Public transport fares, particularly for those with lower income, have become more affordable over the years, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.
Data collected by the Public Transport Council (PTC) show that among households in the 21st to 40th income bracket percentile, the proportion they spend on public transport has fallen from 3.2 to 2.2 per cent between 2003 and 2013, he said.
The corresponding drop for those in the 11th to 20th percentile is 4.6 to 3.1 per cent, he added.
Nonetheless, Mr Lui, who was speaking at his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate, said he is “keenly aware” there are still people who need additional help to cope with commuting costs.
“To this end, we have put in place a comprehensive system of targeted concession schemes. These include two new government-funded concession schemes introduced in 2013 for lower-wage workers and for persons with disabilities,” he said.
Under the schemes, people with disabilities pay less than a dollar for each trip on basic bus and train services, while public transport fares for lower-wage workers are 15 per cent cheaper.
Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) called for a shorter time lag between fare review exercises and adjustments so as to reflect prevailing market conditions, but Mr Lui said there will always be some time lag as fare review exercises are based on the previous year’s full-year indices.
Time is also needed to make adjustments in the systems, and fare changes approved by the PTC can only be implemented in a few months, he added.
Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament Pritam Singh asked if a special scheme or transport subsidy for full-time caregivers could be introduced.
In response, Mr Lui said the idea had been considered carefully by the Fare Review Mechanism Committee in 2013 as part of its review of concession schemes.
The committee decided against it because it would be too complex to identify the caregivers and therefore difficult to administer, he said.
Since caregivers’ needs vary and extend beyond public transport, a more effective way of lightening their burden would be to take a more broad-based approach, he added, pointing to existing financial assistance schemes that defray various costs, such as the Foreign Domestic Worker Grant and the Interim Disability Assistance Programme for the Elderly.