My reply to: “Take long-term view to solve Singapore’s public transport woes” on Temasek Times

We all have different perspectives and solutions on how to improve the public transport system. I respect your views and I appreciate you sharing them.

By the way, at the time that this was written, I had just arrived home from dinner, and even at 9:30 p.m., the bus was full and I was surprised that I was still able to grab a seat.

But let’s get back to it. I do agree with a number of points that were posted as comments on my first write up, and I will discuss them here.

The very design of the public transport system needs to be overhauled. But this needs to be done in tandem with the tightening of the immigration and foreign worker / foreign talent policies. While we wait for the National Conversation to take place, and SBS Transit / SMRT / Comfort Taxis to review the feedback, and the Government to decide on who should fund improvements, we will still be adjusting a number of other policies and we will still see a very fluid and dynamic system. Along with increasing capacity of buses and trains, there is a real need to moderate the population that resides on our little island. But a warning to all – every tweak requires careful calibration. Chase out all your foreigners and you will be left with a talent vacuum that will rock the labour market. I have faith in my fellow countrymen, but if we are not careful we will lose the competitiveness that keeps us ahead of our peers in the region.

The industry needs liberalisation but tight regulation. We want to open up the industry, to create more transport options, and create more capacity. Yes, given the high (and extremely effective) COE prices, we have a huge commuter population who will have to work til God-knows-what-age. They will likely create the demand for public transport. But as we have seen recently, there is a need to set the right standards and enforce them. Trains and vehicles need to be maintained, airbags need to be installed, GPS tracking devices need to be monitored. Drivers need to be trained and plans need to be exercised frequently. So while we call for more market players to enter the transport scene, we must be mindful of the need to design, plan and regulate the system so that it will be thoroughly oiled and work like clockwork. No essential services provider should be allowed to run wild in a liberal environment.

We must learn from the best practices of other countries. But let’s remember that our country is a unique situation, and we should not expect what works there to work here. Our people, our needs, our wage levels, and our culture are all different. I am particularly proud of that actually. But with such uniqueness comes the inability to fit ourselves into the shoes of others. Let’s set the standards and policies right before we start saying, let’s adopt India’s bus system, or Philippine’s taxi system, or China’s taxi system.

Let’s make it right and make it better.


– Posted 7 Sept 2012 on Temasek Times

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