Ministry of Transport Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 7 Mar 2019)

Enhancing our Flight Information Region (FIR) Management – Pritam Singh

Chairman, discussion about the Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR) have come under the spotlight again in recent times, particularly with Malaysia’s intention to impose a military training above Pasir Gudang and announcement to, I quote, “take back”, unquote, parts of the Singapore FIR from our management. Some quarters in Indonesia have similarly lobbied to reclaim sovereignty of the Singapore FIR over the Riau Islands for several years now.

Sir, FIR management is fundamentally about providing smooth and efficient air traffic control services with aviation safety being the topmost consideration, not sovereignty. Singapore has been known internationally to manage its FIR efficiently and impartially. Realigning parts of the Singapore FIR to mirror territorial boundaries would risk creating a severely fragmented airspace around Singapore with serious aviation safety risks for all users. With six airports including international airports in Johor, Batam and Bintan within 50 nautical miles of Singapore, a fragmented FIR will raise the risk of mishaps and accidents.

How does the Ministry currently manage flights inbound and outbound flights to international airports in close proximity to Singapore, and have our neighbours have raised any issues with our management of the Singapore FIR thus far.

I would also like to seek an update on the Ministry’s initiatives to better manage our airspace. Some years ago, a Centre of Excellence Air Traffic Management Fund of $200m was set up. What has been the draw-down rate of this fund and what other measures does the Government have lined up to ensure that the Singapore maintains its status as a premier FIR manager. What has been the Government’s experience working together with the UN weather agency, the World Meteorological Organisation since its establishment in Singapore in 2017 in benefiting the weather-sensitive aviation sector towards aviation safety? Finally, can the Ministry provide an update on the use of space-based very high frequency (VHF) communications for air traffic management in the Singapore FIR.

Putting Commuters First – Dennis Tan

Since my Adjournment Motion speech on 15 January 2019, train delays are still taking place. For example, a train fault at Marsiling MRT station during the morning rush hour on 22 January lasted an hour, causing delays for commuters traveling in both directions. Just yesterday there was a train fault on Downtown line during the morning rush hours. More can still be done to minimise train delays of any lengths. Please allow me to revisit some of the points I made in my earlier speech.

Mean kilometres between failures (or in short MKBF) has been much talked about. However, these MKBF statistics, while an internationally recognized indicator for rail reliability, does not include delays of not more than 5 minutes.

The ministry has been silent about keeping track of the many delays of not more than 5 minutes. Delays, whether long or short, have potential ripple-effects that can snowball, meaning that these train delays affect other activities and constitute an economic cost to all involved. Singapore must continue to drive reliability even higher and as I have argued previously, we need to go beyond the current MKBF metrics in our reliability measurement approach.

The Network Capacity Factor continues to be of concern. With rail capacity expected to double by 2030, the NCF will no doubt be only rising and help contribute to future rising fare prices. We should review this. We must also pay close attention to the impact of such fare hikes on vulnerable groups.

We need to enhance service quality including better punctuality for trains as well as more accurate and timely displays of train delays. We also need to ensure better monitoring of service quality, including through independently measured service quality experience by customers that could be a factor in the PTC’s fare review formula, which is currently not the case.

The profitability of Public Transport Operators should also be a factor in the PTC’s fare review formula. The current Productivity Extraction Factor should be redefined to account for PTO’s profitability. Accounting for profitability will be more equitable for commuters.

Retail operations from operators will not be profitable without the infrastructure it operates in. Mandating a level of profits from retail operations to be added to the Railway Sinking Fund and the Rail Infrastructure Fund will move us towards a more equitable development of rail infrastructure. Similar mechanisms can be done for bus infrastructure.

Finally, as per my Budget debate speech, I am concerned as to how the huge increase in diesel excise tax will have implications for our commuters and fares. Most taxis and public buses are still running on diesel and conversion to hybrid or electric options will still take quite a few more years for the taxis and even longer time for the public buses.

The short-term rebates will likely not be enough to stop operators passing the cost to consumers. Since the Government did not push for the conversion to start earlier, it should give more reasonable timelines for bus and taxi companies to convert to hybrid or electric options fully before applying the tax increase.

If the Government truly believes in environmental conservation, it should attend more to the electric vehicle and charging station availability side of the equation. To focus minds on this agenda, I echo my colleague Leon Perera’s call for the Government to set a future deadline for a total fossil fuel vehicles ban, like what the UK and France have done. Perhaps that is the longer-term approach that Singapore can take to mitigate environmental concerns.

Shared Personal Mobility Device (PMD) Services – Dennis Tan

Last November, I asked the Government to consider delaying the introduction of commercial shared PMD services until the riding culture for PMDs has improved and incidences of unsafe and inconsiderate usage have subsided.
Sadly, my request was turned down.

However, even before my PQ was answered, prospective operator Beam announced in October that it planned to roll out its shared PMD services within the next few weeks. LTA had to issue a statement reminding all that it is an offence to operate a device-sharing service at public places without licence.

In replying to my PQ, SMS Lam Pin Min also said that the licence application exercise would only take place in January 2019.

In December 2018, I chanced upon a few PMDs with the familiar green logo of Grab displayed and parked outside a shophouse along Jalan Sultan. I was surprised to see this given the answer to my PQ just one month before. I enquired with LTA. LTA confirmed that Grab was not allowed to operate on public land without a licence from LTA and they said they were investigating operators who were operating without a licence. I have also seen PMDs belonging to other operators being used on public lands. The fact that these operators have been operating their PMDs in public without a licence is disconcerting. If operators behave in this way without a proper licence, how can we have confidence in such companies toeing the line after they receive a licence? We should also remember Grab’s reaction to the Competition Commission’s findings on its acquisition of Uber.
In his reply to my PQ, SMS Lam Pin Min set out some of the conditions, which would be imposed on the shared PMD operators upon issuance of licences. Notwithstanding those conditions, my reservations regarding the introduction of commercial shared PMD services have remained.

It has been difficult enough to ensure that all PMD owners adhere to new rules for safe use of PMDs and to be considerate to other footpath users. We are not out of the woods yet. Would it not exacerbate the present situation if we have a new category of users, namely hirers? Hirers may even take less ownership of the need to ride responsibly and considerately since they are not the owners.

Even if conditions are imposed on the operators, there is a limit as to what operators can do to ensure that correct use of PMDs is adopted by all users. While it is good to require operators to have insurance for all users, which may be helpful when there is an accident leading to a personal injury or property claim, this does not stop inconsiderate or unlawful behaviour and near misses.

The biggest challenge is still of getting existing PMD owners and users to use the PMDs in accordance with the law and in a safe and considerate manner. What more can we expect from hitherto non PMD users? Already I have seen quite a number of tourists or overseas visitors on the illegally operated PMDs, some of them even riding on the roads. What does LTA expect the operators to do to ensure that users will ride considerately and according to the regulations? Make them mug up all the rules before scooting off?