Home > Can the poor afford concessionary rates?, Singapore Scene > Can the poor afford concessionary rates?

Can the poor afford concessionary rates?

Scanning through the papers online – look I need to save money somehow, and buying newspapers costs me both space and money, I was not sure what made me more upset. There were reports of maid abuse and a maid going berserk and slashing her charge. And then there was the very loud hint that fares will be going up. Transport operators seek fare increases. The first sentence reads: COMMUTERS should brace themselves for a possible hike in bus and train fares. Straits Times online as usual only gave a truncated article. Naturally, I went to check out TodayOnline – Todayonline on fare increases with the sub heading declaring GPC chairman to ask Transport Ministry to review fare adjustment formula

I only have time to rant about one thing this week – I am off to Penang soon! I choose to rant about public transport fares.

I do not leave my home much. So fare increases hardly affect me. Hence this is definitely not something I am writing because I am personally afflicted. When I read about the potential fare increases, what made me sick in the stomach is the typical profit-centred argument used to justify the action. Coming so soon after what DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam said regarding health matters Government turning to private sector for healthcare, (the hint that private consultants can earn up to $5mill while doctors in government-owned hospitals earn $800k, is definitely significant), I am wondering what the next non-populist, pro-profit announcement will be.

Coming back to fares, take a look at the transit link website.

  1. Check the fares for cash vs card. The difference is approximately 30 cents per trip.
  2. Tertiary students concessionary cards, for unlimited bus fare and 4 train rides a day cost $97, Primary School students cost $42.50 and Junior College/ITE students $52.50.
  3. For Senior Citizen concessionary cards, there is a personalization fee of $3 plus a stored travel value of $10.
  4. To activate a stored value card, there is a minimum stored value of $10.

Obviously, the very least a commuter can do is to have a stored value card. The savings of 30 cents per trip, not to mention the savings if there are transfers can be very significant, especially to the poor. So when one of my social worker friends was telling me about her clients not using stored value cards, I was perplexed. It made no sense to me. She looked me in the eye and in a quiet voice said, “My clients cannot afford the stored value cards. To them, they live from hand to mouth – and they do not have $10 to activate the card. That is why some of them cannot accept jobs unless these are within walking distance from their flats.”

It was chilling to note that to qualify for concession demands having some money – money that is insignificant to many, but money that the destitute cannot afford. Even for those who can afford the basic stored value card, I cannot imagine it is easy to afford the student concessionary cards. Are we penalizing those who need the help most by using this method?

In fact, my children tell me that if you do not travel enough, the student concessionary cards make no sense, and can be more expensive than pay per travel via stored value cards. Thank goodness they know how to count, for by the very term, concessionary cards, many expect savings, and will not do the math.

This is BEFORE fare hikes kick in. I dread to think what happens when the fares go up.

I can go on about the need, or not, for fare hikes, I can grumble about profit driven culture that is so pervasive in Singapore. I can rage that transport companies are definitely still profitable enough to stave off the increase. But I won’t. I will leave that to the more number-savvy netizens. The following extract from todayonline is a good read though.

SMRT’s net profit dropped 1.1 per cent to S$161.1 million for the year to March 31 as staff, energy and operating costs rose.

Meanwhile, SBS Transit’s net profit for the full year ending December 31 last year was S$54.3 million, down a marginal 0.6 per cent from the year before.

Compare the dip in profit to the proposed increase

Public transport operators SBS Transit and SMRT have applied for the maximum fare increase of 2.8 per cent for rail and bus fares, citing “uncontrollable” and “significant” cost pressures but a more fundamental review may be on the cards.

I am not going to ask for subsidies for the poor, nor even increased welfare cheques. Money given to the poor will be immediately spent to pay outstanding bills, while transport blues will be shelved for another day. I wonder whether a better option is to give away stored value cards with the minimum travel value in place to the destitute. I also believe that student concessionary cards need a review, for certainly to take out tens of dollars in advance may not make sense, especially if there is not much savings.

Please make concessionary rates available to those who need them most!

  1. SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
    July 21, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Read Andrew Loh’s blog post here

    i too get very very upset with this whole profit transport operators affair. How can we expect anyone to understand the plight of the poor, when for them, fares are manageable given the mean salary and gdp? they forget there are outliers on both ends – the multi millionaires on one, who cannot empathise even when they say they do, and the other extreme – with NO minimum wage, and a high percentage of their meagre takings go to transport. when they refuse to take jobs that require long distance to travel, they then get labelled as lazy.

    This sort of news totally spoil my day – need a chocolate to cheer myself up!

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