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.

  1. For housing, the simple answer was the electorate demanded it, if you could recall the daily outcry in 2001 – 2003 by the opposition as well as members of publc on wastage of public funds on the more than 150,000 units left empty.
    So this was the classic be careful of what you wish for.

    For trains, well, lets see who was the ministry in charge at the time as well as the ministry in charge of economic growth.

    • “Be careful of what you wish for”?
      Blame it to the poeple?
      Did the people wished for massive influx of foreigners?

      The government know what is coming , the people don’t.
      Either the government FAILED in its planning, or it simply DOES NOT CARE to let the people suffer.

  2. The govt is only interested in $$. Look at the express bus (Sin-Mal) terminal. After so many years there is still no proper bus terminals.The pick-up points are all over and they cause traffic congestions.

  3. sThese are all polical doings, sometimes easy task, they make it seems so difficult to solve for many reasons known to them and thought that people are all daft.
    Previous ministers for housing, transport, education and environment all have given not so true accounts of real happenings where by hardships and sufferings are mounted on to the people of Singapore. Planning for Housing Programmes were badly planned for the influx of expected immigrants, causing a squeeze in housing demand. Overcrowding, due to hickups and lacked of proper plannings and controls contribute sometimes bad delays. Gaining into educational institution was quite difficult, especially primary schools. Specific Instructions of Education to be handed down to educationists for Ethics, Human Morals and Good Culture Education to be taught from young. Flooding was the same back to many years ago along in Bukit Timah, Tanjong Katong, Potong Pasir where the elder citizens can still remember, but it was overcomed until lately where supervision and competancy is lacking. This was explained by Mr. Robert Teh on the Orchard Road flood which he posted in his comment on The Online Citizen.

  4. […] Disclosure – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: Why are trains overcrowded, but not the port or airport? – SpotlightOnSingapore: Changi pub-owner fined: sign of a thuggish […]

  5. It simply explain. Make money. The seaport and airport cater mainly to tourist, who are transit through. Whereas SMRT is swarmed because of over population. Most elites need airport and sea port for their business and lesiure, they don’t take MRT. So they saw “Tuck Yew”.

  6. V Ho got it right.

    They don’t mind spending another S$7B to build another expressway. Why? Cause it makes business sense — vehicle owners tend to be the higher-income who can contribute more to GDP. And planning may be in the works to facilitate greater commercial traffic between JB and S’pore.

    Sea ports and airports are profit generating centres, and logistics has always been 1 of the core sectors of S’pore, thanks to its location.

    As for mass transport? It’s a big cost centre to PAP — tolerated becoz it needs to appease the daft masses. PAP mitigates the cost by using GLCs like SMRT and SBS to recoup money from the daft masses.

  7. PAP=People’s Action Party
    The people got no action for so long, they do only for the privileged. See them acquiring Rochor Centre for highway to shave 5 minutes of travel time but no touch Killiney Rd? And so unless LHL becomes a cycling fanatic, it’s wasting saliva asking for bicycle tracks.

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