I read the ST Forum letters from time to time and I’ve found them to be insightful, mature, thought-provoking, and honest. Then there are the bad ones too. And this one was simply too repulsive for me to stomach it. It’s a classic case of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” for the Government. What I simply cannot take is the incessant whining about what is largely a positive move.
The announcement of free train rides trial programme came as welcome news early this week. It is a bold move, and pretty unconventional too. Let’s first deal with the criticism that free train rides will only ensure more overcrowding.
It is absolutely wrong to say that commuters who work in the heartlands and industrial areas “would be inconvenienced by the larger crowds during the early part of the morning”.
How so? The industrial areas in Tuas are so far away from City Hall and Raffles Place. How on earth would human traffic headed in both directions get caught and be inconvenienced? Granted, the dense concentration of human traffic might be at interchange stations. But once the train arrives, commuters headed for Tuas or City Hall would go in entirely opposite directions! Hence, I fail to see where the ‘inconvenience’ would stem from.
Even students are mentioned in the Forum Letter. Excuse me, but what has it got to do with students? Yes, the free trial won’t affect them since they are already benefiting from student concessions. The discussion of students in the entire free rides scheme is utterly and hopelessly irrelevant.
It is important at this point to reiterate that the free rides scheme is intended to spread out the human traffic. I think this graphic will help:
Just look at the low human traffic exiting the 16 city centre stations on weekdays. This means that our trains can carry more people during this from 7 am to 7.45 am. In LTA’s own words:
By offering free travel, the Transport Ministry is trying to incentivise early rides. There is no guarantee that this will work, but there’s only a hope that it might. There are two issues that could possibly impede the success of this pilot programme: sleep and companies’ operating hours.
Sleep – yes, it is darn precious. Would you give up sleep for free transport? Personally, I might. What about you?
Operating hours: this is a tricky one. It is much harder to get employers on board, but in order for the free travel scheme to work more effectively, employers should take part as well by adjusting their operating hours to accommodate travel patterns. In fact, a ministry has taken the lead. Take a look:
And here’s my favourite: the taxpayer argument. The ST Forum Letter opines that “Even though the Government will pick up the tab for the trial, which is expected to cost $10 million, it should not be forgotten that this is actually taxpayers’ money. Therefore, I urge the ministry to reconsider this trial and come up with better solutions that would benefit all commuters.”
Yes, you may be a taxpayer but that doesn’t mean that you will get what you ask for all the time. Be reasonable. The commuters who work in the city areas are taxpayers too! Is it wrong for them to benefit from this? In fact, this scheme is a judicious use of tax monies precisely because it does not extend to all commuters for the entire pre-peak period. Only an irresponsible Government would have done that. By keeping the trial project to a small area, the Government is indicating that this trial could be expanded to other parts of our little island. Thus, this brave initiative of $10 million is likely to augur well for transport improvements in time to come if this trial is replicated in other areas.
Contrary to the implied notion that the $10 million trial is not one that benefits all commuters, I would argue that it does by virtue of alleviating congestion on trains. By doing so, the experience on public transport would be improved. So, to the author of the ST Forum Letter: just because you don’t benefit from it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to knock the proposal down. That’s plain selfishness.