SINGAPORE: Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Thursday public transport fare review, due next year, will take into account the need to raise bus drivers’ wages.
Mr Lui was speaking for the first time in the aftermath of the illegal strike by bus drivers from China last week, and said public transport cost increases over the years have outpaced fare adjustments.
He was trying out the route of a new service on Thursday under the government’s billion—dollar Bus Service Enhancement Programme.
Mr Lui said the 34 Chinese bus drivers out of work from SMRT due to the strike make up only about 0.5 per cent of the total pool of 8,000—odd drivers.
Therefore, the impact on bus enhancements should be minimal.
What’s of concern, however, is the lingering effect of the strike on recruitment and retention of bus drivers, and Mr Lui said the government is watching this carefully.
Looking at public transport fare adjustments of past years, Mr Lui said while fares have increased by 0.3 per cent, costs in fuel and wages for instance have gone up by 30 per cent.
He said the fare review committee recognises this "significant mismatch".
Mr Lui said: "Any fare adjustment will allow the two operators to have more resources, in time to come, to make further salary adjustments to their drivers. We recognise that the drivers need to be paid more. (The) question is, where is that money coming from?
"So we need to see the relationship between any fare adjustment, wage increase, and any other forms of government support that we might be required to give to the operators."
Mr Lui said it is difficult to wean dependence off foreign bus drivers as Singaporeans may not want to take up the job.
So salary adjustments, at least, will make the occupation more attractive to locals.
He said previous salary adjustments have helped to increase the recruitment of drivers, both local and foreign.
When asked whether SMRT should face any penalty as a result of the strike, Mr Lui said the operator will be evaluated according to quality of service standards.
Impact on bus services as a result of the two—day strike will be taken into account.
Mr Lui said he also spoke to SMRT’s Chief Executive Desmond Kuek on the strike, and said the organisation needs to improve in many areas.
He said Mr Kuek needs to be given time to turn things around.
From December 16, two new SBS Transit bus services will start plying under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme.
Service 50, which will start service on December 16, will cover Ang Mo Kio, Yio Chu Kang, Sengkang and Punggol.
Express Service 513 will start on December 17, connecting residents of Tampines to the Central Business District. This service only runs during the morning and evening peak period on weekdays.
In addition, four new bus services will be added to the bus network in the first quarter of 2013.
Three of them come under the government’s enhancement programme, while the other is a trunk service by SBS Transit at its own cost.
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