SINGAPORE — Public transport fares here are set to rise from Dec 23, following the Public Transport Council’s (PTC) announcement on Monday (Sept 18) that fares will increase by up to 11 cents.
The fare formula output for this year was a 12 per cent increase, which the PTC attributed to rising energy prices, higher core inflation and strong wage growth last year.
However, the PTC granted a fare increase of only 7 per cent, deferring the remaining 15.6 per cent, which included a rollover from the previous fare review, to future fare review exercises in a “carefully calibrated” decision to ensure fares remain affordable while reflecting rising operating costs.
Despite the latest fare revision being the largest hike since the increase of seven cents in 2019, the PTC maintains that fares are affordable and are comparable to, or lower than, other global cities.
TODAY speaks to transport analysts on whether public transport fares in Singapore are truly affordable and how prices compare to other global cities.
HOW DO S’PORE’S FARES COMPARE TO OTHER GLOBAL CITIES?
A report released by the PTC on April 25 compares public transport fares across the cities of Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Paris, London, Singapore and Sydney.
After adjusting for currency exchange rates as of March this year, the report found that Singapore ranked among cities with the lowest fare range.
An adult journey fare using a transit card for trains and buses is S$0.99 to S$2.26, lower than Paris which has a flat €2.10 cost (S$3) and Sydney, which has a range of A$3.79 (S$3.40) to A$7.24 for trains and A$3.20 to A$5.05 for buses.
Singapore’s fares are also lower than London, where train rides cost from £1.90 (S$3.10) to £5.60 and a flat £1.75 cost (S$2.90) for buses.
Fares here are comparable to cities such as Seoul, which averages a range of 1,250 won (S$1.30) to 3,650 won for adult journey card train fares and 1,000 won to 2,400 won for bus trips, depending on the service.
Singapore’s fares are within range of cities like Hong Kong, which ranges from HKD 4.70 (S$0.80) to HKD 28.70 for rail and HKD 3.50 (S$0.60) to HKD 14.20 for buses. Taipei’s rail fares range from NTD 20 (S$0.90) to NTD 65 and NTD 15 (S$0.70) to NTD 45 for buses.
This comparison, however, did not take into account the impending 10 to 11 cent fare hike here from Dec 23, which will put an adult journey fare from S$1.09 to S$2.37.
After the price hike, the range of Singapore’s fares still remain lower than cities such as Paris, Sydney and London while continuing to be within the ranges of cities such as Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong.
IS PUBLIC TRANSPORT AFFORDABLE FOR AVERAGE AND LOWER-INCOME S’POREANS?
Experts said that while such a comparison shows that Singapore fares are generally affordable, it is important to consider this from the perspective of average and lower-income Singaporeans, who are the most likely to use public transport.
Associate Professor Terence Fan from Singapore Management University pointed out that while other cities like Paris may have higher adult single journey fares, car ownership is affordable in these places and dedicated bicycle lanes make it easier for workers to seek alternatives to public transport.
In Singapore, however, alternatives to public transport such as private-hire cars may be inaccessible for lower-wage workers, said Assoc Prof Fan.
Transport engineering consultant Gopinath Menon agreed that there is a “significant difference” in the public transport and private transport policies of Singapore and the other cities in the PTC report.
Given that widespread usage of private cars are discouraged in Singapore, “a larger proportion of the travelling public are captive users” than in other cities, he said.
For heavy public transport users in Singapore, there is an option of the adult monthly pass. But at S$128, the pass is more costly than Taipei and Paris and rail- only passes in Hong Kong and Seoul. However, Singapore’s pass is cheaper than a comparable unlimited travel pass in London.
Experts however pointed out that the dollar cost of the monthly passes should not be the point of comparison and instead there is a need to look at what percentage of income a commuter spends on transport.
“Affordability is a relative measure between price and income,” said Associate Professor Raymond Ong from National University of Singapore’s department of civil and environmental engineering.
Rather than a “dollar-to-dollar” comparison of cost of passes across countries, a more accurate comparison would take into account Singapore’s tax rate and disposable income level, he said.
The affordability of passes for lower-income households in Singapore can also be dependent on additional help from the Public Transport Fund, Mr Menon said, which provides public transport vouchers.
These vouchers are distributed to eligible households during fare hikes and can be used to buy monthly concession passes or top up fare cards.
The PTC in announcing the fare hike on Monday said that even with the increase in prices, the monthly public transport spending as a percentage of household income for these households that are considered “average” and “lower-income” remains unchanged.
It also introduced a new hybrid monthly concession pass for Workfare Transport Concession Scheme card holders priced at S$96 to support lower-wage workers.
Some experts however pointed out that Singapore could consider offering more concessions for specific groups.
Prof Fan gave the example in Hong Kong where elderly and eligible persons with disabilities pay a flat fee of HKD2 (S$0.35) on most transport modes.
Dr Walter Theseira, a transport economist from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) said, however, that increasing concessions for some groups means loading more of the fare increase on standard fares.
“The money for these schemes doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes either from government subsidies or from arranging the fare structure such that adult commuters subsidise them.”
Dr Theseira added that future fare increases will likely widen the difference between the price of single fares and travel passes, “holding down” the share of overall costs paid by lower-income commuters.
SHOULD COST BE THE ONLY COMPARISON WHEN IT COMES TO AFFORDABILITY?
Experts TODAY spoke to said that cost is not the only factor that should be considered when measuring the affordability of public transport.
Dr Theseira said that beyond the “dollar cost” of public transport, it is important to look at the “time cost” and “access cost”, or convenience of public transport.
He added that “the affordability metric tells us very little about the quality of transport service”.
For example, in cities such as London and New York, Dr Theseira said that the cost is often not the main concern for commuters since suburban lines are often subsidised.
However, on the outskirts, access to a regular bus schedule is often a concern, especially for bus routes run on lower budgets.
“A context that looks at fares alone is actually an incorrect comparison in many cases, because you also have to consider accessibility and frequency,” he added.
Regular and frequent services are common in Singapore, unlike other cities where more private transport options may be available, Dr Theseira said.
In addition to how much it costs to ride a bus or train, Dr Theseira said that commuters also measure how much they are willing to pay for public transport based on whether the transport system is “safe, reliable, and of high quality”.
Assoc Prof Ong said that some ways of measuring quality include the mean number of kilometres between failures for rail, the percentage of scheduled trips which actually run on each bus service, the percentage of buses that run to schedule, safety, and bus load during peak hours.
In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority uses these parameters as key performance indicators for public transport operators.
Assoc Prof Ong said that measured on these factors, Singapore is on par with other major cities.
Agreeing, Assoc Prof Fan said that Singapore ranks very highly in terms of quality of public transport, citing the cleanliness and reliability of services here.