Saturday, January 30, 2010

Inadequate Public Transportion III ( Final)

This week has been a victory of sorts for every netizens who have been putting up articles on how key public services have been unable to keep pace with our rapid population growth. In a stunning flip flop, MM Lee made the following statement:

“We’ve grown in the last five years by just importing labour. Now, the people feel uncomfortable, there are too many foreigners. Trains are overcrowded with foreigners, buses too, property prices have gone up because foreigners with permanent residence are buying into the market. ” - MM Lee 28 Jan 2010 Straits Times

This is in complete contradiction to Minister Shanmugam who had made the following statement just a few days earlier:

"The first misconception is that somehow there are five million people and that's putting pressure on all of us. It doesn't.'Of the five million, 3.2 million are citizens and roughly 500,000 are permanent residents (PRs). The remaining 1.3 million are here on temporary work permits and they 'impose no burden' on the public housing system" - Minister Shanmugam.

While small, this victory shows what Singaporeans can achieve if we stand together and speak with one voice. It of course remains to be seen if MM Lee’s statements will translate to concrete policy changes or if this is just nice sounding pre-election rhetoric.

If you play Texas Hold’Em, you will recognise that MM Lee has done the equivalent of folding the PAP’s hands as it was increasingly obvious that they were “bluffing”. While they would now most certainly like to “move on”, let us continue to examine the impact of the FT policy on key public services and road conditions.

In this last article on transportation, let us examine the impact of immigration on car and taxi use.

From 2003 to 2008, the total population increased by 17.6%. The car population increased by an astounding 35.1% !!! The taxi population increased by 25.4% !!! The road network however increased by only 5.1%.

It seems that the only public transportation that has increased far beyond the population growth is the taxi population! This may be a good sign for taxi companies like NTUC Comfort but it may reflect something else on our economy itself. It means that there are more Singaporeans losing their professional jobs and they eventually switch to driving a taxi for their livelihood. This is validated by the various news report about how an A-Star researcher ended up driving a taxi. Many of these NEW taxi drivers are mostly middle age people who are highly educated and qualified in their previous jobs. There are mangers, engineers etc and yes, I have met some of them before.

This reflect a serious problem of another dimension of the influx of foreign workers. These Singaporeans who were forced to drive taxi when they are substituted and displaced by cheaper foreign workers are basically “underemployed”. It means that the resources that our nation has put in the development of these people are being wasted altogether!

On the other hand, this table helps explain why in spite increasing ERP charges, our roads are increasingly congested. Instead of increasing the car population at a sustainable rate, LTA appears to have adopted a revenue maximization model of issuing large numbers of COEs in excess of their road building program. The increased car population causes congestion. LTA then proceeds to increase ERP charges to “ease congestion”.

As noted by MM Lee, the primary reason for why trains and buses have become more crowded is because of population growth. Like Singaporeans, PRs and other middle income foreigners need to get to work too. The increase in the car and taxi population is however greatly in excess of the population growth rate of 17.6%. The likely reason for this is because of a “substitution effect”. This “substitution effect” was first proposed by a commentator in Lucky’s blog. This commentator had suggested that perhaps the MRT was getting more crowded because more people were switching to use the MRT.

The table above and the table on SBS bus ridership contradicts this hypothesis. Instead it would appear that because public transport in Singapore has become cramped and uncomfortable, people are switching to use cars and taxis. This applies to both Singaporeans and middle income foreigners. The magnitude of the switch in the face of repeated increases in COE, ERP and taxi fares is testament to just how badly the Singapore public transport system has been degraded. I was not the first to spot this trend. Lucky first wrote about it here.

The whole series of charts and analysis I have done so far contradicts the Ministry of Transport that they are aiming to increase public transport usage by converting those car owners to utilize public transport. The ministry has aimed to increase rail network and train services to achieve that. However, contrary to the ministry wishful thinking, it seems that the public transport system has reached an unbearable point that more and more people are switching to owning private cars.

The provision of comfortable, effective public transportation is a responsibility of all good governments. The central guiding principle should be serving the transport needs of the people first and profits second. Unfortunately the current Transport Transport Minister, M Raymond Lim, seems to be putting profits first and the transport needs of the people a very distant second.

Goh Meng Seng


cy said...

i think yeo cheow tong,the former minister of transport (2001-2006)should share more of the blame.

Anonymous said...

My Goh, if our transport system is called inadequate, what do you call those in KL, Penang, Jakarta, Bangkok?

The last I heard, my friend who came from Pahang said Singapore's transport system is truly world class.

Have you been thinking too much? You want to reach Jurong from Bedok in 30 mins having the whole train cabin to yourself? You won't get it for $1.

Your article is not fair. You are focusing on the negative. Not objective.

Anonymous said...

I think Garfield made a similar arguement once.

"If you want to look thin, stand next to someone fatter than you."

weilun said...


Maybe you should take a look at external factors on why the number of cars is increasing. If you are only targeting the government as the "culprit" for the so-called inadequate transport system and the increasingly congested roads, then I think your reasoning is flawed.

To direct you into considering what I mean, you might want to start considering the mindset of the youths and young adults these days.

I guess you are too idealistic,

>> "The provision of comfortable, effective public transportation is a responsibility of all good governments." <<

The only way to attain this is through introducing new legislations that are controlling. And by doing so, wouldn't that be going into communism?

Furthermore, increasing the road network is more difficult than increasing the car population. Singapore has VERY limited land space, the government needs to consider the effectiveness of converting a certain quantity of land into a road. Do you expect the government to issue a new legislation that set the value of the car population each year?

That said, I do agree that the transport system is inadequate to a certain extent. During peak hours, the expressways get jammed up, buses are fully packed, taxis are taken up, and the list goes on. But during off peak hours, the public buses come by fast, the journey is short. You cannot possibly expect everything to be perfect.

Anonymous said...

How is having trains that come every 1 minute instead of every 4 minute "going into communism"?

Singapore does NOT have very limited land space - we have 18 golf courses while HK has only 2!

During off-peak hours, public buses come by every 15 minute! How is that fast?

Pleae learn to carry balls properly. LOL

Apples VS oranges said...

Anon at 5:22pm,
The last I heard, my friends who came from Japan, USA, UK, Spain, Canada, Italy, France and said Singapore's transport system is truly pathetic compared to theris which either has train/buses that come every 1-2 minute, or cheap cars.

Oh, btw, the last I heard, PM Lee's salary is greater than the above 8 countries COMBINED! Given that, maybe you can let us know why you think we should compare ourselves to Pahang, instead of the above 8 countries? How about asking us to compare to Africa? Even better, right?

Apples VS Oranges said...

The 8th country is Germany. I missed that out in above comment. Together they form G8. That is, our PM decides to pay himself higher than G8 leaders COMBINED!!! I don't know how to describe that, other than to call it LEEgali$ed Corruption!

Anonymous said...

You mean youth and young adult can afford to buy so many cars that they contribute significantly to the statistics? Who r u kidding?

Preston said...

"My Goh, if our transport system is called inadequate, what do you call those in KL, Penang, Jakarta, Bangkok?"

-It is called rubbish.

"The last I heard, my friend who came from Pahang said Singapore's transport system is truly world class."

-Yes it is world class.

To the second commentator above, I believe that you shouldn't compare Singapore with my country Malaysia(rubbish transport system) or the other countries that are well below par.

Shouln't you Singaporeans fight to stay on the top? I think that is right. I see Mr.Goh trying to fight for the best.

Please don't compare with countries that perform well below par like our stupid Govt here in Malaysia. "We are better than Myanmar" or "We have better transport system than Laos and Cambodia"..etc

You guys should compete amongst the best, its your right!

Anonymous said...

MRT lines take several years to build, so it's not very fair to pin all the blame on the current transport minister. That said, the circle and downtown lines are set to open progressively over the next few years. The new lines will alleviate some of the traffic burden, but the sheer influx of foreign labour over recent years shocked me. The transport system was not designed to cope with such a large, seemingly-uncontrolled increase over such a short period of time.

Now, I'm not sure that the revised COE quotas and increase in number of cars on the road were due to the adoption of a revenue-maximizing model, especially because overzealous issuance of COEs also tends to depress COE prices. That link is not patently clear - are COEs price inelastic?

But what's obvious is the enthusiastic introduction of ERP gantries along more and more roads. Come some point, people will just assume that ERP is an implied cost, and the intent of diverting traffic will lose its purpose because everybody will just assume that there are ERP gantries wherever they go.

N00b Transport Enthusiast

Anonymous said...

hi GMS,

"The likely reason for this is because of a “substitution effect”. This “substitution effect” was first proposed by a commentator in Lucky’s blog. This commentator had suggested that perhaps the MRT was getting more crowded because more people were switching to use the MRT."

I believe the commentator you were referring to is me, Hobbyist Economist.

I think it's best that you re-read what I wrote carefully instead of regurgitating wholesale from Aruvandil, who clearly misses what I was putting across. To insinuate that I was suggesting the increase in MRT ridership is due primarily to the "substitution effect" is not only wrong, but also misleading. You should seriously consider reading up on your economics and statistics.

Hobbyist Economist

weilun said...

@Anon 9.20PM (who posted right after me)


I admit that "trains coming every 1 minute instead of 4 minutes" is not communism, nor do I even think of it as communism to begin with. The public transport system operators are privately owned. So how is that the fault of the government? What I meant by going into communism is for the government to pass controlling legislation to make public transport faster.

However, you have raised an interesting point. If the trains come every 1 minute instead of 4 minutes, would that be cost-efficient? Sure, it will be less congested, and people do not have to wait for a long time for public transport, but think of the additional resources consumed.

Here's where the environmental factor comes in. Certainly that would mean that more fuel will be used and more smoke will be emitted (for buses).
Would the public transport operators want to hasten the depletion of the supply of fuel just to ensure that the trains come even faster? Would you want a faster transport system at the expense of the future generations? Think about it.
Although if they could figure out an effective way to harness solar energy and use solar power as the main source of energy to power the trains/buses, I would certainly support the notion of a "train that comes once every minute instead of 4 minutes".

I do carry my balls well, just that I do not see the need to flaunt them. I expect people to consider other factors before complaining that the transport system is slow.

*pardon me, but we are drifting off the main topic"

weilun said...

@Anon 9.27PM (just before Preston)


I'm not kidding anyone. I also did not suggest that the youths and young adults are the only factor influencing the increase in the car population. And please read what I wrote: "External factors", with a "S" before the "factor". What I meant that was multiple factors could have resulted in the increase of the car population.

Also, do note that the author only stated his case based on percentages. There was no inference from the data that there was a statistical significance between the years.

I ran a simple analysis on the correlation of the data obtained in 2003 and 2008, a significant positive CORRELATION was found. Don't get excited. What this probably imply is that we can observe a increment in the various groups (number of cars/number of taxis/road network/total population/resident population) as the years go by.

To further understand what the data is implying, I ran a simple analysis on the differences between the data in 2003 and 2008. There was no significant differences found, which probably mean that the difference is normal (as part of growth). This suggested that the author should NOT base his current argument on the data retrieved.

Putting it in plain English, it simply implies that the increase in car population, taxi population, road network (KM), total population, and resident population is part of the normal growth rate, and that there isn't really a HUGE/ASTOUNDING difference in the data.

@Hobbyist Economist:
Correct me if my explanation is incorrect/flawed. Thanks.