The case against Distance Based Fare

Distance Based Fares kicked in since the 3rd of July this year, and so far it has generated plenty of discontent among passengers. I had been very supportive of distance based fares, because in a logical manner, distance based fare would make everything more fair. The move to distance based fares was said to help those who travel long distances, and is probably step one of any plan to remove long distance buses. It is said that about a third of the passengers would see an increase in fares, with the rest either maintaining or having a reduction in the fares.

But yet if Distance Based Fares were supposedly fairer, why are we generating much complaints? For the purpose of this discussion, let us ignore complains that the current statistics involving people with increased fares is much higher than 33%. This is because, surely, people with a reduction in fares would be less inclined to share the information, and people who saw an increase would be unhappy and hence be more proactive in dishing out the info. In addition, most of us do not really remember the fare before. We only have a bit of a rough idea, and hence we cannot be sure the exact increase / decrease in the fare.

The sad thing about the Distance Based Fare in Singapore is that it is really not entirely distance based. There seems to be some other variable that affects the fares. For one, it seems that amongst my circle of friends, that multiple transfers is better than a single bus trip. I am not entirely sure if the distance covered in both instances are the same, but assuming that they are roughly the same, then it makes no sense that we are encouraging multiple transfers, unless it is part of a wider plan to remove long distance bus services.

However, I do have proof that the formula does involve something other than distance. If distance based fares are only based on distance, then my MRT trip from Clementi to Lakeside should have the same cost. This is not the case. I have two scenarios drawn out, with both scenarios requiring me to take bus 96 from two parts of NUS to Clementi Interchange before changing to the MRT to go back to Lakeside. Assuming it is entirely distance based, I should get the same cost for the MRT part of the journey, and different costs for the bus leg.

The above shows the fares if I took the bus at the first stop in NUS, at Engineering LT7A.

The above shows the fares if I took the bus from Computer Center, 3 stops away from LT7A. Hence this is the one with the shorter bus journey. Looking at the bus fares, it seems to be distance based. However, why is the MRT fares different? Although I still pay cheaper for shorter distance travelled (as compared to scenario 1), it makes no sense that the MRT fares would differ.

Surely this is proof that there is some other variable at work?

I took the above screenshots from the Distance Fares Calculator provided at

The idea behind distance based fares is noble. The anger against distance based fares has, honestly, nothing to do with the concept of distance based fares, but how distance based fares were implemented. Surely, when transparency is touted as one of the pillars of our governance, that we should see some transparency in how the fares are being calculated? This is because when a noble idea is tweaked, it would cease being noble and become unfair instead.

6 thoughts on “The case against Distance Based Fare

  1. There are also complains that fares for bus->mrt and mrt->bus are different, although I have not experienced it so far even when I try using the calculator. It is in my opinion that such cases arise when the bus stops are not directly opposite of each other, but some distance apart. As such, this is one weakness of the system.

  2. it’s because different ‘km block’ has different price differences, and the ‘earlier’ blocks (after the default 3.2km one) has bigger increase initially.

    starting with 71 cents for <=3.2km, it then goes for every additional km or part thereof:

    so for your case 1, ur mrt trip would span from 81-129, while in case 2, ur mrt trip would span from 71 to 125. that's why the same mrt trip appear to cost differently to you.

    1. Thanks Jh for that nugget of information. It now makes sense. In a way its still not what I thought it should be, but its fine.

      Hi, thanks for commenting. I would refrain from engaging in such meaningless discussions. No goverment in any part of the world would escape such criticism. I guess more transparency should be levied. Or we should trust the public transport council to only recommend fare increases when necessary. We wont know what goes on behind closed doors anyway. But overall distance based fare is something to be adopted, whether fare increase accompanies such a policy is something else altogether. Lets not destroy the beauty of distance based fares by mixing it with the ugliess of fare increases.

  3. I am a senior citizen.

    I stay in Shunfu (Upper Thomson). Before the implementation of the distance-based system, all senior citizens had to pay $0.73 to anywhere in Singapore.

    Now when I travel to Changi Airport using the Circle and EW lines to do voluntary work, I have to pay $1.05. This is an increase of almost 50%.

    Another time when I travelled from my house to the Esplanade, I had to pay $0.93.

    With this drastic increase, how can we encourage the seniors to remain active?

    Before the implementation, it was estimated that 2/3 of commuters will beifit. How that was arrived at, I do not know.

    Now that the system is implemented, why not make an actual survey to see how many losers and how many winners out there?

  4. Hi there,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that an actual survey should be done to find out whether the estimation was correct. If the estimation is wrong, then perhaps we should be tweaking our fare structure again!

    I do not understand why we could accept a flat fee for students below tertiary level and senior citizens in the past and now we cannot do the same. Having worked and contributed to Singapore’s economy for so many years, I would have thought it to be better to give senior citizens more money by charging less on fares.

    I applaud you for having an active lifestyle and even doing volunteer work. That is admirable. Perhaps if they cannot return to a flat fee for senior citizens, they can at least give more subsidies to people like you who volunteer and contribute back to the country.

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