Trains are still arriving every 2 minutes during peak hours except that the trains are not jam-packed with commuters. “Daily bus and rail ridership have fallen by more than 71% and 75% respectively” says the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in a press release made on 14 April.
With the reduced in ridership, plans were then made to adjust the frequency to “match commuter demand” from 17 April. This was however met with backlash from commuters who are not able to practice safe distancing on board the trains during peak hours.
This sparked Transport Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan to make a Facebook post on 18 April explaining the situation and requested LTA to “over-provide rather than to under-provide” during this period. Thus, LTA made further adjustments on 20 April, this time to increase frequencies to allow commuters to practice safe distancing.
This means that for the same operating costs, lesser revenue will be generated from fares to cover the operation as trains are running frequently with little commuters. Not to mention, there is an additional cost for the manpower needed such as the Transport Ambassador (TA) that is deployed at MRT stations island-wide.
Even prior to the Covid-19 outbreak and circuit breaker measures, Public Transport Operators (PTOs) have consistently announced losses in the rail division. Part of the reason for this may be attributed to the increased maintenance and renewal works on the aging infrastructure.
For the two months of the circuit breaker period, this revenue dip would not be too substantial. However, in the long term post circuit breaker, working from home will still be the norm for quite some time. Hence, the PTOs and LTA will be under significant financial pressure as they deal with the post circuit breaker recovery period.
With that being said, here are some of the measures that may be considered. (1)
Definitely not the most popular option but it may bring in additional cash flow to cover up for the losses incurred.
Reduce frequencies of trains
Reducing frequencies of trains would definitely translate to lower operating cost. This would mean however that trains would be more crowded, something the authorities may want to avoid. This however may be the most plausible solution and optimal balance is needed.
Cut down on maintenance
Cutting down on maintenance is definitely not the best option considering our aging infrastructure. On the contrary, now may be the best time to ramp up maintenance work due to the lower ridership.
This outbreak definitely presented challenges which we need to overcome. That being said, the optimal solution may not be as straightforward as there may be considerations that the PTOs and LTA have to factor when making a decision.
1. Based on personal opinion
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