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Speech by Senior Minister of State for Transport Dr Janil Puthucheary at Land Transport Industry Day 2019

22 Aug 2019 Speeches

Good morning
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.     A great pleasure to be here at the inaugural Land Transport Industry Day, because this celebrates the accomplishments of the key people in our land transport sector – the workers.


2.     Every day, our land transport system connects millions of Singaporeans, getting us to our homes, to our jobs, to our schools. It allows our economy to flourish and it enables many different opportunities. Ultimately, it is also a social leveller. This year, we announced the Land Transport Master Plan 2040, and it paints a vision of a convenient, well-connected transport system to fulfil these objectives.

3.     But to support this vision, we need the industry to be vibrant. We need different stakeholders to come together in support of this common goal. Currently, the industry faces intensifying long term challenges. Our growing population, our aging workforce – these are well described and well understood – continue to exert a greater strain on the industry. To maintain a world class land transport system, our industry, like many other parts of our economy, must transform. And that transformation has three key aspects:

a.     First, the embrace of new technology. It represents an opportunity for us to deliver transport services in new ways, often more efficiently or more safely.

b.     Secondly, partnerships which we need to forge across key stakeholders in the land transport sector - public transport operators, our unions, manufacturers, professional bodies and the Government.

c.     Thirdly, we have to raise our workforce capabilities. We have to leave no one behind in this rapidly evolving environment.

4.     This three-pronged approach, we hope, will ensure that the land transport industry will transform effectively and smoothly, and be prepared to meet future challenges.

Embracing Disruption

5.     First, let me talk about how we need to embrace these innovative technological changes, so that we can transform effectively.

6.     Our land transport industry in Singapore is already encountering many new technologies each day. These technologies represent new opportunities to help mitigate the long-term challenges we have talked about. Disruptive technologies have helped us to improve the quality of public transport by tailoring journeys more closely to commuter needs. For instance, prior to the entry of ride-hailing platforms, point-to-point services were primarily delivered by taxis. Ride booking was uncommon, and long wait times for taxis during peak hours were commonplace.

7.     Since we have had the entry of ride-hailing platforms, this has disrupted the existing business model of taxi operators. It is true, it has been a disruptive force. As a result of which, they have sought new strategies to continue to attract passengers. And the beneficiaries have been our commuters. Our commuters have benefited from the transition from the pre-ride-hailing days to what we are seeing today. They can rely on ride-hailing applications to book trips and to book taxis more easily. Waiting times, a key pain point previously, have come down, so more people are willing to use ride-hailing applications and book taxis. And so the support for better matching between drivers and passengers has benefited the consumers, the commuters, the passengers, the drivers, the key workers as well as the operators.

8.     Technology will also help us to overcome the perennial challenge of our declining workforce. With the adoption of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, the service providers can scale up more rapidly, we hope, without being hindered by a shortage of drivers. In the process, they will transit to manpower-lean operating models that cost less, helping them to deliver better value to our commuters.

9.     The benefits of identifying, trying out and adopting these innovative technologies can be significant. As we incorporate more and more of these technologies into service delivery, we have to ensure that our workforce and businesses adapt to these changes effectively.

Forging Close Partnerships

10.    In order to do so, we need our second strategy, which is to forge close partnerships across our public transport operators, our manufacturers, our unions, our professional bodies and the Government to ensure a smooth transition. An ongoing transition, because these changes are not going to be one year or two years, it is going to be a business-as-usual process of continuous transformation, as these changes continue to exert pressure and new technologies come along.

11.    But we have had a close partnership with the Labour Movement and industry partners for a long time and these have laid a strong foundation for these ongoing transformation efforts. An example is the recent point-to-point industry that I just spoke about. We worked very closely with the industry to shape our regulatory framework for the sector through extensive consultations. That process of engaging with the industry, engaging with the driver associations, engaging with the ground together with the LTA and Ministry was not just about what we took to Parliament for a Bill, for a regulatory framework. We have now institutionalised those partnerships. We have taken that opportunity to create an institutional platform, a tripartite platform for private hire cars, just as we have the existing one for taxis. Because we see not only that there was value in that process for generating the Bill and the regulatory framework, but there are other issues which were brought up, which were not covered by the Bill, which we have to continue to work together on. This is part of our efforts under the larger Land Transport Industry Transformation Map. We will address a number of things, for example dispute management. But apart from dispute management, I hope these platforms will also help to catalyse the development of best practices amongst operators to better safeguard the interests of commuters and drivers. This is a model of close collaboration that can and should be extended to other parts of our land transport landscape.

12.    We should continue to broaden the range of perspectives we incorporate in this transformation by engaging other players in the land transport industry. The Singapore Mobility Challenge, SMC, is a step in this direction. LTA, SMRT and SBST have joined hands to craft a holistic set of challenge statements cutting across the rail, bus and point-to-point transport domains. These statements focus on the LTMP 2040 themes of “45-Minute City with 20-Minute Towns”, “Transport for All”, and “Healthy Lives, Safer Journeys”. The Singapore Mobility Challenge will feature 112 proposals submitted by participants from over 20 countries, comprising start-ups specialising in varied domains such as rail vision, noise reduction, automatic tyre inspection and decision support. This will allow our participants to tap on the deep expertise of their collaborators relating to these various components of the transport system, putting them in a better position to develop comprehensive strategies and improve our public transport.

13.    Close partnership will also allow us to adjust to industry developments more nimbly. LTA and Enterprise Singapore will be collaborating on Gov-PACT, which provides opportunities for the industry to develop, test-bed and validate innovative solutions to meet the sector’s needs. This allows Government agencies to work closely with SMEs and startups to develop innovative solutions that do not exist in the market yet. The close collaboration also ensures that the SMEs innovate in areas that are of strategic importance to Singapore, hastening the commercialisation of viable solutions with government support. This allows us a spread of platforms to engage with the start-ups; nascent businesses coming up with great ideas, making sure they move in the right direction and have the opportunity to scale, commercialise; SMEs that are already viable businesses looking to see how we can bring their solutions into our vibrant transport landscape; and the existing platforms we already have with the much larger transport operators, and how can we link all these players across the ecosystem.

Raise Workforce Capabilities

14.    Finally and most importantly, we have to ensure our transport workers have the capabilities and skills in order to keep pace with this ever-changing landscape. We need to continue to invest heavily in capability development, cultivating an ethos of continuous improvement in our workforce. This sense of continuous transformation across the industry, because we have these continuous pressures that we can anticipate moving forward, means that we need a mindset of continuous capabilities development. This is not a one-off thing. This is something that, incrementally in partnership together, we will just have to keep our eyes on this, work together with all our partners. And this is something that the Labour Movement in partnership with the Government has for many years been adapting to and been successful at. We need to leverage on those lessons.

15.    Today, we recognise the efforts of employers and employees who exemplify this ethos. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the 62 awardees of the Public Transport Book Prize and the SkillsFuture Study Award. Your commitment to excellence and passion for mastery in your field are commendable and set good examples for others in the industry.

16.    We have also put in place structures that will support our transport workers themselves as they go about charting their career paths. The Industry Transformation Maps and the respective Skills Frameworks for Public Transport will give workers a much clearer sense of how they should upskill themselves as the sector evolves. Setting out a roadmap, an incremental series of skills, competencies and capabilities that they need to develop over time, looking at it from the perspective of their own professional development. To better align the scope of training to job demands, we have also started bridging programmes in partnership with the local universities and specialised academies such as the Singapore Bus Academy and the Singapore Rail Academy. Again, the unions and associations have also been invaluable partners in this journey, providing feedback on and importantly, engaging the employers on what are the workers’ training needs.

Rail Manpower Development

17.    The rail industry is one example where we are looking to deepen workforce capabilities to meet our growing demands. We are expanding the length of our MRT network at an unprecedented pace, several new lines over the next decade or so, including the Thomson-East Coast Line, Jurong Region Line, Cross Island Line. LTA and the rail operators have also stepped up operations and maintenance, as we work together towards achieving 1 million Mean Kilometres Before Failure (MKBF).

18.    Over the next 10 years, as result of all these new lines and all these new services and these new service standards, we will need more than 2,000 new engineers and technicians. These are good jobs which will be here to stay. These are good jobs here to stay as part of our industry ecosystem. The MRT is not going to disappear, they are going to be a central part of how we deliver our Land Transport Master Plan 2040. As we build this more extensive rail network to serve Singapore and Singaporeans, we will need to equip rail workers with the skills to help them excel in their roles. In 2018, the rail operators spent more than $35M, or about 6% of staff payroll on training and development. Many workers have benefitted from this investment in the education and training of the workforce by the operators, many of them including some of you seated here today.

19.    Looking ahead, we need to move decisively to accelerate the rail industry’s workforce transformation. The Government is in discussion with the rail operators and the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) on the manpower development plans for the sector, and we look forward to sharing more details when these plans are finalised later this year.

Concluding Remarks

20.    Transforming the land transport industry is important work. If we set our minds towards embracing innovative technologies, forging closer partnerships across the sector, and raising the capabilities of the workforce, I am confident that the land transport sector will continue to serve Singaporeans well and create many good jobs.

21.    Thank you.