Saturday, 25 June 2016

MRT Free Pre-Peak Travel to be extended till 30 June 2017

Free MRT rides for early birds extended for one more year
Getting more people to hop onto scheme depends on companies making early start a culture, say experts
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

Free train rides into the city area before 7.45am will continue until June next year. But getting people to travel outside of the morning peak period still depends on companies encouraging them to do so, said transport and recruitment experts.

The free train ride scheme, which has been extended three times since it began in 2013, has cost the Land Transport Authority (LTA) more than $28 million up until March this year.

LTA said 7 per cent of commuters had made a consistent switch away from travelling during the peak time of 8am to 9am.

Announcing the extension yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said more than 65,000 commuters benefit from the free travel scheme every day.

Asked if it would be made permanent, she said: "We really have to see how people respond to the idea of travelling off-peak.

"A lot of it has to do with whether their job requirements and family commitments allow them to do so."

Feedback on what works and what needs to be improved has to be gathered, she added.

While welcoming any easing of congestion, the National University of Singapore's Associate Professor Chin Hoong Chor, who specialises in traffic management, said that companies could best drive the scheme by letting workers start early.

"If companies are able to form a routine, make it a culture, I think employees are more likely to stick to the routine even if the scheme ends," he said.

The scheme applies to rides to 18 MRT stations in the city area, including Marina Bay, Downtown and Dhoby Ghaut on weekdays. Commuters who exit at these stations between 7.45am and 8am also get a discount of up to 50 cents on their fare.

Giving an update on other schemes to ease peak-hour passenger traffic on trains, Mrs Teo said 13,000 commuters currently use a monthly off-peak pass, which allows unlimited use of rail and bus services at certain times.

She also spoke about the Travel Smart Network, in which the Government provides funding to organisations for ways that help their employees travel at off-peak hours.

More than 100 companies have signed up.

Several, such as financial service company Allianz, logistics company Santa Fe and accounting firm Deloitte, have offered their employees incentives to start early. These include shower facilities, food and exercise vouchers, as well as flexible work arrangements.

But such incentives may not make business sense for other firms, said human resource consultant Alvin Ang.

"That hour they spend early in the office may be a 'lull hour', which is not productive, especially if clients or other partners start later," said Mr Ang, who also runs a recruitment firm.

Of 10 commuters who spoke to The Straits Times yesterday, six said they would not change their travel habits.

Security officer Salim Bakri, 64, said: "If I come in early, I don't get to go off early. "

• Additional reporting by Malavika Menon and Cheryl Teh

Get up early for free MRT rides? Yawn
Commuters say they value sleep more than savings, there is no work to do at that time
By Jalelah Abu Baker, Malavika Menon and Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Commuters to the city in the morning rush hour are not keen to travel earlier to get free train rides because the allure of any money saved and more space on the train is outweighed by an extra hour of sleep, according to those interviewed.

Many also said it was pointless to go in earlier as there would be no work to do, or they are afraid of appearing to outdo their colleagues by getting in early.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced on Thursday that it would continue a scheme that gives free rides to 18 MRT stations before 7.45am on weekdays.

Commuters who arrive at those stations, which include Dhoby Ghaut, Marina Bay and Telok Ayer, between 7.45am and 8am will also get up to 50 cents off their fare.

The scheme is aimed at easing peak-hour congestion on trains.

The LTA said 7 per cent of commuters have consistently switched away from travelling during the morning peak hours. But of the 40 commuters The Straits Times spoke to over two days, only five changed their routine for the perk. The other 35 either already go to work early or are not enticed by the scheme.

"If I go in early, I can get more work done but everyone comes in and leaves at the same time. Why spoil the market?" said Mrs Esther Goh, an accountant in her 30s, using the local phrase for making others appear less hard-working.

But some agreed they would get up earlier if their employers encouraged and recognised the effort and let them leave early, or if they felt it would serve a good cause.

Mr Daryl Tan, 23, who takes the train to Raffles Place to get to his bank job, said he would travel earlier if he felt he was "saving the environment". But for now, he has no motivation to change his routine.

"To take advantage of the scheme, I have to tap out (of the station) before 8am. That's one hour earlier than the time I need to reach the office. Sacrificing one hour of sleep is not worth saving the $1.50 on my fare," he said.

The main factor in getting more people to travel early is cooperation from companies, said recruitment firm owner Alvin Ang. Employees who are not allowed to leave early even if they start early have no incentive to change their habits.

An Asian work culture that glamorises working late also exacerbates the situation, he added.

Some form of job redesign to support a change may be necessary, said Mr David Ang, director of corporate services at human resources firm Human Capital Singapore, but industries that deal with overseas markets may have less flexibility.

One commuter who has made the switch is operations manager Vincent Teng, 31. "I started (doing so) because it cut my transport cost, but it's also less of a hassle to travel before the peak hours," he said.

"I don't know about companies that give their employees early time out for coming in early, but it would be encouraging for more people to use the early trains if more companies do so."

Ms Charlene Sia, 28, has been taking advantage of the free travel for about a year. Instead of going for yoga sessions in the evening, the tax associate attends early morning classes. "I feel more alert at work now because the exercise helps. Also, I used to be too tired to exercise after work, so this is a good way for me to make sure I do it," she said.

She has saved about $100. She used to spend about $5 a day taking a private bus from her home in Pasir Ris to her office in Raffles Place.

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