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The u-turn on duplication February 26, 2008

Posted by hafizbam in Something New.
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The following is an excerpt from the final instalment of the Public Transport Review announced last January:

Allowing Basic Bus Services to Duplicate Parts of the Rail Network

19. Today, trunk buses are not allowed to run routes that are parallel to rail lines. This avoids wasteful duplication of resources, which would increase the overall cost of our public transport system. However, LTA has reviewed and will relax this rule for the mature rail lines, namely the North-South and East-West lines, where ridership is high and the scope for expanding rail capacity quickly is limited. From June 2008, we will allow new bus services to ply along the North-South and East West lines where there is persistent heavy passenger loading during peak hours. For example, it will now be possible to have a more direct bus that runs parallel to the North-South Line, from Ang Mo Kio to Orchard Road, compared to existing services which have more indirect routes. This would give commuters an attractive alternative to trains.

Something commuters have been eagerly waiting to hear. Ever since rail lines appeared, many bus routes have had to be culled in the name of rationalisation “to reduce costs”. I really hope the local bus companies will seize this opportunity to introduce more new routes in what would then be seen as direct competition between rail and bus, even though residents along the Northeast Line, which is still in its infancy, would still have to wait for a couple of years more since duplication is currently limited to only the older SMRT network.

What we might possibly see though, is only the introduction of new routes by SBS Transit duplicating SMRT’s rail network, since many of the towns under its purview are served by the SMRT rail network. SMRT is expected to, as usual, remain motionless since it would not make economic sense for the operator to run parallel bus routes with its own train lines and incur additional resources when it can simply choose to still force commuters in the northwest onboard its trains. But by doing so, it will only stand to lose out especially if LTA and PTC relaxes the ruling on cross-territorial bus routes, for it would mean SBS Transit possibly doing a reincarnation of TIBS route 950 from Woodlands to the CBD before being a victim of rationalisation following the Woodlands MRT Extension.

One question remains though, as to the type of duplicative bus services that are allowed. While we are all hoping for basic services which charges the lowest fares, there might still be strings attached (since the rail is still somewhat looked upon as the backbone of the transport network) in the form of only premium services being allowed to run parallel to the train lines. I say that might defeat the whole purpose of the u-turn.

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