Due to significant cost increases, including record high fuel prices and rising manpower costs, SBS Transit has applied to the Public Transport Council (PTC) for adjustments to bus and rail fares.
The decision to seek a fare increase was taken after much deliberation by the company. We are aware that fare adjustments impact a large part of the commuting public and weighed that fact heavily against the significant increase in costs. In the end, the financial impact of the rising costs proved too large. Energy costs, for example, rose by 20% or $20.3 million in 2006 - having already increased by 41.2% in 2005. Manpower costs, the company's largest cost component, also increased by about $12.1 million during the year.
However, we are mindful of the impact that any fare adjustments will have on the lower income households. We are proposing to keep children and student fares - which have remained unchanged since 1990 - as well as concession passes, steady. In addition, depending on the final fare adjustment allowed, SBS Transit will also consider schemes to help the lower income offset the impact of the fare adjustments.
SBS Transit remains committed to serving the needs of commuters. To address issues like waiting time and the reliability of our bus services, we have invested in an Automated Vehicle Management System (AVMS). This helps us in knowing where congestions are and re-direct buses when roads are made impassable. As a result, commuters on board do not have to spend hours stuck in a jam and passengers further down the route are not kept waiting for an extended period of time.
With the AVMS, we have introduced the Intelligent Route Information System (iris) where commuters are able to know in real time when their next and subsequent buses will arrive at their bus stops. This minimises the anxiety caused by unknown waiting time and puts commuters in better control of their journey time.
SBS Transit has also recently launched 13 premium bus services, which offer commuters direct connections from nine neighbourhood towns to Robinson/Shenton area. These services provide commuters with a more comfortable and direct journey as well as incorporate flexible route deviations to avoid traffic congestion, resulting in travel time savings of up to 50%.
Passengers in wheelchairs can also look forward to more Wheelchair Accessible Bus (WAB) services. To-date, we have a total of nine WAB services.
While the company is still profitable, a fare adjustment is necessary also to ensure that it continues to earn sufficient money to be able to invest in its business so as to improve its services to serve commuters better. Buying new buses, for instance, is very costly. SBS Transit has invested $35 million in its new batch of 100 single deck buses which will be on the road from the third quarter of this year. This is in addition to the 200 double-deck buses that we have already rolled out in the last 12 months. In all, we have invested over $135 million in new buses over the last two years and we will continue doing so.
More details of the application, which is subject to the approval of the PTC, will be announced at a later date.