Key performance indicators such as the number of train withdrawals and service delays have been improving in recent years as a result of a change to the approach to maintenance adopted by public transport providers.
“But while the statistics show improvement, the recent incidents are a stark reminder that we still have a significant way to go”, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in Parliament on Wednesday (Mar 11).
Mr Lui noted that for most of 2014, public transport operators have made “significant inroads in improving reliability”. For instance, the number of train withdrawals on the North-South (NSL) and East-West Lines (EWL) were halved to 1.1 per 100,000 train-km, compared to 2.2 in 2013 – back to 2007 standards.
“I feel that we can do better in the coming years as this improved rate is still double that of the North East Line and Circle Line,” he qualified.
Service delays lasting more than five minutes have also improved on the NSL and EWL, down to 1.3 in 2014 compared to 1.6 in 2012 – an improvement of close to 20 per cent, the minister said.
Similarly, the withdrawal rate for the Bukit Panjang LRT had come down to 4.5 per 100,000 car-km in 2014, compared to 6.1 in 2012. For the Sengkang-Punggol LRT, it was 0.7 in 2014, compared to 1.5 in 2012, he said.
Commuters were more satisfied with public transport last year. Survey results involving over 4,000 people showed satisfaction levels improving from 88.5 per cent in 2013, to 91.3 per cent last year.
Satisfaction with train services hit 92.8 per cent, after a four-year decline, while for buses, it was up for a second year to reach 90.2 per cent, from 88.3 per cent in 2013.
Mr Lui said: “It reflected the prevailing sentiments that commuters were starting to feel the effect of the improvements and investments that we have made in our buses and trains over the last few years.
“And for the MRT, I must point out that we look at a range of attributes, from waiting time, to reliability to comfort and so on, and the attributes that had scored the highest for at least the past two years were safety and security.”
‘I AM MOST UPSET’
However, a recent spate of breakdowns has shown that much work still needs to be done, said Mr Lui.
“While I can accept the occasional breakdown or even a more severe disruption if it occurs very rarely, I am most upset with the current situation in the last few weeks,” he said.
“The operators must persevere and redouble their efforts to do better. They need to intensify their maintenance regime, undertake additional preventive and detection measures, as well as improve their processes to enable prompt and effective response to maintenance issues,” he said, adding that his ministry will work with these companies to continue with track renewal and mid-life upgrades of their trains.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will augment SMRT with additional engineering expertise where required, and will also step up audits of the latter’s maintenance procedures and resources.
“In the event of a disruption, like in the Bukit Panjang LRT incident, LTA will require SMRT to deploy more service ambassadors to better assist commuters,” Mr Lui said. “I would like to assure Members that we will spare no effort to find out the cause of the recent spate of breakdowns, and take the necessary steps to stem the problems.”
In January, the LTA announced a higher bar set for Singapore’s rail network to cut waiting times and disruptions. For instance, it plans to further tighten the Operating Performance Standards (OPS) for train frequencies during morning, evening and shoulder peak periods for the North-South and East-West Line, North East Line and Circle Line. This will be introduced progressively from 2016.
By 2019, there will be 99 new trains, for the North-South and East-West Line, North East Line and Circle Line. Mr Lui said: “We are constructing these new lines at a pace unprecedented in Singapore’s history. By 2030, our rail network will be almost as dense as New York and London, and we would have achieved this in under 50 years, compared to the more than 100 years that it took the two cities.”
“The overall train fleet will increase by about 50 per cent and we can expect that peak period wait times will come down by 25 per cent on average across all train lines,” he added.
WHAT ABOUT WOMEN-ONLY CABINS?
In response to suggestions by Members of Parliament Lily Neo and Low Thia Kiang to deploy women-only train cabins, Mr Lui said this idea had been raised and looked at carefully before.
“There are practical difficulties and challenges, such as how to and how strictly to enforce the rule, and also how this could sub-optimise the capacity of our trains,” the minister said.
“From the experience of other systems, the women-only cabins are often utilised less, meaning that more commuters will have to crowd into the other cabins or wait for the next train.”