Public Transport Council is weird

I read a letter on The Straits Time’s forum today. It was a letter written by the Public Transport Council explaining why it rejected SMRT’s application to have a premium bus service for Springleaf estate. Apparantly, the PTC requires that premium bus services be expensive, and there is a minimum fare. All fares must be higher than this minimum.

The PTC has a concern that if the fares are too cheap, people will swop to taking those premium buses. Hence, demand for other buses will drop, and bus operators will apply for a withdrawal of bus services due to low demand (and of course profitability).

All these sounds logical. But are they? This just merely gives me the impression that the PTC isn’t really working for the consumers, and I will explain why I am confused.

The idea that SMRT can actually find a profitable route, and even charge at a lower bus fare, seems to be good news to me. But firstly, let us discuss the price. For the premium bus service to actually adversely affect demand, it means that the price may be so low that commuters want to switch, or that commuters do not mind paying a slightly higher price for a more premium bus service. The idea is that SMRT has found a profitable way of doing things, and why not allow them to do so?

My logic is this: If SMRT can find a way to make a route profitable, and yet beneficial to commuters (so much that they will actually take the bus and affect existing bus services), then it means that their bus route is far superior to the existing bus routes. In my opinion, this is actually highlighting a gross problem with our transport routes now. Perhaps there is a way to change existing bus routes such that bus companies find it profitable, and commuters actually get better services (in the form of less waiting time etc).

Isn’t that what’s competition all about? Continued innovation so that commuters will benefit because bus routes that are lousier than existing alternatives will be scrapped? I understand that the PTC needs to protect certain routes, because some routes may be unprofitable but yet vital. However, for certain cases, when a new route can benefit the commuters more, shouldn’t this signal to the PTC that change is in order?

Ironically, just yesterday afternoon, a friend of mine actually waited for a SMRT bus for 30 minutes! Isn’t it just a month ago that PTC gave the public transport industry a good grade? Didn’t the PTC say that buses arrive on time and have a comfortable frequency so commuters do not need to wait long for a bus? All these just means that there is much to be done, but no one is doing it.

Perhaps something should be done.

It was for the commuters’ sake
IN LAST Friday’s article, (‘After the table tennis storm, an awakening’), Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC Lee Bee Wah, cited the Public Transport Council’s (PTC) rejection of SMRT’s application last year to run a premium bus service (PBS) to serve Springleaf estate at a fare lower than the minimum stipulated under the PBS scheme as ‘nonsense’.

She asked whether the PTC looks after commuters’ interest.

The PTC imposes on PBS a minimum fare of 1.5 times the basic bus fares to protect the viability of basic bus services. Basic bus operators have a universal service obligation that requires them to run basic bus services for at least 18 hours a day, including unprofitable routes within their areas of responsibility where demand justifies it. PBS operators, on the other hand, are free to cherry-pick the more lucrative routes and time slots, including routes that duplicate basic bus routes.

Without the fare guideline, the PBS will cannibalise the ridership of the basic bus services. When this happens, the basic bus operator may apply to the PTC to withdraw the bus services or reduce their frequency on the basis of low demand.

Other commuters, including the less well-off who depend on such basic bus services would be disadvantaged. This is an outcome we want to avoid. For this reason, the PTC seeks to ensure that overall, basic bus services can remain financially viable.

SMRT had applied to run a PBS to serve Springleaf estate and Yio Chu Kang MRT station. It proposed a fare that did not comply with the guideline. In rejecting the application, the PTC also suggested to SMRT how it could revise its application whilst keeping the fare low. Regrettably, SMRT decided to re-submit the same application. The PTC, therefore, had to reject it a second time.

SMRT subsequently took up PTC’s suggestion of a point-to-point shuttle bus service which could charge a lower fare than PBS. This was approved and the service was implemented in December last year.

In deciding on Ms Lee’s appeal, the PTC had to consider the implications of acceding to SMRT’s non-compliant PBS application, which would undermine the intent of the guideline and have longer-term adverse effects on all commuters, including those from Ms Lee’s constituency.

Hence, the PTC’s decision to reject SMRT’s earlier applications is in the commuters’ interest and not nonsensical as Ms Lee has unfortunately made it out to be.

Looi Teik Soon
Public Transport Council

ST Forum letter is quite bullshitty

I saw this letter in The Straits Times today and I can’t help but feel that this letter sounds totally wrong. Before I continue, please do read the letter:

Give PRs a fair chance during P1 registration
I READ with interest last Wednesday’s letter by Mr Chong Kim Hwa, ‘Primary 1 registration: Separate citizens, PRs’.

I agree with the idea of granting a place to children who already have siblings in the school. But I wish to counter other points made by Mr Chong.

First, his claim that prioritisation of citizens over non-citizens is fair and impartial. The reason he gave is that the number of new permanent residents is higher than the number of births.

The number of PRs granted was 50,000, whereas the number of births was around 40,000. The fact that the Government is willing to grant foreign talent PR implies that there are sufficient places in Singapore schools for children of PRs and citizens.

Second, Mr Chong suggested balloting if there are insufficient places after citizens are allocated theirs. He assumed that there will always be sufficient places for citizens and no balloting is required. Is this assumption backed by data? What happens in the event that balloting is required for citizens?

Third, the Government is encouraging foreign talent to settle in Singapore and contribute to the economy. A major consideration for foreign talent who are considering Singapore is the guarantee of places for their children in our world-class schools.

Thus, the process Mr Chong proposed runs contrary to the strategy and effort of the Government to attract foreign talent. In the long run, this will cause them to seek other countries that will welcome them as much as our Government does.

I would like to end by posing a question to Mr Chong.

How would you feel if you migrated to another country, contributed to the economy of your adopted country but your children were given lowest priority in school enrolment?

At first, I thought it all sounded very convincing, but after thinking it through, I was thinking that this is totally bullshit. The value of a citizenship vs a permanent residence status has always been hotly debated. It is a common consensus that Singaporeans feel that Foreigners and PRs seem to be of a higher class than Singapore citizens, or at least, the government sees it that way.

What I think is, this whole foreign talent term is a huge load of bull. It’s been abused so much that people seem to equate foreigners == foreign talent. Which is plain stupid because not all foreigners are talents. You’re telling me that you contribute to the economy = foreign talent and for that you’re supposed to be the same as citizens or even higher? Bullshit.

What this letter writer seems to imply is even more stupid. The thing is that the writer is comparing between PRs and Citizens, and she wants both to be on equal footing. She seems to claim that foreign talents are vital to powering the economy, and my question is this: “Is it that Singaporeans are not capable of powering the economy?”

The thing is simple, no country would ever give everyone equal benefits. If PRs can get the same benefits as Singaporeans, then why be a Singaporean? We might as well be a citizen at another country, and a PR in Singapore, and it’ll be like dual citizenship isn’t it?

I say, if you want a fair chance, then why not become a Singaporean?

How would you feel if you migrated to another country, contributed to the economy of your adopted country but your children were given lowest priority in school enrolment?

Comparing citizens with PRs! PRs are already one rung higher than complete foreigners isn’t it? I don’t think the government is preventing anyone from being a Singaporean, in fact I think they are encouraging people to take up the Singapore citizenship. Hence I feel that there is nothing to stop the writer from taking up the Singapore citizenship. I doubt other countries are different from Singapore. I believe that if I ever migrate, I won’t be treated on equal grounds to true citizens, and I won’t expect them to anyway.

ST Forum letter on tuition for students

I got to say, initially I agreed with the letter when it questioned this: “What is wrong with our education system today, where we are so reliant and dependant on private tuition and enrichment classes?”

There are two kinds of people who ended up going for tuition:
1) Those who are too weak in a particular subject
2) Those who are too kiasu

It is the (2) people that I am worried about. Those so called top school students who have tuition teachers coaching them on plenty of subjects when they should be able to cope by themselves, being “top school” students. Ultimately, if they decide to choose coaching over other activities, there is nothing we can do about it. Technically, it is not wrong. After all, you either study yourself, or get someone to study with you isn’t it?

Anyway, the letter begins to deviate into creating illusions when the writer talks about enrichment classes like MindChamps and Adam Khoo, saying that they cost a lot. The writer also says that poorer families are at a disadvantage because they cannot afford. Or are they?

To put it simply, does your child need to go for these so called motivational camps? The answer is fairly simple. No. It’s not compulsory and you do not need it to do well. Tuition and enrichment classes, by default are not these camps. You can get a fairly cheap tutor to coach your child in a few subjects, and if your child puts in the required effort, he or she can improve. Simple as that. It is not required to go for motivational camps. Hence, what disadvantage are there? From my point of view, the writer is kiasu and jealous because his son’s friends go for Adam Khoo whilst he has no money to afford.

The writer goes on to say: “The present education system is counter-productive to producing well-educated and well-balanced students. Instead of enjoying studying, students are stressed out and failing in too many subjects.” I agree that Singapore is a stressful place, where you have to put in effort to excel, but you do not need to put in plenty of effort to pass. Passing is easy. Getting that A is not. To put things in perspective, if the writer’s son is failing in too many subjects, perhaps he is trying too hard to be well-balanced, in the sense that he is over-balanced in trying to have other “outside” activities like games and hanging out. We have to take responsibility when we fail. Blaming the education system is not good because tens of thousands of us have already gone through the system and we do not see what the big deal is.

In the real working world, is the boss going to say “It’s ok that you cannot do this, just do slowly and try your best? Don’t forget to knock off early and have some exercise at the gym.”? Of course not.

Besides, whether it is stressful or not depends on your personal attitude. My friend can be happy and contented with B’s, but I may not be. Hence I may be stressed out whilst they are not. I guess the question is, “What are you trying to achieve?”

Hence aim well. Don’t reach for Pluto when you can only touch the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. Tuition is not a big deal if you want your son to pass. Tuition does not cost 2 to 3k a month. Some parents need to wake up.

Schools should not rely on it and ministry should act

WHEN I attended a teacher-parent meeting because I was told that my Secondary 4 son had fared poorly in his school examinations, I was shocked. I expected to see a handful of parents and their children. Instead, it seemed as if the school had summoned all the parents.

When I questioned several teachers why so many of his classmates had also fared poorly, the standard responses were along the lines that my son’s class was ‘a very challenging class to teach’.

My son needed more help, I was told. Their suggestion was that ‘he sign up for tuition lessons and attend all the remedial classes we have planned for the holidays’.

What is wrong with our education system today, where we are so reliant and dependant on private tuition and enrichment classes? This is great news for tuition centres and the enrichment centres like Mindchamps, Adam Khoo, SuperCamp for kids, Lorna Whiston, Julia Gabriel, Shichida and the lot, who charge very high fees and make big bucks due to the very real fear and desperation of parents who want their children to do well.

But what if you are not in the ‘privileged group’ who can afford the thousands of dollars needed for tuition? What if you are a heartlander struggling to make ends meet?

Will your child be able to keep up with children from more privileged backgrounds, whose parents shell out $2,000 to $3,000 every few months for various extra private tuition classes?

The present education system is counter-productive to producing well-educated and well-balanced students. Instead of enjoying studying, students are stressed out and failing in too many subjects.

The Ministry of Education must be more proactive in ensuring that students are less reliant on external tuition or enrichment classes, and ensure a well-balanced education for all.

Tan Eng Hong

Explaning 20 cents + GST for charity show donations

Singtel has written a response letter today to The Straits Times forum, explaining why there’s a 20 cents extra charge for a charity show. Apparently, it has to do with the 1900 telepoll service.

After reading this, I think this is a big smoke. Bottom line is, “As a business, we exercise care and prudence in meeting the needs of all our stakeholders.” What this means is Singtel cares about its profits.

Anything below that sentence is just to show how charitable Singtel actually is, which is not really needed because they are profiteering from charity calls. Of which is a huge ethical issue.

The main question in my head is, who does Singtel pay for the 1900 telepoll service? Do they pay some global body or the government? Or it a service they provide themselves? Hmm. After knowing this answer, perhaps we can then decide for ourselves how we look at Singtel.

SingTel explains call charges for charity show
I REFER to Wednesday’s letter, ‘Charity show – pay to donate’ by Mr James Wong. We thank Mr Wong for this opportunity to clarify the charging principle of the Telepoll service.

Event organisers pay a fee for using the 1900 Telepoll service.

The fee comprises a fixed charge and a usage fee.

The organisers decide if the usage fee is to be borne by themselves or the callers.

As a business, we exercise care and prudence in meeting the needs of all our stakeholders.

Under SingTel’s umbrella philanthropy programme, the SingTel Touching Lives Fund, we donated $2.4 million to charities last year.

Since its launch in 2002, we have raised a total of $12.7 million for 18 charities affiliated to the National Council of Social Service.

We have recently donated S$200,000 to help China’s relief and reconstruction efforts after the earthquake in the Sichuan province.

SingTel, through our wholly owned subsidiary NCS which has operations in Chengdu, is working with the local authorities to help families and those affected by the earthquake.

We thank Mr Wong for his feedback and support for the quake victims.

Cheam Tze Hui (Ms)
Corporate Communications Manager,