In Parliament

Speech By Senior Minister Of State for Transport, Mr Chee Hong Tat at the MOT Committee of Supply

09 Mar 2022In Parliament
Land Transport  

1.     Sir, let me begin with Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Gerald Giam’s questions on bus services.  

2.     Mr Yong proposed that bus operators tap on taxi drivers as reserve bus captains, who can be deployed during a crisis. Ms Joan Pereira made a similar suggestion at a recent Sitting, to bring back former and recently retired bus captains. I thank both members for their suggestions. These are possible ways to increase the resilience of our public transport workforce.    

3.     On Mr Giam’s questions, we shortened three bus services on 12 December 2021: Service 22 and Service 66 ran from Ang Mo Kio to Tampines and from Jurong East to Bedok respectively; Service 506 was an express service from Jurong East to Upper East Coast. As Service 22 was shortened, consequential changes were made to Service 65 to serve Tampines Avenue 4. 

4.     Sir, I understand Mr Giam’s concerns. When there are changes to bus services, commuters need time to adjust to the new arrangements. My PAP colleagues who look after areas affected by these changes have also shared feedback from their residents.  

5.     I thank Mr Giam for giving MOT this opportunity to explain our approach to keep Singapore’s public transport system financially sustainable, while trying our best to balance the different trade-offs, and always focusing on the best overall interests of commuters.  

6.    Earlier, Minister Iswaran spoke about the importance of financial prudence and sustainability, for our public transport system to remain resilient, affordable and accessible over the longer-term.   

7.    To achieve this, we need to regularly trim and reallocate excess capacity, including bus services when we expand our MRT network, to keep overall costs manageable for commuters and taxpayers.   

8.    So how does LTA decide on changes to bus services? We start with ridership data, which is an objective indication of commuter demand. To be clear, we do operate bus services with low ridership. There are many such services which run at a loss, and require funding from the S$1 billion pool of bus subsidies every year, because they provide necessary connectivity for commuters in some areas who otherwise will not have alternative public transport options. We also keep some trunk services for network resilience.   

9.    However, there are bus services with low ridership that run parallel to MRT lines and have alternative bus services plying similar routes, including the three services (22, 66 and 506) that we are discussing. Their ridership numbers along some parts of the trunk route had been low, and fell further after Downtown Line 3 became operational in 2017.   

10.   If we look at data before COVID-19, the sustained drop in ridership for these three services ranged from 32 per cent to 55 per cent for parts of the routes. This is because many commuters preferred to take the MRT for longer journeys, using buses as feeder services for travelling to and from key transport nodes within the town.   

11.   By switching to a combination of bus and MRT for long journeys, commuters enjoy lower fares and shorten their total travelling times, compared to taking the bus from start to end. For example, a trip from Bedok North to MacPherson, after including waiting and transfers, would take around 25 minutes via feeder bus and DTL, versus 42 minutes via bus service 66. The bus-MRT option also costs less because the distance travelled is shorter.   

12.   LTA amended the route of bus service 65 in Tampines, so that commuters would still have connectivity between Tampines Avenue 4 and Bedok Reservoir Road, when Service 22 was shortened. The original route for Service 65 through Tampines Avenues 1 and 5 has three other bus services. 

13.   LTA will continue to explore cost reduction methods before making changes to a bus service. This includes switching from double-deck to single-deck buses and reducing service frequency where possible. These steps were taken for the three bus services before the decision was made in 2021 to shorten their routes.   

14.   However, the cost reductions from the above changes are not very significant as running a bus service still requires bus captains to work in shifts, and a technical crew to maintain the buses. By trimming some of the existing bus services with low ridership, we free up resources that can be reallocated to provide new feeder services for new residential estates.  

15.   Through these efforts, we are better able to meet new demand for bus services without a rapid increase in operating costs and subsidies. The shortening of the three bus services for example, saved S$9.5 million of subsidies per year, which can be reallocated to new bus services.     

16.   Put another way, if we continue to run the three bus services without any changes, it means that either commuters or taxpayers would have to pay an additional S$9.5 million per year.   

17.   Hence, I hope Mr Giam understands why we are unable to agree with him to retain as many trunk services as possible. We will retain some as I explained, but we cannot go to the extent he has proposed. That will not be financially prudent and sustainable. And we will not be doing what is in the best collective interests of commuters and taxpayers. 

Growing Maritime Singapore 

18.   Sir, I will now speak about the plans to grow our maritime sector.   

19.   Maritime Singapore did well in 2021. We strengthened our reputation as a trusted hub port and international maritime centre (IMC). Container throughput reached a new high of 37.5 mil TEUs, while our IMC attracted 23 companies to expand or set up operations in Singapore.  

20.   Singapore ranked top in the 2022 Leading Maritime Cities of the World report, including for “Attractiveness and Competitiveness” and “Maritime Technology”. 

21.   I would like to thank our tripartite partners and maritime workers. This achievement would not have been possible without your dedication, your contributions and your sacrifices.  

22.   Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked how we are enhancing Singapore as a reliable and resilient transport node. Maritime Singapore will develop Strong Capabilities, Superior Connectivity and Rewarding Careers to address emerging challenges and seize new opportunities.  

Building Strong Capabilities 

23.   First, building strong capabilities.  

24.   PSA has commenced operations of its first two berths at Tuas Port as scheduled. We are making steady progress with the rest of the construction. When completed, Tuas Port can handle up to 65 million TEUs a year, 50 per cent more than our current capacity. Tuas Port will secure Singapore’s cargo connectivity to the world. And keep up our competitiveness as a global hub port. 

25.   Our port will leverage on technology to operate more efficiently, sustainably and safely. MPA will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to manage the increasing scale and complexity of ship movements in our waters. Our next-generation Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) will be equipped with advanced smart collision detection capabilities. It will be based at the future Port Operations Control Centre in Tuas, to be completed in 2025. 

26.   Another key technology is 5G telecommunications, which will support new concepts of operation. It will enable shore-to-ship deliveries using drones, which is cheaper, better and faster than the traditional method of sending a boat and crew; or piloting a containership safely from a control room on shore.  

27.   5G will support our vision to be the Silicon Valley of MarineTech, and be a game-changer to differentiate our port and IMC from the competition. Maritime 5G for Maritime SG. 

28.   We will also help maritime SMEs build capabilities to ride the digitalisation wave. We currently provide funding support under the Sea Transport Industry Digital Plan (IDP). And this is given to SMEs in the ship agency, harbour craft and bunkering sub-sectors to help them implement digital solutions to improve their operations. We will expand IDP to cover all SMEs in the Sea Transport sector, including those providing ship supply services. MPA will also extend the grant beyond end 2022, to benefit eligible maritime companies on an on-going basis.  

Expanding Our Connectivity 

29.   Next, we will expand our physical and digital connectivity.  

30.   Tuas Port will be the nucleus of a larger ecosystem of business and industrial districts. We can enhance the connectivity of high-value sectors like advanced manufacturing and cold chain logistics by locating such companies close to the port. The government has set aside land around Tuas Port for companies to integrate their developments with the port. We will also review our regulatory processes to maximise the benefits from integration and process efficiency.   

31.   MOT will leverage on our strengths as an air and sea hub to expand the suite of connectivity options for cargo owners, including multimodal options. Such air-sea cargo solutions provide additional efficiency and resilience, and support just-in-time manufacturing and distribution for regional supply chains.  

32.   In the information age, digital connectivity is as important as physical connectivity. Electronic bills of lading (eBLs) are documents proving ownership of cargo in transit. The benefits of eBLs over physical documents are clear: receive cargo faster, free up working capital, and have more secure transactions. However, adoption of eBLs has been slow due to legal and technical hurdles. MPA will co-fund three consortiums to develop and trial eBL solutions across the container, wet bulk and dry bulk segments. Through these trials, we aim to grow the ecosystem and encourage adoption of eBLs in Singapore and beyond.  

Creating Rewarding Maritime Careers  

33.   With the expansion in Capabilities and Connectivity, Maritime Singapore will grow and create rewarding Career opportunities for our people.  

34.   In response to Mr Saktiandi and Mr Melvin Yong, the Sea Transport sector aims to create 1,000 good jobs for locals between 2020 and 2025, including traditional maritime jobs like seafarers and port operation managers, and many emerging roles such as software engineers and supply chain managers. Looking at our progress so far, there is scope to grow even more good jobs by 2025, if conditions remain favourable.  

35.   As Mr Yong noted, it is important to attract more local workers to take up both seafaring and shore-based jobs. MPA is supporting the industry and unions to attract talent, nurture our workforce, and transform workplaces in Maritime Singapore.  

36.   Seafaring experience is important in the maritime sector, and can open doors to good shore-based careers. Captain Ranesh Sandhu started out as a seafarer in Neptune Orient Lines and became a ship master after a decade of sailing. His seafaring credentials have laid the foundations for a meaningful shore-based career, including in leadership positions such as Senior Director of Shipping for Marathon Petroleum Corporation, and Managing Director at BTS Tankers.  

37.   MPA has partnered with the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU), the Singapore Organisation of Seamen (SOS), and maritime companies to attract and develop locals for seafaring careers through scholarships and awards.  

38.   Local seafarers like my Toa Payoh resident, Mr Takamasa Ng, have benefited from the Tripartite Maritime Scholarship (TMSS). Takamasa obtained his Class 3 Certificate of Competency (CoC) in 2018. He currently works on board a ship for NYK Line, and he wants to continue sailing and attain his Class 1 CoC, which is the highest level of certification. 

39.   Qualifying as an experienced seafarer is a long and challenging journey. Attaining the Class 1 CoC can take eight years or more, and the job requires frequent stints away from home. We will support our local seafarers on this journey.  

40.   Beyond the existing scholarships, MPA and our tripartite partners will provide an additional S$12.5 million to fund a new Sail Milestone Achievement Programme (SailMAP) to enhance the retention of local seafarers. Over the next 5 years, up to 250 local seafarers can receive up to S$50,000 each, when they attain key career milestones. This helps to support their income when they are not sailing, so they can continue to upgrade their seafaring skills and knowledge. Most of the funding will come from the Government, and the remainder will be funded by the Singapore Shipping Association, SMOU and SOS as part of this tripartite partnership. 

41.   In addition, we will launch an accelerated training pathway for individuals with mechanical engineering backgrounds to become shipboard marine engineers, shortening the duration from the current 120 weeks to 22 weeks. I hope this will encourage more local mechanical engineers to become marine engineers.  

42.   We have also collaborated with Yellow Ribbon Singapore to place suitable inmates as trainees with harbour craft operators to become steersmen or engine drivers. Eight ex-offenders have benefitted so far, and we hope to increase the number over time.   

43.   Since 2018, we have helped around 200 mid-career workers undergo skills conversion to take up new roles through Career Conversion Programmes (CCP) in the Sea Transport sector. This includes 30 PMETs who have been successfully placed in new roles in 14 companies under the enhanced CCP for Sea Transport Professionals and Associates launched in November last year.  

44.   Sir, as we attract and nurture local talents, our maritime hub must remain open and welcome people from abroad. This is especially important for an international industry like maritime, which requires openness and connectivity to thrive. 

45.   Singapore cannot be a hub for maritime, aviation, finance or technology if we adopt populist manpower policies, build walls around us and disconnect ourselves from the world. We cannot aim to be a hub, and yet become inward-looking. There is no such thing as an inward-looking hub. 

46.   Foreign talents bring new capabilities and perspectives that keep our hub dynamic, and they complement our Singaporean core. The tripartite partners fully support this approach, as we understand that a good local-foreign complement is necessary to grow our economy and create good jobs for our people. 


47.   Sir, as Maritime Singapore grows our Capabilities, Connectivity, and Careers, an ocean of exciting possibilities awaits. I would like to encourage our students, our workers and our businesses to make Maritime Singapore your port of call,and join us in turning these opportunities into reality. 

48.   Thank you. 

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