SINGAPORE: Industry observers say transport operators should look at alternative ways to raise the salaries of bus drivers.
Passing the buck to commuters should be the last resort, say observers.
They are commenting on Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s suggestion that bus fares may go up in future to help improve the wages of bus drivers and that the public transport fare review, due next year, will consider this issue.
It’s not easy getting Singaporeans to come on board as bus drivers.
So salary increments might make the job more appealing.
The question is: who will foot the bill?
Some industry observers said it should not be assumed that commuters will have to bear the additional costs as the two public transport operators remain profitable.
"So, from the passengers’ side and the general public point of view, it may be difficult for them to swallow," said Professor Lee Der—Horng, an associate professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, National University of Singapore (NUS).
"...if they can first of all pursue their internal resources and try to improve their operations and see if they can further cut down operating costs, then perhaps, it wouldn’t be necessary to approach the public and seek an increase in public transportation fare."
MP Gan Thiam Poh, who is also a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said: "I feel strongly that the operators should try to explore or exhaust other means, such as other revenue, such as revenue coming from advertisements, rental or whatever...I think passing on (the costs) to consumer, that should be the last resort."
But even if salaries for bus drivers are raised, it might not be enough to get Singaporeans to bite.
Industry observers say that the long hours, rigorous work and the desire to have a job of higher value are among the main reasons Singaporeans shun the job.
Hence, a dependency on foreign manpower in this area might become unavoidable.
According to the chairman of the Public Transport Council, Gerard Ee, Singapore also lacks the body count and has an ageing workforce. That is why it must look to foreign manpower to fill the gaps in certain essential industries.
"Some jobs are just not popular, and as long as people have choices, they will give it a miss," said Mr Ee.
Industry observers also suggested that the operators look beyond Malaysia and China when hiring bus drivers, "so we will not be overly—reliant on a particular country or a particular region", said NUS’ Professor Lee.
Suggestions to nationalise public transport have been raised but some observers said that this could result in inefficiencies and a drop in service levels.
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