COS 2022: Clarifications on Bus Trunk Services

MP Gerald Giam

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Aljunied): Sir, for trunk services, if ridership has been low, can we use smaller buses or increase the intervals between buses instead of cutting services? This is for trunk services. And for feeder services, after bus 66 was re-routed, my residents were left with only bus 228 as a feeder service to Bedok Interchange. Many have told me that the intervals of 15 minutes or more are really too long and LTA would be aware of this because I have written many letters on behalf of my residents on this matter. So, can LTA increase the frequency of feeder bus services to make up for the reduction in other services? 

Lastly, while I agree there is a need for financial prudence, we must not be penny wise and pound foolish. If more commuters take public transport instead of private transport, it will lower our carbon footprint and reduce traffic congestion. So, does MOT take this into account when it reduces the bus services? 

12.45 pm

Mr S Iswaran: Mr Chairman, I thank the Member for his questions. I have a clarification for him, because he has heard the explanations that I have given and also what Senior Minister of State Chee has given in terms of the process and how we go about this. So, may I understand, does he accept the principle that as we expand our rail network, and as we invest more, and the capital base and the asset base grow, we have an obligation to optimise across the system.

Is he disagreeing with us on the principle? Or is it about the process? Or is it specifically about the outcome in his constituency? I would like clarity on that.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Thank you, Minister. I do not disagree with the principle that we must optimise, but I disagree with how it is sometimes optimised. Because I feel that sometimes, for example, for trunk services, yes, there is a need to ensure that the services are not running empty. But there is a small group of people – the elderly, disabled – who need to travel for long distances and they find it very inconvenient to transfer a lot. So, that is why I am asking, as a compromise, can there be mini buses being used, smaller buses.

Mr S Iswaran: Mr Chairman, I thank the Member for that clarification. It is helpful because it means that we agree in principle that we have a fiscal responsibility to see what we can do to optimise the resources.

Senior Minister of State Chee would be able to give more information on his specific points about trunk routes and alternative.

But the Member also raised the point about financial prudence and about being penny wise and pound foolish. When a proposal is made that will incur $300 million to $400 million more a year, when we raise questions about that, I do not think that is being penny wise and pound foolish. I think it is all about big pounds that are at stake. 

When I listen to some of the comments from Mr Giam and also his colleague Assoc Prof Jamus Lim, I am reminded that, Mr Chairman, with your indulgence, there is an Ernest Hemingway book “The Sun Also Rises”. In it, there is a character Mike Campbell and he is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” And he replies, “Two ways – gradually, then suddenly.”

I think we need to remember this: if we resist every effort to optimise and if we champion every effort to increase services or collect less, but resist every effort to perhaps increase fares and other measures to have the financial resources to do what we need to do, then, what we will end up with is this – the creep will be gradual and the end will be sudden. That is the risk that we run.

So, what we are trying to do here – and I think I am not the first Transport Minister to make this point; it has been made by generations of Transport Ministers and I am sure many more to come – is really to strike that all-essential balance. I do not think there is a monopoly of virtue here, in terms of wanting to help Singaporeans, especially those who are in vulnerable segments, but what we are trying to do is make sure that we are being fair to our commuters, to our taxpayers, to the vulnerable segments and also, to public transport operators and their financial viability.

9 March 2022
Ministry of Transport

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