Opinion Pieces: Things could be better but relative to other countries it is…

Opinion Pieces: since 2007, Prof. David Hensher has written an opinion column in the Australasian Bus and Coach magazine, where he monthly discusses a lot of different transport-related hot topics. In this section we are revisiting these columns.

November 2007

I have just returned from Singapore where I am a member of the International Expert Panel to advise the Minister of Transport and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on its transport policies and strategies, and help keep LTA abreast of the latest global trends and developments in land transport. You may well ask – what can we offer Singapore?; whom I am sure many ABC readers would hold up as a ‘jewel in the crown’ in the provision of public transport and how it deals with the car by electronic road pricing. True that the return on investment is something Australian operators only dream of (lets leave it at 20 percent plus and no operating subsidy), but it may come as a surprise to know that the bus system is not any more cost efficient and service effective than many urban operators in Australia (after exchange rate conversion). This means that if one wants to dip one’s toes offshore, that there are serious entrepreneurial openings when and if competitive reforms take place (keep a vigilant watch on this). Never deny the fact that many Australian based operators have been through tough times and the survivors are healthier for it. Take this experience and use it to stand up and be counted amongst the set of globally mobile operators who are in the business of dividing up the world into 25 main players (yes – you did hear it right – that is the view of many in the know).

Some of the challenges in Singapore are not dissimilar to those in Australia. For example, the debate on fare structures under fully integrated and seamless multimodal public transport ticketting is alive and well in many countries. We are not alone and unoriginal. The big issue is the flag fall component on each mode and the impost of having to pay it each time one changes mode. The solution is amazingly easy apart from the modal politics – namely do away with flag fall, have a distance or time-based fare structure (just like the direction that tolling of roads in heading) and set up a clearinghouse (again like fuller interoperable toll roads) to receive revenue and disperse it appropriately. In some countries they are using the move to smartcard fully integrated ticketing to review and revise many outdated fare structures and introducing simpler fare structures that reflect both efficient and equitable fares and most important are sensible ways of attracting people back to public transport. Food for thought!

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