It was with great fanfare earlier that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the switch to distance-based fares from 3 July 2010. LTA had claimed that "It corrects an inequity in the previous system - where those who make transfers ended up paying more for their journeys than those who make direct journeys for the same distance traveled on the same mode." Distance Fares, LTA tells us, is a fairer system as commuters pay the same fare for the same distance travelled on the same mode of travel, regardless of whether they make transfers.
Then someone pointed out that LTA's computations of the distances were wrong in several instances. Commuters soon discovered that they had been paying extra - for between 0.1km and 2.4km more than their actual distance travelled. LTA quickly covered up by saying the errors were due to "changes on the ground" such as road diversions. Are we daft enough to believe contractors can dig up public roads without informing LTA?
When more discrepancies were brought up, they ran out of credible excuses, and invented the line that "travelling time - and not just distance - is also used to charge train commuters under Singapore's distance-based fares system." Apparently this takes into account walking and waiting time. Nope, they did not specify if walking was assumed at tongkat speed or Olympian speed [insert shameless plug for YOG here] .
Any motorist with a decent GPS system knows he has a choice of route selection based on shortest distance or shortest travel time. The former may end up with wasted time at traffic lights, and the latter favours expressways which usually result in longer road journeys. The driver has the discretion to over-ride the onboard computer in light of real-time traffic conditions. Public transportation is less flexible.
Train tracks and bus routes are predetermined by the experts at LTA. As are train and bus schedules. If there was a mix-and match-opportunity with the previous transfer system, the new distance-based method, which discourages transfers, effectively puts an end to the discussion. It was either four legs good, or four legs bad. Or is it two legs better now?
The bottomline is the Public Transport Council promise that the majority, or 63% of commuters will see average fare savings of $0.48 a week (or $25 a year), based on data LTA supplied from purportedly actual weekly travel profiles of commuters. And when commuters end up paying more for public transportation than they did before (some computed fare increases from the new Distance Fare system range from 3.75% to more than 7%), they know that another dose of the Orwellian doublespeak in Animal Farm is being unleashed on the public.
Just listen to the yarn that Minister for Transport Raymond Lim spun in parliament on Monday about both SBS Transit and SMRT expecting to lose $32 million this year alone, relative to how much they would have earned without distance-based fares. How can they dare to lose money if SMRT revenues grew 9 percent to $235 million from last year, and SBS Transit grew 6.5 percent to $179.83 million? If the distance-based fares will cost public transport operators $88 million a year in revenue as he claims, why did Lim go ahead with the exercise? Is he getting tired of the millions clogging up the bank account? Is he authorised to dump money like Temasek? In time, we'll know the truth whenthe directors' fees and bonuses are totalled up at the end of the year.