount was “good enough” an incentive for her to start her morning commute five to 10 minutes earlier.

The 24-year-old healthcare professional, who usually boards the train at Yew Tee station at 7:50am, said that she will now attempt to tap in before 7:45am.

“In the past, I did not see any need to leave earlier because I did not work in the CBD area. Now that the discount applies to tapping in at any station, I would consider leaving my house earlier. Considering that my fare from Yew Tee to Jurong East is about S$1.20, a discount of 50 cents is almost half and would help me to reduce my transport costs quite significantly,” she added.

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