Let’s Discuss: Should Bus Fares Increase To Accommodate The Increase In Bus Driver’s Wage

Recently, much has been said about the illegal strike by the drivers from China and there have been quite a lot of “internet bashings” among netizens as well. More recently, the Transport Minister said that next year’s public transport fare adjustments will take into account the need to raise bus drivers’ wages. Really, is this necessary or are they just using the strike as an excuse?

Already, we are trying very hard to make ends meets, and with the ever-increasing costs of basic necessities, why hasn’t our income raised by a fair bit? My mum tells me that the income we receive today is somewhat similar to the income she received 20 years ago! So, what exactly in the world is going on?

For a start, I do agree with the fact that not many Singaporeans want to work in the service industry. As a result, many foreign workers have been hired to fill the gap and trust me, they work really long hours but are paid very little as well. In fact, in order to earn more in the service industry, workers will have to work more overtime hours and sacrifice the time that they could have spent with their loved ones and friends, causing a work-life imbalance and disharmony.

Seeing that this is the case, shouldn’t it be time that there is a review on the wages of those working in the service industry? Shouldn’t those whom are working in the service line be paid more? Of course they should, but where is the money going to come from?! From the consumers or from the corporation?!

Let me give an analogy here. If I were to start an ice-cream business selling ice-creams and the demand for ice-creams is low, I would have to sell the ice-creams for a cheaper price so that consumers will be attracted to buy them right? Now, if the demand for ice-creams is high and because I have a limited supply of ice-creams, I will sell my ice-creams at a higher price so as to reap more profits. However, seeing that the ice-cream business is a good source of income, my friend started his own ice-cream business too. Now, there are more supplies of ice-cream and in order to remain competitive, I will have to sell my ice-cream for a more acceptable and competitive pricing.

Now, what if I want to hire workers to work for me and sell my ice-creams? Do I raise the price and provide more services to the consumer or do I keep costs low? The main product that the consumer wants is ice-cream and for some of them, they wouldn’t mind paying a higher price if there are more services in return.

In this case, consumers are given the freedom and choice to choose whose ice-cream they would want to buy and at what price they want to buy.

Now, let’s bring this analogy back to the main issue using SBS and SMRT as the main context. Even though SBS and SMRT have been privatised, there are absolutely no other bus or train companies that directly compete with them. Hence, both SBS and SMRT form a duopoly and have the freedom to set the price for public transport services. Moreover, there are barriers to prevent potential business owners from setting up another bus/train company to directly compete with SBS and SMRT. How do I know that there are barriers? It’s pretty simple. Since transportation is an essential service that is always high in demand, why are there only two main transport service providers? I think this is pretty clear cut.

Since we know that SBS and SMRT are privatised and that there are barriers to prevent potential business owners from setting up another bus/train company to directly compete with SBS and SMRT, the question now is, “Is this fair?”. We Singaporeans always say that SBS and SMRT are forms of public transport, not private transport. So, if it is public transport, shouldn’t the prices be kept within the reach of an average Singaporean? If is is public transport, shouldn’t SBS and SMRT be under the government’s direct control and not be privatised? If there is a significant mismatch between costs and the prices at which SBS and SMRT are offering for public transportation, then may I ask, is this because the wages include not just the bus drivers, but also the management and key executives of SBS and SMRT?

Just take a look at how much the management and key executives of SBS and SMRT earn! These information are extracted from SBS’s and SMRT’s 2011 annual report that are available on their respective website.

SBS Directors’ Remuneration

From Drop Box

SBS Key Executives’ Remuneration

From Drop Box

SMRT Directors’ Remuneration

From Drop Box

SMRT Key Executives’ Remuneration

From Drop Box

So, is the Transportation Minister implying that we ought to pay more so that the management and key executives of SBS and SMRT can maintain their current lifestyle and also at the same time increase the bus drivers’ wages? Come on, if SBS and SMRT had kept their costs low by not paying the management and key executives of SBS and SMRT so much, then there wouldn’t be any need for an increase in public transportation fare. And by the way, why are they paid so much? Can someone please justify what is it that they do in their daily jobs to earn so much? Yes, I know SBS and SMRT are privatised companies, but they are essentially providing public transportation services, not private transportation services. See the irony?

I really do hope that Singaporeans will rally together and make our voices heard. Public transportation should be made affordable and within reach of any average Singaporean. Public transportation companies should be public and not privatised. Private transportation companies should be privatised because they are providing private transport services, not public transport services. If SBS and SMRT have been earning profits for the last 5 years and yet still be able to afford to pay the directors and executives with such a huge remuneration package, they should then allocate resources to cater to the increase of the bus drivers’ wages; not increase fares.

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