There used to be a time when the minority may suffer because of the implementation of some policies. However, when it comes to distance-based fares, it seemed like the majority will suffer as "only 4 in 10 will benefit from it" – if the report below is anything to go by. Another article also highlight that the hub-and-spoke system is the way to go. In simple English, it means having more transfers to get to your destination.

In fact, according to analysts, the hub-and-spoke system can be as effective as direct services and the Ministry for Transport seems to believe in it. In the event that they do buy into the idea, commuters will end up having to do more transfers to get to their destinations. In such a scenario, direct bus services may jolly well become "premium services", which belong to a separate tier of bus fares. Simply put, commuters will end up paying "premium fares" for "premium bus services". In SBS, there’s already the "Express", "Fast Forward" and "Premium" services which serves this group of commuters.

Eventually when the transport system in Singapore adopts the hub-and-spoke system, more people will end up having to do more transfers because some direct services will either be removed or be rebranded as "premium services". When this happens, then more than "4 in 10" will benefit from distance-based fares because there will be more transfers. Statistically, the ministry can use this to prove their point in the future that distance-based fares will then benefit the majority of commuters.

As for the rest of the commuters who believes in having less or no transfers, there will be the premium bus services who will serve them. These commuters may end up paying more for for their journeys. In such a scenario, the fear of benefiting only the minority of the commuters in a distance-based fare system will then be unfounded. Eventually the transport companies may benefit from such a system too because some of their current direct bus services will end up becoming premium services which they would then be able to charge more for. As for the "revenue loss" resulting from distance-based fares, I would say that "benefit" is relative and when premium bus fares go up, then any fare lower than the latter fares are "beneficial" to the commuter. Commuters will then have to decide if that "few minutes saved" from a premium bus service is worthy of the premium fares they pay.

At least it will still be cheaper than taking a taxi. =)

Distance-based fares ‘fairer way to go’

But GPC deputy head is worried about six in 10 direct-service users having to pay more

By Yeo Ghim Lay & Maria Almenoar

CHARGING public transport fares based on distance travelled is a much fairer way to go, say commuters and members of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport.

At present, a commuter who transfers between buses or from a bus to a train pays more compared to someone who uses a direct service that travels the same distance to get to the same destination.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) announced that under a new fare structure to be phased in by next year, both commuters will pay the same fare.

Calling distance-based fares ‘fair and equitable’, GPC for Transport deputy chairman Ong Kian Min said: ‘A commuter might want to avoid a certain stretch of road that might be congested, and this gives him the option to choose his route.’

However, he has reservations about how six in 10 commuters who take direct services might wind up paying more.

MOT had explained that a reduction in fares for those taking transfer routes will lead to a loss of revenue for public transport operators, and this would have to be shared by both operators and commuters.

Disagreeing with this, Mr Ong said: ‘This is not justified…fares should be maintained for those taking direct services now. I would like to know why the operators cannot absorb the cost first and let the system settle down first?’

MOT believes four in 10 commuters will end up paying less with the new fare structure, and Singapore is not alone in going down this road.

Seoul introduced distance- based fares as well as bus service reforms in 2004 and commuter behaviour changed as a result of the reforms, said MOT.

Hoping for a similar result here, it said that a number of commuters choose not to make journeys involving transfers now because of the transfer penalty.

‘So with through fares, more people will take transfers,’ added a ministry spokesman.

Commuters who have to make a transfer to get to their destination will benefit the most with the change.

Financial analyst Grace Lau, 25, who takes a bus from her home in Upper Serangoon before transferring to a train to get to her Shenton Way office, said: ‘Commuters shouldn’t be penalised for the route they choose as one could be faster than the other but the distance might be the same.’

But it is not so clear if the new distance-based fare system will motivate commuters to change their travelling habits.

While a commuter might have several options – either through a direct service or transfers – to get to his destination, the distance for each must be the same for fares to be uniform.

Many commuters also said that travelling time and convenience are just as important as the fare, when choosing a route.

Food stall assistant Sally Lim, 53, said: ‘I prefer taking a direct service instead of transferring from one bus to another. It can be very inconvenient.’

While commuters like Madam Lim are choosing to stick to their tried-and-tested route for now, a revamp of the land transport system still under way could see more direct services being withdrawn.

Transport Minister Raymond Lim had said in January that transfers are a key feature of a hub-and-spoke transport system, which commuters are set to see more of in the years ahead.

This means fewer direct services, which are considered inefficient and expensive.

Commuters can expect better service as a result as MOT has set public transport operators a new target – 80 per cent of commuters must complete their journeys within an hour, by 2015, up from 71 per cent now.

ghimlay@sph.com.sg

mariaa@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_256987.html

And a primer on the hub-and-spoke system:

Transfers key to hub-and-spoke transport system

By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent

THE fare restructuring exercise announced by the Ministry of Transport on Thursday throws up two key questions.

Why is it embarking on this monumental task? And what does it mean for public transport commuters?

To answer these questions, we need to go back in time, before there was an MRT network. Bus commuters paid full fare for each and every trip they made. There was no such thing as a ‘transfer rebate’.

When MRT trains started rolling in 1987, bus services were changed to integrate better with the rail lines. Because of that, people lost some direct bus services, and more needed to make transfers.

Hence, in January 1991, transfer rebates started – 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children and students. This was to lessen the cost burden of changing from bus to bus, bus to train or vice versa.

The keyword was ‘lessen’, not ‘remove’.

Seventeen years on, the Government feels the cost burden of making transfers should be removed. The new thinking is that fares should be based on the distance of the journey – regardless of whether transfers are involved.

As right as that sounds, it is not the complete rationale for undoing a 17-year practice.

There are other practical considerations – like capacity. As the population grows, more buses need to be deployed. The best way to deploy them is through a hub-and-spoke model. While we have some semblance of a hub-and-spoke system today, it needs to be enhanced.

As Transport Minister Raymond Lim noted in one of his first speeches early this year, a hub-and-spoke system ‘is the right model for our public transport system’. The alternative is to have many direct services, which cannot work in a compact city.

He cited an example: ‘Let us take 20 origins and 20 destination points with a hub in the centre. With a hub-and-spoke system, you will have 20 buses going into the hub from the origins and 20 buses leaving the hub to the destinations, or 40 bus services to run this system. Take away the hub, replace it with direct services, and you will need 400 bus services.”

A hub-and-spoke model is cost-efficient and, if executed properly, just as fast as direct services.

Transfers are part and parcel of a hub-and-spoke system. And hence the move to make transfers far less punitive.

The ambition to go hub-and-spoke goes hand in hand with the planned liberalisation of the bus market to allow entry of new players.

This will happen after the Government takes over as central route planner.

What will all these mean to the commuter? In a nutshell, he will have to learn to live with more transfers. It is highly possible that the pattern of travel will involve bus to train or vice versa. Bus-only commutes will be far less common when new MRT projects like the Downtown Line and Eastern Region Line come onstream by around 2020.

Will it cost more? For some, yes. Others, no. But if a hub-and-spoke system is more cost-efficient, it should not cost more to commuters on the whole compared to one with more direct services.

But implementing it well is key. The hope must be that with more operators joining the fray, and with the Government playing its role as central route planner well, the commuter should be served better.

christan@sph.com.sg

Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_256991.html

Article extracted on 13th July 2008



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