In a press release to the media today, SMRT said that they will be working with the Land Transport Authority to “improve the reliability” of the Bukit Panjang LRT and they claimed the “enhancement” works will cost them “millions of dollars”. Bukit Panjang LRT had broken down 4 times in the past 6 months this year which saw affected passengers walking on the train track on all occasions, with varying reasons from electrical fire to dislodged current collector shoe.
Just recently in its annual report, the SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek was revealed to have been paid S$2.25 million to S$2.5 million – the highest ever in SMRT record and comparatively, much higher than the CEOs of its competitors, ComfortDelgro (S$1.75 million) and SBS Transit (S$500K).
The SMRT CEO was formerly the Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Force. The Lieutenant-General was parachuted into the SMRT CEO position after his predecessor, Saw Phaik Hwa, resigned under public pressure from cutting maintenance budget of the train resulting in Singapore’s first ever train breakdown since its inception in 1987.
However, SMRT under Desmond Kuek is much worse than Saw Phaik Hwa which saw more major train breakdowns under his reign than his predecessor’s.
SMRT’s public release today seems to hint that the “millions of dollars” for the repair of Bukit Panjang LRT suggest that a fare hike is needed to fund the repair. In Singapore, public transport operators are guaranteed profits by the Singapore Government through the Public Transport Commission (PTC). SMRT and SBS simply have to raise a request to PTC and an approval of fare raise or an injection of public fund to the tune of S$1.1 billion (in 2013). The Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, also a former high ranking army official like Desmond Kuek, has also always been an advocate of ensuring transport companies make their profits, so in his own words, “somebody has to pay for these costs”.