Photo taken on Saturday, 28th January 2012 Location: Outside Blk 259A MSCP, Bangkit Road

While I agree that the standard of living for Singaporeans has improved over the years, situations like this do happen everywhere. I feel very ‘gek sim’ (translated as heartbroken in Hokkien). Sometimes, I wonder if our MPs and ministers have ever encountered this group of people during their frequent walkabouts. If so, how would they respond to them?

I believe most of us are familiar with this phrase that was being mentioned in parliament some years back “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?” Do you think this is being compassionate to the group of needy people?

While our ministers receive a high-paying salary even after the recent Ministerial Salary Debate in Parliament on 16th to 18th January 2012, do they even think why their fellow peasants (like this uncle in the photo above) have to resort to such acts such as collecting cupboard and empty drinking cans? If so, are they compassionate enough to show genuine care and concern to them?

I understand that the government has been taking care of different groups of needy people through various schemes like CCC ComCare Fund and Public Assistance (PA) Scheme (more of which can be found at MCYS’s website). Despite providing different types of assistance scheme for different groups of needy people, most of the elderly folks might not know where to seek assistance, as some could be illiterate and not IT savvy. This is especially so for those living in 1-2 room flats. Why would they still need to go through the tough way by collecting cupboards and empty cans? Is the amount of money that they were provided sufficient enough to sustain their living? Given the fact that cost of basic necessities cost such as food and transportation increase over the years, even after the recent GE 2011.

In year 2010, an article was submitted to TOC (TheOnlineCitizen), about the relentless rising cost of living in Singapore from Year 2006 to Year 2010. I won’t list out all the increasing costs in Year 2011, but I am going to focus one of the basic necessities that this group of people will probably be struggling with, i.e., transportation.

Last year, PTC approved a 1% increase in bus and train fares, which equates to 1 and 2 cents per ride for senior citizens and adults respectively, and also 10 cents per ride for cash paying commuters. To the ministers and the filthy rich people, this may cost nothing to them as the amount is too small for them to even bother about it, but what about the peasants and needy people? 2 cents may be a small amount, but if you multiply by the number of rides per year, this can contribute to a significant sum of money that is very precious to them.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverbs

The government should find a better way to “teach a man to finish and you feed him for a lifetime”, instead of asking them to be self-sufficient and resort to such dirty and disgusting acts that compromise the health and safety?

I am aware that there is Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) that allows the middle-aged group of needy and the unemployed people to seek for job, but my concern lies with the number of jobs offered for Singaporeans. Another concern is the issue of having minimum wages in Singapore which I believe that not many companies practice that. Minimum wage is implemented to serve as a purpose for the benefit of the employees, so that regardless of the citizenship of the employees, they will still get the minimum wage that they deserve to be paid. As such, employers would not be biased when making decisions on whether a foreigner should be employed over a local citizen, because regardless of who they are, they are still paid equally and fairly.

As for the disabled and old-aged needy people, the amount of money and other forms of assistance given must be justifiable to the rising cost of basic necessities, and sufficient enough for them to sustain at a comfortable level. As they may find travelling around in Singapore a hassle due to their frail condition, government should take care of their travel needs by providing them with free transportation (via public transports such as buses and trains), so that they will not have to compromise on their transportation cost which they may have to walk for a longer distance to their destinations.

Besides that, while health care cost should not be provided free of charge due to the intention of reducing the over-utilization of healthcare services, government should not implement additional cost such as processing fees to this group of people, as it will only cost an additional burden to them.

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I refer to the article “Cash incentive for off-peak travel effective?” (19th January 2012) and the word ‘skeptical’ came into my mind.

In Singapore, office hours typically begin at 9am in the morning and end at 6pm (some of us may start/end work earlier or later, but the difference in the number of hours would not be that much.)

To most of us here, adjusting our working hours is not an option or choice. It is up to the superiors in the management level to decide.

On the management level, they have certain factors to take into consideration. Some of which includes: – Amount of workload to be completed for the day/week/month. – Flexibility of the working hours (will starting work later equate to ending work later?) – Agenda of the day (important meetings with colleagues, superiors and/or clients).

Our government has to understand that not every company in Singapore is in favour of the changes, or rather, the flexibility of working hours, and hence, the effort to get more commuters (especially the working adults) as mentioned in the news, is unlikely to be effective.

Everyday, we hear complains from different commuters about the different negative encounters they have, such as breakdowns and bus or train overcrowding. It suffices to say that these problems are inevitable despite claims of world class public transport, for even if we travel by private transport such as car, there will bound to have other set of problems such as massive traffic jams. In Singapore, I believe that sometimes it is not because we wish to be late for our meetings or appointments, but rather, it is because of all these problems that caused us to be late. I am sure that some of us here were being questioned before “Why are you late for work/school/meeting/appointment again?”, and often, we tend to push the blame on the transportation in Singapore such as train breakdown or heavy traffic jams along the road.

Let’s talk a bit about our public transportation system in Singapore. (MRT versus Bus)

How is our MRT system different as compared to a bus system? It is like comparing between different types of electric circuits. In secondary school (Science/Physics), we learnt that there are parallel and series circuits. Our MRT system operates like a series circuit whereas our bus system operates like a parallel circuit.

Why is that so? When a train breaks down due to technical fault (or for other reasons), all the subsequent trains behind it will come to a temporary halt as there is only a single track going in a particular direction. This is not the case for bus as there are multiple lanes along the road that will allow the subsequent buses to pick up the stranded commuters and carry on with their journey. Even if there are cases of road blocks due to fallen trees (or in the most recent case, cavities spotted along the drain embankment and its surrounding area at Bukit Timah Road, 20th January 2012), bus services can be diverted to other areas and resume back to its original route after the affected area. What about the trains? I don’t see such diversion happening, except for the trains to terminate at a particular station and U-turn back towards the opposite direction and the deployment of shuttle buses. Even if that is the case, buses are pulled out from its revenue service that affects the frequency (the waiting time for the bus services).

On the Dec 15th MRT disruptions, I had to wait more than half an hour at night for SMRT Bus Service 190 at Choa Chu Kang Bus Interchange just because buses from this revenue service were pulled out to be deployed for MRT Shuttle along the affected MRT Stations. This shows mismanagement of resources and a lack of any real, effective contingency plan on SMRT’s part.

Coming back to the main subject of this blog, let me show you a photo below:

(Photo taken on 16th January 2012, 9:47pm)

Some of us here may ask “no more train service to Jurong East?” or “when is the next arriving train towards Jurong East?” For myself, I would ask “why is the frequency of the SWT (Short Working Trip) service to Yishun better than the main service to Jurong East?”. This photo is taken on the off-peak hours at night after my night class lesson nearby.

It is proven that our government and its transport companies fail to solve the overcrowding problems for off peak hours at night (and I am talking about the duration from 9pm to 11pm), let alone solving the similiar problem in the morning when the level of the crowd is even more intense.

In conclusion, I am very doubtful that this off-peak travel incentive will be effective in time to come, and I believe the government and its transport companies should have better ideas to solve this issue, such as adding more trains and buses on the tracks and roads to further improve its frequency and performing major overhauls to permanently undo the damage that has accumulated over years of poor maintenance. Ultimately SMRT needs to start solving the root problems, and not merely treating the surface symptoms.

Year 2011 is probably the most significant year ever since independance in 1965.

Year 2011 is the year that we experienced both darkest and brightest moments together
as fellow citizens of Singapore.

Year 2011 is a year of breakthrough for all of us here, despite facing different challenges
and experiencing difficult moments when Singaporeans here have to bear with certain implementation
and policies that the government has set for us.

Year 2011 is the year when new generation of youths (aged between 21 - 26 years old) wants to see
changes in the political arena even more, because eventually, this will affect their future,
for better or for worse. (That includes me as well as I am only 23-years old this year.)

Year 2011 is the year of leadership renewal for political parties, PAP and opposition alike.

And the list goes on……

Indeed, this year is a year of remembrance for all of us here. We may not remember every single event that happened throughout the year, but 1 thing that we will never forget (especially voters) is the 2 watershed elections, i.e., General Election 2011 (GE2011) and Presidential Election 2011 (PE 2011). It is because these 2 elections happened at the same year that probably awakened the minds of many Singaporeans souls here. As social media becomes the preferred platform, especially among the YFTV (Youth First Time Voters), we would be able to gain a deeper insight of the politics in Singapore. It becomes more significant when our state media does not reveal the flip side of the stories.

Fear is no longer a hindrance to us (at least for the 39.9% of voters who voted for opposition in May 2011 during GE2011). The Singaporeans that I know today certainly have even more guts. They have now stand up and speak out, especially in bread-and-butter issues like transport and housing. They are conveyed not only through social media (such as facebook, twitter, blogs, etc), but also on the ground. This can be witnessed in events such as Third Singaporeans’ First! Event organized by transitioning.org and ‘Give Up Your Seat’ organized by TheOnlineCitizen (TOC).

It is ironic that 60.1% of voters complain about the implementations and amendments of policies that the incumbent government has set for us (such as the rising transportation cost), and yet they still voted for PAP in May 2011 during GE2011. I feel that all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion, should come together as one, to send a strong message to our incumbent government, that we want to see a change in government. PAP has been the incumbent government since 1959. While it may have proved to be a successful party in the early days from 1959 up to 1990s, it did not proved to be so since GE2011, when we witness a growing number of enraged Singaporeans, who are very unhappy about what the PAP government has in place for us.

Personally, I feel that this is the top 3 in the list that Singaporeans are very unhappy about what was being done after GE2011: (and will always be remembered, at least until GE2016)

1)  The way SMRT handles its frequent train breakdowns that caused great inconvenience to thousands of commuters.
2)  Increasing bus, train and taxi fares that do not justify the quality of service to commuters.
3)  Remarks made by MP Seng Han Thong that irks fellow Singaporeans, especially the minority group.

Is this the kind of treatment that we deserved to get after GE2011, after contributing so much to the society in Singapore?

For male Singaporeans like me, we have sacrificed our 2 years of our time for National Service. Hence, when we look for job opportunities after that, we have to compete with foreign talents in the market. This includes foreigners, permanent residents and new citizens. There are times we find it hard because the age factor can be an advantage, and the fact that they do not need to worry about reservist as well. In the end, our ex Minister Mentor, LKY said that “it cannot be helped”. Is this the treatment that fellow male Singaporeans deserved to get? It is time to ponder once again.

Quoted from Democracy Watch: (http://www.dwatch.ca/democracy.html)

DEMOCRACY IS a society in which all adults have easily accessible, meaningful, and effective ways:

1)  to participate in the decision-making processes of every organization that makes decisions or
     takes actions that affect them, and;

2)  to hold other individuals, and those in these organizations who are responsible for making
     decisions and taking actions, fully accountable if their decisions or actions violate
     fundamental human rights, or are dishonest, unethical, unfair, secretive, inefficient,
     unrepresentative, unresponsive or irresponsible;

so that all organizations in the society are citizen-owned, citizen-controlled, and citizen-driven,
and all individuals and organizations are held accountable for wrongdoing.

I believe this is what we really wish to see in Year 2012, a year whereby true democracy can be happened in Singapore.

Of course, bread-and-butter issues cannot be neglected. In Year 2012, we expect the government to implement better policies and make amendments that will benefit fellow Singaporeans. That would make our lives brighter and better each day, instead of the rising unnecessary cost that causes the lives of Singaporeans to be affected in a negative way. (such as rising train fares that equates to more breakdowns instead of better services provided.)

To my dear Singaporeans, 7 months has passed since GE2011. 2011 is coming to an end soon. What are your resolutions for Year 2012? What changes do you wish to see for Singapore in Year 2012? What can you do your part to contribute to Singapore for the well-being of fellow Singaporeans?

May Year 2012 be a blessed new year and I wish everyone here all the best for your future endeavours! =D

I believe thousands of fellow commuters were greatly affected by SMRT’s Circle Line and North-South Line train disruptions for the past few days (Wednesday, Thursday, and even this morning), especially Thursday night’s case. Many have shared their sentiments on social media websites (facebook, twitters), blogs, and even on political websites like TheOnlineCitizen. Photos and videos that netizens uploaded on the internet has gone viral, and creative netizens even edited the original photos such as the one below:

Ever wonder why the situation was so bad that SMRT Train window glass had to be broken so as to provide ‘sufficient’ amount of ventiliation? For 24 years since its existance of SMRT Trains, I believe no one would have the guts to do such thing. Since the watershed General Election 2011, I realised that fellow Singaporeans started to show acts of bravery, doing things that we used to be afraid of doing it.

Its English translations says that “Singaporeans got guts, but Aljunied residents have it even more.

I believe many Singaporeans are enraged with policies, implementation and other things that involves both Singaporeans and government related bodies such as the recent SMRT train breakdown incidents.

Why is this so? (From now on I will relate everything to the recent SMRT train breakdown incident)

I believe 1 of the main reason is because of poor efficiency that SMRT has. Last Thursday night (after 7pm when the incident occured), several SMRT buses were taken off from its main revenue bus services to be deployed on MRT bridging service in various affected North-South Line MRT stations ranging from Bishan to Marina Bay.

Allow me to share my experience that I had last Thursday:

I was at Choa Chu Kang Bus Interchange at around 9pm waiting for bus 190 to Bukit Panjang. The moment I saw the long queue at this hour for this bus service towards New Bridge Road Bus Terminal, I already know that something must be wrong with its buses. True enough, some of the buses from this bus service were taken off at the very last minute to be deployed on MRT bridging service, which affects badly, the waiting time for bus 190. I believe this was the same case for some of the SMRT revenue (bus) services as well.

As you may have known that SMRT bus 190 is one of the most popular and high demanding service in terms of ridership, its returned trip from New Bridge Road Bus Terminal back to Choa Chu Kang Bus Interchange, has greatly inconvenience a lot of commuters and it’s believed that some of them did not managed to catch the last bus back.

1 solution I can offer to SMRT management, is that they can work together with SBS Transit, to see whether SBS Transit could provide efficient and reliable MRT bridging service since it has more spare buses definitely, with more new Wheelchair-Accessible Buses (WABs) rolling in. Older SBS Transit buses (such its current Volvo B10M Mark 3 buses and even Volvo Olympian 2-Axle Non Air-Con buses) should not be scrapped when its 17-19 years of lifespan are up , but instead kept it somewhere as spare buses, so that in times of crisis like this, these buses can be deployed immediately with spare bus drivers, so as not to compromise with the frequency of its revenue bus service.

Having said that, these spare buses must be well maintained on a constant basis, like once every month. This is to decrease the chances of having breakdown should this batch of spare buses be deployed on MRT Bridging service, just like the 3 photos below I took below today while I was on SBS Transit Bus 153 to Hougang from Toa Payoh:

While I was on SBS Transit bus 153, I saw this particular bus with this advertisment that caught my attention:

With frequent train breakdowns like this, how can we be assured that our tomorrow will be better? If the CEO of SMRT, Mdm Saw Phaik Hwa, has the ‘brightest mind’, our today and tomorrow will definitely be better, at least in the area of daily commuting activities.

Now let’s talk about this article that I read on The  Straits Times this morning.

Title: MRT breakdown: Don’t break the windows, says SMRT

If you are stuck inside a train, never smash the windows or force the doors open.

Stay calm and wait for help.

This was the advice from SMRT, a day after a massive service disruption led to about 4,000 commuters being stuck in trains that had stalled.

One frustrated commuter used a fire extinguisher to smash the glass on the door.

He should not have done so but considering the situation, he will not be penalised, SMRT officials said.

Senior vice-president for communications and services, Mr Goh Chee Kong, said that in the event of a power failure, there is a back-up system that will activate emergency lights within the carriages and provide ventilation.

If commuters have to disembark from the trains onto the tracks, the power supply will be cut off and staff deployed to guide them, he said.

Mr Goh said that SMRT works closely with schools and grassroots organisations to educate commuters on proper procedures to follow during an emergency.

Launched in 2006, the SMRT Community Emergency Preparedness programme reaches out to about 3,000 members of the public each year.

SMRT will continue to work closely with the community on the project, Mr Goh said.

My first question to SMRT is “Is the precious lives of the commuters more important? Or is it the ‘precious’ piece of window more important?”

SMRT’ urge the commuters to stay calm and wait for help. Waiting for help requires time, and by suffocating them in the train, they won’t be able to stay calm.

Common sense tell all of us here that the first thing to do while waiting for help is to break the window like what this brave soul who did it, and yet SMRT told us that we should never smash the windows or force the doors open.

It is also mentioned that there is an back-up system that will activate emergency lights within the carriages and provide ventilation. If there is ventiliation, why do we still see commuters fainting and being sent to hospital? Obviously it is because of insufficient amount of ventiliation that caused the brave soul to exercise his common sense by doing what he needs to do.

According to another article on The Straits Times, “it is believed that the man broke the window as his wife was ill and had difficulty breathing.” This proves to all of us even further that the man exercise his common sense by doing the right thing at the right time.

SMRT, on the other hand, does not exercise common sense, and was being insensitive to commuters like us.

I’m very sure that these 2 words ‘Income opportunity’ in this photo above caught the attention of many enraged commuters like you and me, and this has been spreading around virally on social media platforms such as facebook and twitter.

Therefore, I conclude that:
SMRT’s Efficiency Rating: 0 / 10 (Poor)
Commuters’ Efficiency Level = 10 / 10 (Great)

SMRT’s Common Sense Level = 0 / 10 (Poor)
Commuters’ Common Sense Level = 10/10 (Great)

新加坡人果然有种! (English Translation: Singaporeans certainly have guts!)

PAP looks to former cabinet minister to help win back Aljunied GRC
News source: Yahoo! Newsroom – Fri, Dec 2, 2011

Even though the next general election is more than four years away, the People’s Action Party (PAP) apparently has started to formulate strategies to win back ground support in Aljunied GRC.

Leading this effort will be former cabinet minister and party stalwart Lim Boon Heng, reported The Straits Times.

The former Jurong group representation constituency Member of Parliament, who retired from politics before the election this year, is said to be galvanizing party activists to form a team which aims to win the constituency back from the opposition Workers’ Party (WP), according to ST.

This move is in line with the thrust of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – also PAP secretary-general – that he outlined in a speech at the PAP convention last Sunday when he said that the party will not abandon its activists and the constituency.

Some party activists have been approached by Lim to share their concerns and thoughts on the constituency as a whole and why they had lost the election, said ST.

Acknowledging this, Lim, who has had 30 years of political experience, told the newspaper that he has held discussions with branch members in Aljunied GRC to ensure that certain programmes involving senior citizens continue. He is also keeping a lookout over engagement efforts involving the youth, ST reported.

When contacted, a key branch activist told Yahoo! Singapore that while he has not been approached by Lim, there have been consultations with other party leaders on state of affairs within the constituency. However, he declined to elaborate further.

The May election saw the Workers’ Party make a historic breakthrough by being the first opposition party to capture a GRC since the concept was implemented in 1988.

It won by 54.7 per cent of the votes, beating the PAP team headed by former foreign minister George Yeo.

While I appreciate his effort for trying to win back Aljunied GRC in GE2016 through his party activists there, I would think it’s a waste of his effort trying to do so based on my personal viewpoint.

First, he should know why Aljunied GRC was a hot seat all along for the previous few General Elections (GEs), because the opposing team was also an elite ‘A’ team comprises of capable MPs from Workers’ Party (WP). WP, as we may have known, is the longest surviving opposition party in Singapore since 1957.

In parliament, WP veteran MP, Mr Low Thia Khiang, stood up courageous, without fear or favour, to speak up for fellow Singaporeans, alongside with former NCMP Sylvia Lim (now a MP of Aljunied GRC). WP has earned the recognition and respect from us throughout all these years, and its volunteers + members of WP, has been working on the ground in certain constituencies on a constant basis, especially the hopeful ones like Aljunied GRC (which they have made it a success in the breakthrough of winning a GRC for opposition parties) and East Coast GRC (the next GRC that WP is likely to win in GE2016).

Second, he should also realised that his party has (and always been) making grave decisions and policies/implementations that does not consider the welfare being of fellow (true blue) Singaporeans. This will lead to angst and great disappointment among us which will gradually affect the ‘sandwich class’ and the lower class group of people especially. Many times, we always think that the incumbent government only knows how to ‘wayang’ and giving ‘carrots’ to us closer to election period, and this has always been a truth that we will NEVER forget all these while. It is always perceived by us that after GE, the incumbent government will be back to their usual ‘old self’.

I would like to share with you about my maiden experience in witnessing a Meet-The-People Session (MPS) at Kaki Bukit Division of Aljunied GRC that is helmed by WP.

In the MPS, the feeling is very different as compared to my constituency’s (Bukit Panjang SMC) MPS that I went to on a few occasions to complain to my MP (Dr Teo Ho Pin, MP for Bukit Panjang SMC and Mayor of North West District) about the bus services. I was considered fortunate to meet Dr Teo in person, unlike a few constituencies, such as the ones in Aljunied GRC (when it was under the PAP regime before May 2011), where constituents were given rejections from the volunteers when they requested to meet the MP personally (the reasons that they get was “because it’s a small case that they felt it wasn’t necessary to see the MP), and I personally got to hear that from a volunteer during my maiden trip to WP MPS in Kaki Bukit Division.

When I sit in for a few session between the volunteer (casewriter) and constituent, I can see the desperation that the constituent wants to meet the MP personally, even if the MP is a non-chinese (and I am very grateful for them to have translators to facilitate the communication betweent the MP and the constituent). I asked one of the veteran volunteers about the duration of the MPS, and he said that after the MPS, constituents are free to approach the MP and talk to him personally, and this can last as long as 1-2am plus. This is something that I am very impressed and never once I see PAP MPs that do the same thing after their MPS.

 

I remembered very clearly in the news that our ex-MM Mr Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that “if Aljinied voters decide to go this way, then they have 5 years to live and repent.” (from 1:50 onwards of the clip above) To me, this seems contradicting from what I see because constituents actually benefited a lot and are grateful to have them (WP) taking care of this 5 precious constituencies in Aljunied GRC. I see them enjoying more than ever before after May 2011, and clearly it shows that WP has won the hearts of not only the constituents in Aljunied GRC, but also many Singaporeans who admire/envy this wonderfully blessed constituency, and thinking that  “how they wish they are residing in Aljunied GRC area”, including myself.

Photo courtesy of Kristin

In this photo above (English translation: Singaporeans got guts, but Aljunied residents have it even more!), it tells us the courageous spirit that fellow Aljunied constituents have. I was there at the WP rally at Serangoon Stadium and it clearly shows the kind of unity and spirit that they have! Thankfully all the cheers and jeers translated into votes, we get to experience and witness this victorious breakthrough for the first time ever in Singapore’s Political History, ever since GRC was introduced in 1988.

 

This video clip above shows the victory cheers that Aljunied GRC residents that they had when WP won this GRC. When I first watched it, tears flow down my cheeks not because I am upset, but because I was overwhelmed with happiness, and the amazing unforgettable moments that they have, will always be remembered by many Singaporeans.

In conclusion, with all these achievements and spirits that Aljunied GRC residents have, will they even give anymore chance to PAP come GE2016? The answer is obvious, and till then, around 4.5 years from now, we shall see again!

Image
Photo Courtesy of Afiq Azman.

Just yesterday night, ChannelNewsAsia (CNA) reported that the world’s second-largest transport company, ComfortDelgro, has revised its current taxi charges, to be taken with effect from coming Monday. (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1169537/1/.html)

I remembered around 2 months ago, Singapore’s 2 public transport operator, SBS Transit (subsidiaries of ComfortDelgro) and SMRT Corporations (Buses and Trains) increased its bus & train fares by 1%, with the approval from the Public Transport Council (PTC).

According to SBS Transit’s website under “Financials” section, 3rd quarter of 2011’s profit was S$13.2m, 9% higher than 2nd quarter of 2011’s profit, which is S$12.1m.

According to SMRT’s website under “Financial Results” section, 3rd quarter of 2011’s group operating profit was S$42.1m, 0.7% lower than 2nd quarter of 2011’s group operating profit, which is $42.4m.

According to Singapore Business Review, it says under the ‘taxi’ section, that:
In Singapore, revenue from the taxi business increased by 6.1% to $191.7 million due mainly to a higher volume of cashless transactions and a larger operating fleet.

According to TheOnlineCitizen (based on the phone enquiry done by the writer to ComfortDelgro about their taxi rental cost), Taxi rental is charged at $83/day for ‘manual’ taxis and between $100 – $105 for ‘auto’ taxis, which translates to $30,295 – $38,325 per year.”

According to page A4 of The Straits Times on 6th December 2011, the Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, Mr Cedric Foo, mentioned that “it was important to note that the taxi industry was deregulated and therefore a free market.”

With profits being reported everywhere, I am puzzled by the reasons cited by The National Taxi Association for the revised taxi fares i.e., ” in view of the rapidly rising operating costs, especially diesel prices, the revision is “fair and timely” to help taxi drivers defray part of cost increases.”

Taxi operators (especially ComfortDelgro which initiated the revision of taxi fares) should really consider lowering the rental cost of their taxis. By doing so, it’s a win-win situation for both cabbies and commuters, such that taxi fares will remain constant in spite of increasing fuel price, and at the same time, maintain (or even increase) the ridership for taxi. When more people choose to commute by taxi (instead of car rental or other means of private transport), profits will increase, and this will be a win-win situation for both the operators and the cabbies who drives taxi for a living.

I am sure fellow Singaporeans like you and me will have this thinking that since ComfortDelgro decides to revise its taxi fares in such a way that we will pay even more than ever, from now on we shall not take taxi anymore, unless in emergency cases such as attending important meetings or life-and-death cases. Even so, we may have transport claims from our own companies according to HR benefit guideline.

Since this is the mindset of fellow Singaporeans here, surely the ridership for taxis will drop, and ultimately it’s not the commuters that will suffer (because they can choose to take public transport i.e. trains and buses instead), it’s the cabbies that get the worst hit, because this is their primary dependant for survival living.

Moreover, Mr Cedric Foo mentioned about deregulation of taxi industry and hence a free market, this will means greater opportunities for other taxi operators to offer cheaper taxi fares that are beneficial to both cabbies and commuters, that is, if they don’t follow the footsteps of the decision made by ComfortDelgro.

By this, I really hope SMRT or other taxi operators will not follow suit and instead lowering their taxi rental so as to boost their business and win back taxi commuters who previously used to commute by ComfortDelgro taxis, and eventually, ComfortDelgro will realise the negative effect of having this taxi revision that is implemented and initiated by them.

Nevermind about the revised taxi fare, let’s talk about the quality of taxi services.

STOMP website, as you may have known, has lots of reports from fellow citizens here pertaining to complains for various things or services, taxi-related complains are not spared.

Just to list a few cases of complains here:

  1. Cabbies refuse to pick up passengers at taxi stand — until peak hour starts (19th October 2011)
  2. Passengers board taxi, only for cabby to grumble they are not Caucasian (29th October 2011)
  3. Foreigner drops wallet in taxi, but cabby denies having seen it (30th October 2011)
  4. Cabby treats NSFs ‘like the plague’: 4 board taxi but he makes them get off (14th November 2011)
  5. She waited an hour for cab: They don’t stop or respond to bookings at around 10pm (2th December 2011)

With that, I conclude that revised taxi fares (in this case it’s considered as fare hike) does not necessary equate to better taxi services.

Just a summary of how the new revised charges will take effect from Monday, 12th December 2011:
(For ComfortDelgro taxis, i.e., Comfort taxis and Citycab taxis)

Current Flag Down – 1st km 
$2.80 (Crown)
$3.00 (Sonata)
$3.20 (Camry)
$3.20 (Limousine)
1km to 10km: $0.20 for every 385m
Above 10km: $0.20 for every 330m
Waiting time: $0.20 for every 45sec

Revised Flag Down – 1st km 
$3.00 (Crown)
$3.20 (Sonata)
$3.40 (Camry)
$3.90 (Limousine)
1km to 10km: $0.22 for every 400m
Above 10km: $0.22 for every 350m
Waiting time: $0.22 for every 45sec

Current Peak Period Surcharge 
35% of metered fare
Mon-Fri: 7.00am-9.30am
Mon-Sat: 5.00pm-8.00pm

Revised Peak Period Surcharge 
25% of metered fare
Mon-Fri: 6.00am-9.30am (not applicable on public holidays)
Mon-Sun and Public Holidays: 6.00pm-Midnight

Current City Area Surcharge 
$3.00
Mon-Sat: 5.00pm-Midnight

Revised City Area Surcharge 
$3.00
Mon-Sun and Public Holidays: 5.00pm-Midnight

Current Call Booking Fees
Current Booking
Peak Period: $3.50
Mon-Fri: 7.00am-9.30am, 5.00pm-11.00pm

Current Booking
All other times: $2.50

Advance Booking: $5.20

Revised Call Booking Fees
Current Booking
Peak Period: $3.30
Mon-Fri: 6.00am-9.30am (not applicable on public holidays)
Mon-Sun and Public Holidays: 6.00pm-Midnight

Current Booking
All other times: $2.30

Advance Booking: $8.00

Current Limousine Taxi Booking Fees 
Current Booking: $8.00
Advance Booking: $16.00

Revised Limousine Taxi Booking Fees 
Current Booking: $10.00
Advance Booking: $18.00

Current Public Holiday Surcharge 
$1.00 From 6.00pm on the eve of a Public Holiday to midnight of the day of the Public Holiday

Revised Public Holiday Surcharge 
Removed

More hawkers “sell off” stalls to cash in on high transfer fees
News source: CNA (Wed, 30th Nov 2011)

SINGAPORE: It seems that more hawkers are hoping to cash in on the high price of transferring their stall tenancies, because of concerns over changes to current procedures.

One hawker centre committee told Channel NewsAsia that stall holders charge a transfer fee of up to S$300,000, which they tend to pocket.

Most of those who have expressed interest in this procedure want to retire but have no successors for their business. 

The Kovan Hawker Centre Committee said that over the past few days, it was approached by three to four stall holders, all in their sixties, hoping to transfer their stalls.

That’s because they are worried that current guidelines may be reviewed.

Authorities currently do not track private transfer arrangements between hawkers.

Once transferred, the new stall holder will not enjoy the same subsidised rent, but instead has to follow market rates. 

And there are concerns that this may push up food prices.

According to the Kovan Hawker Centre Committee, the transferring of hawker stalls for a fee started at the centre 15 years ago.

The 28-year-old centre saw transfer fees double from S$150,000 to S$300,000 after its upgrading last year.

More than 20 of the initial 66 cooked food stalls at the centre have been transferred to new owners.

Lim Peng Yam, chairman of the Kovan Hawker Centre Committee, said: “We hope these new hawkers will bring in different kinds of food to the hawker centre and focus more on sales rather than margins. This will help bring down the cost of living.”

I have also read up about the ‘reply to Parliamentary Question on whether the NEA will review the policy of pegging hawker stall rentals to market rate for Parliament sitting on 21 Nov 2011’ on the Ministry of Environment and Water Resource (MEWR) website, and I shall share my personal viewpoints of the responses that was given to various Member of Parliament (MPs) who raised it during the parliamentary session 2 weeks ago.

I believe many Singaporeans (be it stall owners or patrons of it) are concerned about this, including myself, for fear that it will affect us badly when the time comes.

In response to Ms Denise Phua from the MEWR regarding the practice of allowing a Cash-over-Valuation (COV) or rather, the transfer fees in layman term, be sometimes as high as S$300,000, I believe it’s the arbirtrage and the advantage of the subsidised rate that causes the stall owners to decide to transfer the ownership and at the same time, get the lump sum of up to S$300,000. While this may benefit the previous owner because he/she enjoyed a subsidised rate yet at the same time having a good business, it may not benefit the new owner that has to pay for his/her monthly rental based on the market rate instead. When high transfer cost and higher monthly rental adds up together, it means higher operating expense for the new owners, and they may have to resort to push up the food prices that will affect especially the lower-income group who patrons the stalls just to satisfy their 3 basic meals a day.

“The point I am trying to make is that in fact, subsidies distort the market and do not necessarily lead to optimal outcomes. The policy position of the Ministry is that our hawker centres firstly is in the heartlands, secondly they can reflect tropical architecture so that means no air-conditioning, thirdly, the operator should be Singaporeans or Permanent Residents with Singaporean dependants, fourthly, the lease should be operated by the person who handed or rented the store. And this should be the hawker business and not the rental arbitrage business.”

Point #2, in MEWR’s response to Ms Denise Phua, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC

While I agree with the policy position of the Ministry, I wish to focus on the part on ‘subsidies distort the market’. Of course, in every policy or any other thing that is implemented, there are bound to have pros and cons, but the question is, at the end of the day, who are the ones that will benefit from it, in how will they benefit from it?

It did not start nor is it even today necessarily an option for providing jobs for people who have no other occupation available. That almost was an incidental effect. In the earlier years, I think you will have to go back to before the 90’s, there was a programme for people who had difficulty making ends meet and could not find any other job to be allocated a store. That policy was discontinued more than 20 years ago. So what we have today, if you look at the mix, is that about half of them enjoying subsidised rentals and these were legacy issues. People who previously enjoyed subsidised rental were also allowed to transfer their entitlement, to subsidised rental, to their family members. In a sense, there was a second generation of hawkers.

– Point #3, in response to Mr Lim Biow Chuan, MP for Mountbatten SMC

I am more concerned about the last sentence of point #3 that is being mentioned. What if none of their family members is able or willing to take over? This excludes the relatives of the owner, and if the stall ownership is being transferred to a new stall owner, will the fellow patrons be greatly affected due to the push up of food prices by that particular stall? Will the new stall owner’s business be greatly affected because of the fear that he/she will attract lesser patrons?

But for all the others, Ministry at that point, decided that it would be best and fair to allocate the stalls according to market demand. So these stalls, you realise, do have a market value because it generates income for the operator. And the fairest way of doing it was to let a market price discovery mechanism occur and that has been the way it has worked since then. But even with that in place, because of the way our hawker centres are structured, you will find that the market rentals paid in a hawker centres are still significantly lower than that in a private food court or certainly in a restaurant, so there is a clear difference.

– Point #4, in response to Mr Lim Biow Chuan, MP for Mountbatten SMC

A simple question I wish to ask the MEWR: Define ‘significantly lower’. I believe the range for ‘significantly lower’ is pretty broad, and hence, I wish to know how they define their range of it.

Perhaps, my suggestion to MEWR would be that they should implement a maximum cap fees for transferring of stall ownership that should not be too high (probably the maximum of $200,000 or below?), and scrap the guideline of following market rate for stall rental fees, for the benefit of fellow Singaporeans, at least for new stall owners who are struggle for a living in their initial stage of starting their hawker business in the hawker center.

P.S: 1 of my relatives owns a store at Kovan Hougang Market and Food Center (the name ‘hawker center’ has since been renamed as ‘food center’) and I would like to ask her during CNY 2012 visit if there is a chance. =)