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Written Reply by Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan to Parliamentary Question on Impact of Safe Distancing Measures on Demand for Public Transport

05 May 2020 In Parliament

Assoc Prof Walter Theseira asked the Minister for Transport 
a.     how have COVID-19 social distancing measures affected demand for public transport services; 
b.     what has been the financial impact on (i) public bus operators (ii) rail operators and (iii)LTA; and 
c.     what are the plans for public transport financing for the bus and rail systems respectively should COVID-19 measures continue to affect demand in the near and medium term.
Reply by Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan:  
1.     Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, ridership on public buses and trains have fallen significantly, particularly after the circuit breaker measures were imposed. Compared to pre-COVID levels, current ridership has dropped by 75% for buses and 84% for trains. Fare revenues have correspondingly decreased, by about 80% compared to the pre-COVID levels. Operating costs could have come down if supply was adjusted to match falling demand, but operators have largely preserved service capacity and headways to ensure that commuters can maintain safe distancing.
2.     In fact, public transport operators are incurring additional costs, as they step up cleaning regime of buses, trains and public transport premises, protect their staff with masks and face shields, pay for the accommodation costs of their Malaysian bus captains affected by the Malaysian Movement Control Order, and deploy transport ambassadors and enforcement officers to ensure safe distancing among commuters. These costs would eventually have to be borne by operators and taxpayers, as they are not adequately covered by current fares. Our transport operators are therefore under significant financial stress, especially as their rail operations were already making losses prior to COVID-19. For now, the impact on public transport operators is partly cushioned from the broad-based Government relief measures such as the Job Support Scheme, property tax rebatesand waiver of the foreign worker levy. The temporary suspension of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) also helps to reduce costs for bus operators.
3.     I am grateful to our transport operators for taking a national perspective, working closely with the Government and the NTUC to battle the virus together. Though stressed by the financial pain, they press on with the immediate priority of fighting the virus and supporting essential services.
4.     Post-pandemic, we will see how public transport evolves. Will demand for public transport services simply return to the pre-pandemic level? Or will Singaporeans decide to adopt working from home, and flexitime as the new norm? Or will more Singaporeans take to cycling as their preferred mode of commuting? It is too early to determine the post-pandemic world and hence premature to assess its long-term impact to public transport financials. Suffice to say that the pandemic will reshape our economy, our way of life and how we move about. If the impact is drastic, we may have to update the current financing model for public transport appropriately.
5.     Meanwhile, let’s continue to focus on defeating the virus, protecting our staff and our commuters. We remain fully committed to ensuring that our essential workers can go to their workplaces safely, conveniently and punctually.