Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I expect the Corporate Communications department of any organisation to present a clear position on its policies, practices, processes and actions. That's the raison de'tre of its existence. From time to time, however, the CorpComm department manages to anger stakeholders as it spews forth formulae and nonsense. I know of a recent case of a Corp Comm department that managed to confuse everybody (including the public) regarding the roles of its various departments. It was a mess, and worst, it was perpetrated by the people who are paid to communicate properly.

I would characterise the latest communications from Transitlink regarding a commuter's request to review the 0.9m rule in the same category - formulaic and nonsense (Today, 25th Sep 2007). In this case, a commuter noted that children in Singapore are growing taller at a younger age. I can vouch for this because my 13 year old son is 1.7m tall, just 0.04m, or 40cm shorter than me - his father. In my time, people have always remarked that I am taller than most people. So there appears to be empirical proof that our Singapore bred children are getting taller than children their same age in the past. The commuter also noted that children less than 3 years old but whose height exceeds 0.9m needs to pay adult fares for a ride on the bus or train, unless a Child Pass is obtained. The request was that Transitlink, which runs the fare collection system in Singapore, should revise the 0.9m limit upwards.

In reply to this very logical and reasonable request, Transitlink replied, predictably, in the negative. These were the reasons they gave:

1. It would cost Transitlink a bomb to retrofit the fare gates in all its stations to adjust the height limit. I suppose repainting the height marks on buses will also cost a lot of $$$$. The implied consequence to the commuter is that the huge cost of the retrofit will eventually be passed on to fee paying commuters, never mind if this is a one time exercise. So it doesn't matter if the commuter's suggestion is right or not, true or false, reasonable or unreasonable. The operators get away scot-free by threatening to pass the cost to the commuter. This is called blackmail.

2. It really doesn't matter whether in the past, only infant-in-arms were granted free travel, which was subsequently extended to toddlers 0.9m and below. Transitlink makes its out that it has done enough charitable deeds in the past to merit its untouchable status in transport heaven. A truly arrogant stance if there ever was one. What they don't tell you are the various concessions that they obtained from the authorities over that same period of time that has cemented their monopolistic positions today.

3. Transitlink also made the point that the bus and train companies run a profit-making business and there is already cross-subsidies and all that. What it fails to mention is that SBSTransit and SMRT are effectively monopolies in their own spaces - a status conferred upon them by the transport authorities. Only the other day I learned that a tour bus service that operated from the old Kovan Bus Station was not allowed by the authorities to pick up passengers there and drop them off at JB on its way to its final destinations in Malacca, KL, Penang and Ipoh. The reason, I was told, was that it would adversely affect SBS Service 170's business. SBS 170 is the only bus from Singapore allowed to ply the route now. (Of course, there may be a restriction from the Malaysian authorities' side, but it makes no sense for Malaysia to stop Singaporeans going to JB for shopping and entertainment). This cross-subsidy argument is really an albatross. SBS has to cross-subsidise in any case as a condition for its monopolistic position. This was a condition imposed on it by the authorities who licensed them in the first place.

So I cannot buy any of the arguments they have given. The best thing will be for the PTC to make a stand on this very public issue. As it is, without addressing it, Transitlink and the 2 major transport operators will be getting away with overcharging - daylight robbery if you like. If a commuter gets caught underpaying, he pays a penalty. If these bus and train companies overcharge, its their right! Frankly, that makes them sound like the big bad bullies around every block. But they insists and remind you in the same breadth that they already do charity!

Now is that any way to treat your customer? Is it any way to run a public service business? No wonder that the public has such a need-hate feeling about public transport companies in Singapore.


Epilogos said...

Mr Robert Ho left a comment which originates from his blog. I leave the reader with the link to this particular blog entry and have removed the original comment here.

Public Transport Scam by Lie-KY

Epilogos said...

Thank you, Mr Robert Ho for your comments. Although I cannot agree with all that you have written, I recognise your right to be heard.