Reviewing the transport policies
The Straits Times on Saturday generously gave up 4 pages of its valued space to let people understand how much thoughts and efforts have been put in to address the state of our road transport policies. I think it hopes to tell the people how difficult it was to make all those decisions and why the people must appreciate the policy makers behind it and accept that they have done the best they could under all the existing constraints. And it also said that there is a big review going on to improve on what it is today to make public transportation and car ownership more acceptable and palatable to the people. After reading what were written, I doubt there will be any real improvements that will benefit the people and society except the public purse. There are still many obstacles in the mindset that if they are not removed, there will not be any significant change to speak of. They will be whipping a dead horse the same way they did, and dressing it up as if it is a new and vibrant creature. The same story of ‘if you want something that is world best, you must pay for it’ is the mantra of the present regime. Money is still seen as the answer to all problems, pay or buy your way out. What they should do is to rethink on what transportation means to the people’s life and the economy. The current policies promote economic activities at an ever increasing cost. On the other hand it stifles social activities of the people. Going shopping or moving around for social activities is very expensive. You pay to get there and you pay to remain there. People have avoided visiting friends or relatives due to the prohibitive transport and parking costs. It is time to ask if our transport policies should be money and profit driven. If we can abandon this thought and accept transportation, free and easy, economical and efficient, as a social cost that the country needs to keep the people moving, facilitate economic and social activities, then something really new will happen to enhance the life of the people. Public transport must be for transportation and communication, a public service, and not for profit. The profit is indirect, both tangible and intangible. Is this acceptable? As long as the key motive for public transportation is to make profit, all the policies will be half baked. We need to pay this cost to raise the vibrancy of our people and society. Take away the profit motive, put in younger people to manage public services when they are at an age that a couple of hundred thousand are big money to them. When they grow older and their appetite gets bigger, let them move on to run profit making organisations to fill up their bank accounts. While in these public service organisations, their performance must be measured on how they reduce costs or maintain cost at a reasonable level while continuing to improve efficiency and productivity. These kinds of performance indicators require a different mindset to appreciate. If we continue to measure everyone and organisation by how much profit or money they make, then nothing will change. Everything, every cost will only go up and up without any real improvement in the quality of service. The ERP charges is a good example. The current policies are choking the system, holding the commuters and car owners at ransom by demanding higher payment to get around. And the problems remain. Any improvement is marginable and temporary.