SINGAPORE; In its report on Wednesday, the Committee of the Inquiry (COI) had called on the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to maintain effective oversight as regulator.
Observers agree there are areas of improvement that LTA can work on.
The COI had concluded that the massive MRT disruptions last December could have been prevented if SMRT’s maintenance regime was up to the mark, such as making sure that claws do not get dislodged.
And as regulator, the LTA should play its part.
The COI’s report stated that in 1995, SMRT had brought the issue of claw dislodgements to the LTA because it needed to seek the regulator’s approval for the use of a steel cap on the fastener and claw.
Instead, LTA directed SMRT to monitor the situation for system—wide implementation but there was no subsequent follow—up.
So how can the regulator improve on its own work processes?
Dr Park Byung—joon, Head of Urban Transport Management, School of Business, UniSIM, said: "I don’t think it is a good idea to have another kind of regulator regulating LTA. What I think LTA should do is to have their own, maybe create some extra committee, to look after the maintenance regime and maintenance requirements of operators."
In addition to regulating, LTA is also involved in the design and development of public transport system before they are handed over to operators. And in fulfilling these tasks, LTA specifies the types of rail cars and track network designs.
Mr Cedric Foo, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, suggests that there could be a division within LTA itself that focuses on design and development, and another that looks into safety, regulation and audit.
He said LTA also metes out penalties for service failures.
And if a service failure is partly due to a design or development fault, then LTA’s regulatory role could be seen as less than impartial.
But such a situation will not arise, with clear separation of roles.
"LTA should play an active role in designing this maintenance regime with the PTO (public transport operators). It should also audit compliance to the regime, periodically. Again, the design and audit functions of LTA should be separated. Otherwise, it may find itself auditing a regime which it has a hand in designing," he said.
On the COI’s recommendation for LTA to require SMRT to have a Maintenance Management System audit every three to four years, observers say for this to be effective, both sides must play their part in coming up with the audit list.
And increasing the penalties for breaches is also not the answer.
Dr Park said: "Fine is just an institutional reminder that you didn’t do something that you should have done, and if you look at the size of the business for SMRT, even a million dollar fine is not really detrimental for the business.
"What is more important is that they don’t forget the focus that they are there to deliver the reliable services, and make sure we don’t become complacent about it."
Mr Gerard Ee, Chairman of the Public Transport Council (PTC), said that as regulator, the LTA cannot and should not micro—manage.
He said operators have a direct interest to keep the system running efficiently, since every breakdown means a loss of revenue.
Mr Ee said: "As long as the public gets a smooth ride they will be satisfied and this is taken a day at a time. Any day when a hitch arises, the public will inevitably be unhappy. It is the outcome which is important to the rider."
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