Monday, October 29, 2012

The Road Ahead for Public (Mini)Buses

SMRT was fined $100 for overloading one of its buses in the Woodlands-Choa Chu Kang route. Granted safety is paramount and overcrowding of a bus is a safety concern. However, the underlying problem is that there were probably not enough buses during peak hours - an unfortunate combination of demand greater than supply during busy times, and supply greater than demand during non-peak hours. The easy answer is for private minibuses to fill in routes and times when there is demand for it.

Going Full Circle

Before 1970, there were 10 bus companies. These underwent M&A until SBS was formed in 1973. In 1982, TIBS joined the network and these two companies complemented rather than competed with one another. This cosy relationship has survived until now and even replicated in how the MRT is run in the NS, EW and NE lines for example. Again, on paper and on the roads, there is room for minibuses to zip around on Singapore's roads again especially as feeder buses in industrial and housing estates, as well as the main housing estates to city lines. The old CSS yellow buses which had cheaper fares than SBS and under NTUC, scrapped its fleet in the late 1980s as MRT rolled out into residential areas. However, with increased population, cost of private cars, inadequacy of the current train and bus capacities, it is time to rethink now the entry of small-medium-sized bus companies.

The Hong Kong Story

The Hong Kong example was recently mentioned to compare how Singapore can do different and better. In Hong Kong, there are five bigger companies and the red and green minibuses that ply the back streets and far flung places. Safety is an issue as minibuses are more aggressive in fare collection as they could be self-employed like taxi-drivers, but with Singapore's track record of regulation and enforcement, safety is typically not a worry for public transport passengers.

The Experimental Role of Town Councils and Minibuses

The fact is that public bus transport system in Singapore can be improved and the best experiment is to re-introduce more niche or specific route players into the networks to compete with the heavyweights. Town councils should be allowed to easily run their own ferries for within their GRC or SMC if they are up to it for a start, and WP in Aljunied or PAP in Ang Mo Kio can set the pace as trailblazers in locally running minibuses that drop and pick up in larger car parks or under the blocks even, competing with the feeder bus services by SBS which are probably unprofitable because of the way it is run.

Apart from town council starting local, operators from the Singapore School Transport Association can be the ready fleet to draw from especially during the school holiday periods to experiment in the minibus network concept. If the project takes off, then there is push for SME bus companies to operate and expand into 365 days and more routes. Easier said than done as there are probably regulations about SME private operators, but something that should be included in the so-called ongoing national conversation if there is public, commercial and government interest in improving public transportation..

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Between a Neighbour and Man's Best Friend

As a dog lover, there is nothing more upsetting then the wilful neglect of man’s best friend. All too often, people decide to buy a dog on a whim without realising the lifelong commitment, love and sacrifice it involves. Dog ownership is a decision that warrants careful consideration as the responsibilities transcend beyond the new owner. Like it or not, the new owner’s entire family and proximate community are inadvertently affected.

HDB and Backyard Pounds

The biggest challenge that organisations such as the SPCA and SOSD face is the abandonment of dogs by irresponsible pet owners. The first line of defence in battling the issue of strays is to educate potential dog owners of the importance of buying dogs at licensed and reputable pet shops. A recent stomp article on 17 September, “Are HDB residents allowed to breed dogs in their flats for sale?”, highlights errant behaviours that must be addressed swiftly and unequivocally. The authorities have to come down hard on ‘backyard’, unlicensed breeders to ensure that the important steps of sterilisation and microchipping are taken.

Small HDB Flats and Big Dogs

Other worrying trends of dog ownership in HDB flats is the size of the dogs in HDB flats. Many HDB dwellers have over the years, pressured HDB to relax the guidelines on keeping big dogs in flats; some choosing to quietly flout these rules all together. With shrinking HDB flats and public spaces, the rearing of large breeds in ever more confined spaces is contributing factor to dog abandonment when the novelty of puppies wears off.  Also, I'm not too sure if it is cruel to the dog to keep a bigger sized dog like a labrador in our pigeon-hole HDB flats.

Responsible Dog Owners and Neighbours who Don't Like Dogs

Living in HDB flats is about give and take with the neighbours and the balance can be upset if residents have a noisy or fierce dog, or worse for neighbours intolerant of canines, more than one dog. I cite the case of Mr Tan Cheng Chu in the Singapolitics article “Minister intervenes in bid to let dying man keep his dogs”. I applaud the efforts of Law Minister Shanmugan and the SOSD to check on the well-being of Silver and Rover, and to offer to mediate with Mr Tan’s neighbours, although the law is on the side of those neighbours who complained probably because they had a history with Mr Tan.

While it would pain me to see Mr Tan being forced to part with one of his dogs, I would like to see the original owner of the dog, Mr Tan’s daughter, step forward to take responsibility for the dog she bought and had left at her father's place after she moved out. She is the solution to the mess assuming that HDB is afraid to create a precedent of a stop-at-one dog policy - keep her Rover at her house and bring over and take him home at the start and end of everyday. Just like how parents leave their children at their parents' home during the day for childcare. It is the least she can do as a filial daughter to help her cancer-stricken dying father and appease neighbours who need not put up with supposed noisy dogs at night.

If not, with Mr Tan’s critical condition, I fear that in not too long, both 3-year old Silver and 7-year old Rover will be stepping through the kennel doors of SPCA.