$42 million spent on free pre-peak MRT rides in Singapore over the last 4 years

If you’re one of those early birds who have been travelling pre-peak to enjoy free MRT rides, you are in for a treat!

The Ministry of Transport has asked the Public Transport Council (PTC) to assess if such “tiered fares” could be made permanent.

Since 2013, 65,000 commuters have benefited from free pre-peak travel.

Basically, they have to reach any of the 18 MRT stations in the CBD area before 7.45am. If they alight at these stations between 7.45am and 8am, they will enjoy a discount of up to 50 cents.

Singaporeans love anything free but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Here are 3 things you need to know about free pre-peak MRT rides that may be made ‘set in stone’.

1) S$42 million spent in 4 years

That’s how much the authorities spent on the pre-peak travel scheme over the last 4 years of trial – S$32 million from June 2013 to June 2016 and S$10 million from July 2016 and June 2017.

It was supposed to end on June 30 this year but they extended it till end 2017.

While it helps to ease peak-period congestion on the rail network, a huge cost is involved to fund this scheme.

So how sustainable is this in the long-run? This leads us to our next two point – money has to come from somewhere.

2) Fare review is coming soon

The PTC is currently conducting the annual fare review exercise. So will our fares be adjusted upwards or downwards?

While it may seem ridiculous to increase train fares with the recent spate of breakdowns, the PTC already hinted what may be in store for commuters.

Over the next five years, the Government will spend $20 billion on new infrastructure, $4 billion investment on rail operating assets and $4 billion on bus contracting subsidies.

That’s $28 billion in total. The PTC is aware that they cannot ignore these rising operating costs.

Another clue on the outcome of the 2017 fare review? PTC said rail fares are among the lowest in Asia and are “considerably lower” than other countries outside of Asia.

You might be comforted to know that the last time there was a fare hike was in April 2015 – that’s more than 2 years ago.

3) Travel demand during peak is still high

Free pre-peak travel has helped to shave off the travel load in the morning but it is still very crowded during rush hours.

According to a business insider article, 200,000 commuters travel around 8am to get to work by 9am.

While more companies are offering flexi hours, not all workers enjoy this privilege.

PTC said that “the concentration of travel within a few hours each day is resource-intensive and inefficient” and “a more sustainable solution is to spread out travel demand across the day.”

It seems like PTC is looking at ways to encourage people to travel pre-peak and off-peak. Basically anything but peak hours.

Well, one way to nudge people to travel outside of peak hours is to make it more expensive to travel during peak.

Just look at the ERP rates to get in and out of the city area during rush hours – the concept is similar.

If train fares are increased during peak hours, this may help to fund the costs for free pre-peak MRT rides.

We will know in due time.

Photo credits: Business Times and The Straits Times

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