My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

OTGV #4 - Commuters' Thoughts

Broadcast Date - 15/07/02

Two years of consecutive fare hikes for bus rides have left the Singaporean community disgruntled.

The unhappiness was exacerbated by the terrible economic climate that has seen a 100 thousand Singaporeans made jobless.

So when the murmurings got too loud and escaped the confines of kopi-tiams or neighbourhood coffee shops,

a group of Members of Parliament decided to table a motion to debate the recent fare hikes in Parliament.

When the dust of the parliamentary debate settled, the Singaporean commuters expressed mixed feelings about the whole process.

Hi, welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

First the good news...

the debate yielded greater transparency on the Public Transport Council's decision- making process,

and the Transport Minister's even said he isn't against greater competition in the provision of feeder services.

The hardship of the public was also acknowledged by the government.

But the bad news was the fares weren't reduced.

I tried to find out what young educated Singaporeans thought of the parliamentary debate, a day after proceedings ended...

It was kind of disappointing.

Out of thirty approached only four gave their views.

Was it fear that kept them away from the reporters' mike?

But I guaranteed their anonymity by not asking names and details.

Too cynical to give their response?


Or perhaps they hadn't even followed the debate.

However, the four commuters who did comment were consistent in their responses.

The first point was that they still distrust the Public Transport Council or PTC, despite assurances from law-makers that PTC members have protected consumers.

"Those who constitute Public Transport Council none of them take buses. The way they go about handling it as though it is another top-down decision."

The perception that the PTC wasn't caring enough stemmed from a seemingly top-down approach in the announcement of fare hikes.

"The channel of communication must be there, must be clear and not just say that there's a price hike and they just imposed on it. That's the feeling I get - not much of a communication."

Another was even more scathing in his attack.

"Yes, of course, this is a perennial problem in Singapore's political system, planning system. everything is kept in a black box. Even public comments and feedback always go into a black box and it disappears and whatever information that is let out, is only let out at the last minute. Only after pressure would they release this kind of figures. This got to change, the manner of public policies in Singapore has to change because there must be wider debate, there must be information to the public and there must be a reasonable manner of doing thing. Or a lot of people will vote with their feet out of Singapore."

A third just shrugged his shoulders and moved on, after sharing his rather fatalistic view about it all.

"Er, the debate is just a process to let people aware but I think more or less the answer is other. I mean they have seen the debate so many times so the decision is not to change. My feeling, you know, it is expected."

Not all comments were complaints.

Commuters said they understood the rationale of the need for fare hikes.

"They are changes that must be made, I mean the transport infrastructure is going through... uh ... all over the world, rail track, British Rail all going bankrupt. I know there are valid reasons why it should be done."

Ultimately, the last commuter summed it up best when he explained why it's hard to accept rational hard facts.

"Currently I myself am trying to look for a job. I mean to look for a job you need some petty cash and petty cash is always decreasing and decreasing and one of the fact this is due to increase in transportation isn't it?"

So how does he feel after the parliamentary debate's conclusion?

"Pretty disappointed. I believe they should have been more compassionate in their thinking. I mean in any company right? They want to have shareholders interests right, but this is a public, public service companies so they should have to public's interests more than the shareholder's interest. They should weigh it accordingly you see."

Last year when the first of the price hikes came, I spoke to an economics professor from the National University of Singapore.

I asked him about the paradox of how public transport can be both a privatised monopolistic entity, --

and a socially conscionable provider of transport service to the poorest segment of the society.

His reply was that no public transport market in the world can be fully competitive because the sector itself is imperfect.

The requirement to provide unprofitable routes such as the rural or less populated areas by public transport regulators ensures its imperfection.

Hence the very cogent argument by the PTC that bus fares need to increase gradually, to help public transport operators stay afloat, and have enough of a profit to renew their bus fleet.

But such logic is hard to accept for some.

For the unemployed commuter who spoke to me about how bus fares were eating into his savings, having an open and more transparent PTC is great.

But, he says the fact remains that in these times of need, it seems the needs of the bus operators were taken care of, over the needs of the many unemployed who aren't eligible for any form of aid.

This is Chong Ching Liang, for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:

Public Transport Council
Ministry of Transport


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