SINGAPORE: Commuters can expect more improvements to Singapore's transport system next year.
Additional trains will be in service, a new line will be extended to enhance connectivity, and more buses are also expected on the roads.
The year of 2013 did not start off too well for train operators SMRT and SBS Transit.
In February, a tunnel fire caused a two-and-a-half hour disruption to service on the North-South MRT line.
A month earlier, a seven-hour disruption on the North-East line affected some 58,000 commuters.
SMRT and SBS Transit were slapped with a total of S$1.1 million fine for various disruptions.
In all, there were a total of seven major disruptions lasting more than 30 minutes in 2013, compared to eight last year.
Both operators have been tightening operating procedures.
Gopinath Menon, Adjunct Associate Professor at NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “Last year, operators were shocked. They really had a nasty surprise, and I'm sure they have bucked up.
“2012 was a watershed year for public transport. The authorities, the operators, all have bucked up, and this year you see the effects and I'm sure the maintenance regime is better operations."
To ease congestion on trains in the morning, a trial of free rides during pre-peak hours was introduced in June.
The year-long trial, which is costing the government S$10 million, offers free MRT rides for those who travel before 7.45am on weekdays at any of the 16 designated stations.
There is also a 50-cent discount to commuters who tap out between 7.45am and 8am.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said there was a 20 per cent increase in commuters exiting the designated stations from 7am to 8am from August to October.
But based on ridership alone, it may be too early to consider making the free MRT rides permanent.
Ang Hin Kee, member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said: "Whether you want to make it a permanent feature or not, the key consideration is that it (ridership) has not gone up a lot higher.
“(It) depends a lot on two things - number one, employers creating flexi-work arrangements. Secondly, it also depends on, to a small extent, the availability of childcare facilities, because a lot of the working mothers would want to have more convenient drop-off places for their kids.
“So, childcare facilities at the workplace in CBD at major transport nodes like MRT stations will be a welcome move, to attract more people to start their work earlier.”
Commuters can also expect shorter waiting times when overall train capacity is increased.
Forty-one more trains will be added to the North-South and East-West Lines, while with the new Downtown Line 1, six new stations were commissioned - Chinatown, Telok Ayer, Downtown, Bayfront, Promenade and Bugis.
There will also be 13 more train-cars added to the Sengkang-Punggol LRT.
Commuters will also benefit from the new Marina South Pier station - an extension of the North-South Line that will bring commuters directly to the International Cruise Terminal and Gardens by the Bay.
On the roads, more buses will be added to further ease the transport crunch, with the bulk of the 800 buses under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) to be rolled out by the end of 2014.
Adjunct Associate Professor Gopinath Menon said: "Part of the saving grace this year has been the BSEP.
“I see more buses of the same service, there will be less waiting time, and there are new services now. We couldn't wait for the trains to come. So, that has really beefed up our bus service and beefed up public transport."
The cost of public transportation is also set to increase.
The Fare Review Mechanism Committee's recommendations were submitted in November and accepted by the government.
Two new concession schemes will be introduced for persons with disabilities and low-income workers.
The formula that determines fare adjustments will also now include an energy index to reflect the rising cost of power and fuel as a proportion of an operator's expenses.
The Public Transport Council is expected to announce the fare revisions in early 2014.
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has urged the council to ensure that fare increases should not exceed the average national wage increase for 2013.
Dr Lee Der-Horng, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at National University of Singapore, said: “This is more inclined to consider the benefit of the passengers. So, I feel that this is a major, a fairly symbolic movement in the area of public transport. We are considering the passengers’ benefit (more)."
Meanwhile, beginning next February, the certificate of entitlement for small cars will take into consideration its engine power on top of engine capacity.
With cars still being expensive, taxis are seen as a form of essential transport. To ensure commuters get taxis when they need it, taxi's availability standards will also be raised in 2014. - CNA/nd
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