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    Apr 10, 2015

    SBS, SMRT get $1m for better service

    SBS Transit and SMRT will receive about $1 million in incentives for exceeding targets in a trial aimed at getting operators to improve bus service reliability through incentives and penalties.

    SBS Transit was awarded $710,286 for ensuring that 11 of its bus services ran at more punctual intervals. SMRT received $345,714 for improvements to seven routes.

    For these services, operators managed to cut down commuters' excess waiting time - the difference between actual and scheduled waiting times - by between 12 and 36 seconds.

    Four routes, which were also part of the trial, did not show any marked improvement or deterioration, so no rewards or penalties were given.

    "These improvements mean that commuters, on average, have experienced more regular wait times and greater ease in boarding as the passenger load is spread more evenly across the various bus trips," said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday.

    The operators were assessed between June and November last year under the Bus Service Reliability Framework, which is a two-year trial.

    Under this framework, an operator can earn as much as $6,000 a month for every six seconds they shave off waiting time, but they can also be fined up to $4,000 for every six seconds exceeded.

    LTA said the incentives will help to offset the costs incurred by operators to hire more staff to help monitor the distance and time intervals of buses when they leave the terminals.

    Commuters interviewed said they have noticed improvements in the punctuality of buses.

    Hairstylist Lawrence Yeo, 55, who takes services 3 and 17 from his home in Pasir Ris Drive 4 to the interchange, said: "The waiting time is much shorter now at about five minutes, compared to the wide range between seven and 15 minutes in the past."

    However, some commuters questioned the need for incentives. Said university undergraduate Tham Sher Ming, 21: "What if there's no more incentive? Will they go back to being less reliable? I don't think it's a long-term solution."

    SBS Transit said yesterday that it was "firmly committed to improving service reliability - with or without the incentives".

    SIM University urban transport management expert Park Byung Joon said that, given that service levels will eventually hit a ceiling, it is unlikely LTA will have to keep dishing out incentives.

    In London, where a similar scheme is used, bus operators made huge strides in the first few years, but later hit a plateau.

    He added that it remains to be seen if the operators can extend their good performance to the rest of the fleet, given that 22 routes are just a fraction of the more than 360 being run.

    Ang Hin Kee, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the authorities must find out if timings improved due to more pressure being put on bus drivers.

    National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said: "It seems the operators are able to satisfy the framework to a large extent - which means the service can be improved further and standards tightened."

    However, LTA said there were no immediate plans to revise the standards, as this is a trial "where both the authority and operators are learning".

    "The standards are appropriate as there are also services that did not improve despite public transport operators putting in their best efforts," a spokesman said.

    Additional reporting by Andrea Ng