The Singapore government is set to spend more than the S$1.1 billion (US$890 million) it pledged last year on buses in an effort to improve Singapore’s public transport infrastructure in the face of overcrowding and further population increase.

Pic: AP.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew told Parliament last week that the government hopes to further scale up the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) which had been announced last year. The programme initially involved the government buying 550 new buses to bolster services provided by privatised public transport companies SBS Transit and SMRT.

On top of that, the government now hopes to contract out more bus routes, such as morning-peak express services and feeder services into MRT stations. The Land Transport Authority has put up a tender for a morning-express service from Jurong West to the Central Business District. There will be no revenue risk for the winning bus company, as they will simply be paid a fixed fee according to their bid. Any profit made will go to the government.

This move shows that the government is making an effort to ramp up public transport services to cope with the strain of an increasing population. A recently passed Population White Paper indicated that while the rate of immigration into the country can be expected to decrease, the population will continue to grow to a potential 6.9 million by 2030.

The island’s transport infrastructure has also been in the public eye in recent times as numerous train breakdowns have held up thousands of commuters. On Wednesday morning a fire broke out in the tunnel near Newton MRT station due to a short-circuited electric cable, disrupting services on a portion of the North-South line. Such incidences have served to remind all observers that Singapore’s top-notch public transport network is not what it once was, and the government now has to act quickly to fend off further criticism.

The BSEP is a first step towards improving the standard of service, but how much it will benefit all commuters remains to be seen. Fare increases have soured the mood, with Singaporeans blaming the privatisation of public transport companies for leading to an overemphasis on profits over public service. If fares continue to increase – as the government has indicated they might – it may prove more and more difficult to placate Singaporeans who believe that the whole system has been set up to squeeze the wallets of commuters without a corresponding improvement in service.