More time for review of fare mechanism: Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew

The committee tasked to review the fare mechanism (FRMC) for public transport has been given more time to come up with its recommendations.

It was supposed to submit its report early this year, but Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew says it'll now do so by end-May.

Mr Lui says he wants the committee to study the issue of affordable fares further, particularly concessions for certain groups of commuters, including the low-income, disabled and polytechnic students:

"Take a look at the concessions that we offer today, and see what more could be done and they should make a recommendation on this area. So the FRMC has happily agreed to do this, it would mean that we would have to give them a bit more time obviously, since this is an area that does deserve careful study and consideration."

Mr Lui says fares have generally become more affordable over the years, with salaries for most of the population going up faster than the increase in fares.

But such groups still have concerns:

"Generally I think when you track affordability of the fares, we know that it has become more affordable over the years, in part because salaries have risen by and large for the population much faster than it has for fare increase. So fare increase was cumulatively, we know, 0.3 per cent over the last five or six years and so when we look at the affordability curve, it has generally come down."

Operators too have been dealing with higher costs pressure, while being pushed to up service levels for commuters.

Back in December, Mr Lui said that "somebody has to pay for these costs" - be it commuters in fares, taxpayers in government subsidies or the operator.

He also added that a proper balance needs to be studied very carefully.

And Mr Lui says he'll wait for the outcome of the report first, before giving more details:

"Basically the money will have to come from somewhere. Who and how much they should bear that's something for further discussion. I think it is the time where we would await the fare formula to come out, plus other recommendations that may come from the FRMC, and after that is submitted, then we'll be in a much better position to start talking about these issues in greater detail."

There were no fare adjustment last year, while the committee worked on a new fare formula.

On Wednesday's fire in the tunnel of Newton MRT station,

Mr Lui said it's important to get to the root cause of the fire in the tunnel of Newton MRT Station.

He said although the fire was small, the incident is  "very serious", as any fire can be "potentially catastrophic":

"First of all, we need to get down to the root cause of it. We know that it is the cable's insulation. We need to determine why it happened, because as I have said such incidents are very rare. I think the last time we had a fire of sorts was probably in 2004. So it is rare but still take it as a warning. We need to find out what exactly happened, the materials- We do not know why such a thing happened. Why the insulation failed? Is it because of ageing? Is it because it is time to be changed? These are all speculative at this point in time but just as we did for the root cause of the NEL incidents, we need to go to the root cause of this. Because any fire is a very potential catastrophic one, very very potentially catastrophic so we should not just say " it's a small fire, that's it, we put it out, some inconvenience to commuters and then we move on", we cannot be that way."

Rail operator SMRT has said that an electrical short circuit caused a cable to burn.

Mr Lui said operators have performance standards to ensure there are no fires and the incident should be seen as a both a warning and opportunity to re-look at procedures.

The fire had disrupted train services for 15,000 people on the North-South Line for more than two hours.

Mr Lui said SMRT did generally well in providing bus bridging services.

But he felt commuters, especially those who are already in the trains, should have been kept better informed in a timely manner.

As for the North East Line train service disruptions,

The disruptions in August and then later January, were due to the U-bolts which corroded due to what's described as "stress corrosion cracking".

The bolts help to hold the power rail in position.

The cause was revealed today, following investigations by a joint team of experts from the Land Transport Authority and transport operator, SBS Transit.

The team also found that chloramines were the corrosive agent in the failure of the U-bolts,  for both the August and January incidents.

Preliminary tests concluded that chlorine and traces of ammonia were found at the affected stretch between HarbourFront and Outram Park stations.

The team said it is still determining the source of the corrosive agents.

But it assured that there is no indication to suggest that it is a system- wide problem at this stage.

In the interim, SBS transit has started replacing all of the 1,600 bolts along the stretch of the tunnel between HarbourFront and Outram Park.

Half have been replaced and the remaining will be completed by mid April this year.