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Posts Tagged ‘Public Infrastructure’

Why are trains overcrowded, but not the port or airport?

In Infrastructure, Political economy, Political governance on 17/11/2011 at 6:21 pm

When I read on Wednesday that Singapore is improving the International Cruise Terminal with the aim of seeing the number of berths double by the second quarter of next year, it reminded me of the constant planning and work that goes into upgrading S’pore’s links with the rest of the world, which I contrasted with the reasons (excuses?) given for the overcrowding on our trains, which according to a media report on Sunday would take up to 2018 to resolve, and which led to the usual howls from netizens that there was bad planning by a government that didn’t care about commuters comfort.

I remembered a few years ago analysing how forward looking was S’pore when it came to developing the airport. S’pore was always planning to grow the airport so that it would never get congested. This was unlike Thailand. A few months after the new airport was finally open a few years back after failing to be completed on time, the new airport was working beyond its planned maximum capacity, resulting in congestion and delays.

I remembered remarking in a report that this could never happen here. S’pore was always expanding capacity, knowing that it took time to build infrastructure. It never wanted the airport to look like a congested, overcrowded slum. It gave a bad impression to visitors.

Likewise the port.  It is  always expanding capacity and erring its projections on the side of overcapacity rather than congestion. And it’s doing the same for the cruise terminal. Singapore is investing heavily in cruise infrastructure to ensure the industry becomes a driver of growth for the tourism sector.

If the government errs, it errs on the side of overcapacity, not undercapacity. It feels that the demand would be there, and even if it didn’t materialise as planned, the spare capacity would attract demand.Contrast this spending with what happened in public housing and trensport. In this Donald Low explains why the government became wary of building more public train lines and public housing. It all has to do with projections that went wrong in the 1990s.

The contrast in the spending patterns seem to show that comfort and well-being of S’poreans are not as important to the government as securing the engines of economic growth? In the name of latter, building to meet possible demand seems to be in order, but not when it comes to the former? Why not?

Note that the plans for development of the rail, sea and air transport links are made within the transport ministry, whose spending plans are scruternised by the finance ministry. Yet the approach seems different between domestic and international links.

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