Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Crutch Mentality Of Public Transport

Latest: One supporter has made a podcast out of this article. All thanks to him/her! ;)

PAP government has taken every fine measures to prevent "crutch mentality" from developing among our citizens. Any tiny suggestion of "welfarism" is considered as a big taboo.

However, we have been witnessing public transport companies raising fares every now and then and this is done with the blessings of the government. Ever since public transport companies are being "privatized", the reasoning is always the same; these companies must make money. It seems to me that only transport companies are "blessed" in such a way that a profit will be guaranteed no matter what. Of course, the easiest way for a public transport company to make money is to raise fares. If cost went up, raise fare to cover the short fall. Never mind if the companies themselves lack efficiency or lack creativity in making money from other means.

I have put up an article on fare hike before and here again, I am going to show why we should not let transport companies to persistently ask for fare increases.

The two most important aspects of a public transport companies are:

1) Serving the masses
2) Provide convenience

These are the responsibilities as well as the means that the companies could make money from. However, if a public transport company only think of making money out of charging fare alone, then it will fail miserably. It should learn about what "cross subsidies" can do to boost bottom line.

If a public transport company only thinks about making money out of charging fare, then it will inevitably end up in a vicious cycle of losing commuters and thus ridership, forced to increase fare. There is nothing mysterious about this. One way to make more profit is to squeeze cost. This means that to increase the number of trips a commuter needs to take, reduce competition, reduce frequency of services, increase fare....etc.

This is partly why we end up with an interesting situation here whereby the cost of car is so expensive but yet, Singaporeans are still prefer to have a car of their own. This is basically because public transport has become so inconvenience and unbearable.

I have learnt from the HK public transport model that the main profit is generated from sources other than the fare itself. Due to the competitive environment, bus companies in HK have to provide efficient system of bus services. This would mean an increase in costing but they could cross subsidize it by having more advertising income. If you look at our buses on the road or the trains, you will realize that advertising space is not fully utilized.

If you walk into the HK's MTR station, you will realize that every space possible for advertisement will not be left empty. Every space available for shops that provide convenience is not spared. The trains will have digital board running with news updates and advertisement. Every MTR stations or bus terminals are linked closely with some residential flats. The newer MTR stations are built together with shopping malls as well as residential flats on top or just linked next door. Some projects are done by the train company in cooperation with other property developers. It means that train stations are integrated with residential projects to provide maximum convenience. In return, the train company earn a cut from development as well as property maintenance. By doing so, it will retain higher ridership and in the end, higher profits from advertisement.

Have you seen any MRT station in Singapore which is integrated with residential projects? Could you find a shopping mall with residential flats on top standing next right to a MRT station? There are residential flats with as many as 20 flats of 30 storey high sitting next to a MTR station in HK! This is one of the fundamental reason why Hong Kongers prefer to take public transport instead of driving their own cars. And by doing so, the train company get to hold on to a strong demand of commuters by virtue of convenience. On the other hand, by virtue of the massive commuters it has, it could command a good return from advertising because its effective and efficient in reaching out to consumers.

If we look at the design of our town planning, it seems that most people need to take feeder bus service before they could reach a train station or the bus terminal. It not only inconvenience commuters but also added cost to them. In the long run, with such time consuming, costly as well as inconvenient system, people who could afford a car will give up on public transport.

In Singapore, it is a total dismay in such strategic thinking. When the development of Ang Mo Kio Hub was given to Singapore Labour Foundation, it was first planned to have residential cum office on top. However, for some reasons, the idea was scrapped. Now, if the project is given to either MRT or SBS Transit, the outcome would be very different. These transport companies could earn rents from the shopping mall as well as the offices, at the same time, earn from the sales of those residential flats on top. Why not? But no. No shopping mall projects or condominium projects near any MRT stations or bus terminals were given to the transport companies! Why is the case?

If the transport companies were given priority in developing the shopping malls and condominium or residential projects surrounding it, it could better incorporate linkages to these projects. Furthermore, it would rationalize according to its priorities and business model. Alternatively, city planning in Singapore towns must be revamped. It means that land near the transportation nodal points must be marked out as residential cum shopping malls. The overall strategic thinking of both the transport providers and city planners must change in Singapore.

I would say that local public transport companies should be more aggressive and creative in making money instead of waiting for the approval of fare hikes. Instead of strengthening their means to create value, they have been diminishing their value in the name of "cost cutting". Frequency of their services have been lowered. In the long run, ridership will fall. If we aim to accommodate 6.5 million people, how can this go on like this?

The demand of regular fare hike is a crutch mentality in the making. There are really many other ways that public transport companies in Singapore could make profits, not just from fare but from their strength in convenience and the masses they command. If we continue to allow other GLCs or SLF to develop prime areas in towns instead of the transport companies, how could there possibly be full utilization of resources and cross subsidies to public transportation companies?

In comparison, our public transport companies have not fully capitalize on advertising revenue as compared to their Hong Kong counterparts. Instead they have put more time in thinking of ways to maximize profits by means of creating more demand on services via re-routing and feeder bus services. However, this inconvenience commuters and will result in loss of ridership in the long run.

While our government always self proclaim to be "World Class" that command "World Top Salaries", I think they should do better than increasing public transport fare hikes every now and then. It is time to evaluate efficiencies of public transport companies in terms of generating other revenues rather than over depending on revenues from fares alone. Most importantly, stop the crutch mentality of public transport companies depending on increasing fare hikes to increase profits. Please think out of the box!

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, May 07, 2007

Singapore Political Comics

The above Comic is taken from Insane Poly -- Elite Girl

I remember during my university days, one of the most "shocking" political news is about the authority ordering an comic artist to remove one of his creation from his exhibition because the comic he drew is seen as "offending" someone up there. The reason given was that Singapore is an "Asian" country/society whereby political leaders should be respected and should not be made fun of, even in comic art.

The irony is that we always see local newspapers, be it English or Chinese papers, have been putting up comics drawn on other political leaders around the world, including some of our neighbouring countries leaders. Aren't our neighbouring countries "Asian"? Shouldn't they be "respected" and not "made fun" of?

This has puzzled me quite a bit even up till now. Once a while, you could still see some comics about political leaders around the world, be them "Asian" or otherwise, being printed in local newspapers. But you could hardly find any comics of our Singapore political leaders; well, maybe on opposition leaders but hardly any ministers, as far as I could remember.

Anyway, the wonders of this digital age is that citizens could freely express themselves in this cyberspace. The following are some links to political comic sites; well, be warned that they are persistently political. ;)

Insane Poly -- Elite Girl
My Sketchbook

Enjoy yourselves!;)

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, May 04, 2007

Nationhood-- what will bind us & what went wrong?

Yes I know I have promised to write the article on whether we should let local transport companies to continue to depend on Public Transport Fare Hike or not but recently there are good discussions going on about Nationhood, patriotism, emigration and stuffs like that.

A good article could be found at this blog named "Chasing Idle Dreams".

There is also an open letter by an ex-journalist posted on The Online Citizen

There is also an article on Today:

Not a recipe to win hearts over
More intrinsic appeal needed to woo overseas locals back

Siew Kum Hong

I WENT to Singapore Day in New York a couple of weeks back. I was there for work, was with a Singaporean friend living in the city who wanted to go, and eventually found myself in Central Park on a bright, sunny Saturday.

The event was undoubtedly a success. The hawkers were a big hit, with some queues taking up to two hours. Still, some Singaporeans I spoke to had reservations, even as they enjoyed the food.

Some queried the registration requirement and amount of information requested, and wondered if the Government is using the event as an excuse to gather data on overseas Singaporeans. Others found the tone of the event — which included National Day songs belted out by homegrown entertainers — off-putting, as it reminded them why they had left Singapore in the first place.

While I applaud the idea of Singapore Day, I think these views are nevertheless valuable and interesting. There was a certain fuzziness around what the event sought to do, but I doubt it was a sinister effort to track overseas Singaporeans, a theory I find borders on paranoia.

Was it a disguised attempt at getting Singaporeans to come home? If so, it needs to be more sophisticated in its approach. The performance of the National Day songs came across as being over-the-top and contrived.

A Singaporean who liked the idea of re-connecting with her country was turned off by the hardsell and rolled her eyes at the brochures on integrating returning Singaporeans' kids into our education system. I also met more than one gay Singaporean, who, regardless of however much he or she enjoyed the event, were all convinced that they would never return home.

I prefer to take the Government at face value and think that the event served to refresh connections with overseas Singaporeans, to remind and update them about Singapore.

However, I also noticed certain unflattering aspects. There were no activities for kids. The American husband of another Singaporean noted the irony of flying in Singaporean bands that sounded exactly like many other bands in New York. (The highlight for me was the getai skit from Royston Tan's upcoming film 881.) There was a lack of recycling bins despite the number of Yeo's-sponsored canned drinks being guzzled down.

And, as pointed out by another Singaporean, it was a "typically Singaporean" event, with a singular emphasis on food.

I was bothered by this display of food as the overarching — and apparently sole — factor that unifies Singaporeans. (And I am at least as greedy as the next food-loving Singaporean.) The identification of eatables as being at the core of "Singaporeanness" betrays a certain pragmatic consumerism and materialism. If being Singaporean is so intimately tied to something extrinsic, what will happen when it is gone?

Singapore Day hinted at the troubling answer. The crowds thinned considerably as the stalls ran out of food. Few stayed for the entertainment flown in from home. Fewer paid any attention to the displays and booths touting the developments at home and that of overseas Singaporeans. In fact, there was a lack of interest in anything other than the food — and when the food was gone, there was little interest in anything at the event at all.

Food can be replicated, even if it is difficult to do so authentically. New York-based movie director and foodie Colin Goh said all the local fare at Singapore Day was available in New York except for the chwee kueh. That was the first item to run out.

The sad truth is that while food is the easiest and surest way to tie Singaporeans' minds to Singapore, it is a tie that does not bind tightly, if at all. We would do well to develop and emphasise other ties that are far more intangible and emotional — and hence tighter and less easily displaced and replaced.

This will require greater subtlety, creativity and resources. Perhaps Singapore could be "recreated" through miniature replicas of familiar landmarks. Instead of including rubber bands in goodie bags with instructions on how to play "zero point", a zero-point competition could be held for children and adults. Another suggestion I heard was to have people register for a Friendster-type social networking service, to tease out connections between people.

The aim of events such as Singapore Day should be to engage people's hearts and minds, not just their stomachs. Otherwise, overseas Singaporeans may flock to future Singapore Days, but the events will not deepen or strengthen their links with Singapore.

The writer is a Nominated Member of Parliament and corporate counsel, commenting in his personal capacity.

I have touched on this topic before under my first few articles A Singapore without Singaporeans back in 2005.

But after reading all these articles, I feel that I need to put down my thoughts after meeting some young undergraduates as well as watching the "banned" interview by Martyn See.

This is what I wrote:

What will bind a people or even a Nation?

In our persistent pursuit of economic success, which is the basis of PAP's monopoly of power, we have forgotten all about the other pillars of the Nation, mainly culture. Food culture is merely one small of the whole spectrum. Have we developed our unique culture?

Well, to some extend, one could say that our "unique culture" is mostly about negative aspects: Kiasuism, Kiasism and the government will say, Singlish is not a desirable sub culture language.

Singapore used to be the cultural centre of Southeast Asia back in the pre-WWII, 50s and 60s. This development is in tune with a more liberal political settings where hundreds of flowers blossom. You could even read about great debates between newspapers, not merely politicians.

Choirs, writers, song writers, plays, painters... etc. you name it you have it. Singapore, though economically speaking not top of the world, but it is the Paris of SEA in terms of the richness of its cultural development.

After the misadventure of "Malaysian Malaysia", everything seems to change overnight. We have traded our cultural development and political rights for the economic miracle. The era of "White Terror" came right after that and lasted throughout the 1970s. "White Terror"? What "White Terror"? Some young undergraduates have asked me recently. If one is to write something critical or just a little bit similar to the leftist or communist literature, you will be call up for tea in ISD or even locked up. This is one singular political tool that has stiffen cultural development and even up to now, we still could hear of censorship on political interviews and films. A generation or two have been lost in this era of cultural whitewash.

White Terror era is also the dark ages of social-political activism. When young, socially conscious students or activists organize themselves to fight against the social injustice that they saw in the society, it will be quickly termed as "leftist" or even "communist" elements and thus, ISD will step in. How could you cultivate a generation of passionate citizenry by clamping down on all social-political activism? We could not possibly groom a generation of citizens that are passionate about society with such closed minded administration. Up till now, a simple protest be it in persons or using cardboard White Elephants are still being scorn off.

The fact that our young "elites" lacks such understanding or knowledge of Singapore's social-political-cultural dark ages is quite alarming. Why? A nation or a people has to know and learn their history well in order accumulate wisdom and cultural upbringing in not repeating mistakes of the past. But under one party domination, this is just too "inconvenient"! A simple interview with an ex-political detainee is deemed as "undermining confidence" in the present administration!

When a nation that loses its cultural development, loses its soul. And naturally, how could a tree without deep roots grows higher? Least binding its branches?

In the 1980s, PAP realized that something has to be done and thus we have the "new initiative" of big bang National Day celebrations with all those "Count on Me Singapore" songs. Thus, it is not surprising that they actually used these songs in the New York event. That is, pathetically and sadly, our only "cultural heritage" that could be "remembered" as a people.

Here today, due to the fact that this nation and its people has not really learned about ills of the past history of "White Terror", has repeated its persistent scorn at "sub culture" like Mr. Brown's hard hitting humorous podcast, censored plays and films of social-political nature. We can't post political videocast nor podcast... not ven the simple use of music and songs are not allowed in political rallies during general elections! This is how "open" we are!

Will there be hope in Singapore? To cultivate active citizenry and thus, passionate loyalty to the country, not to the dominant party? When will history not become "inconvenience" or "undermine confidence" of present government so that our future generations could have the courage to face our history, good or bad, together as a people and a nation? The answer is so obvious.

Goh Meng Seng