Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reduce over-reliance on MRT

We are now over-reliant on the MRT station. A breakdown of the train service, due to technical fault or terrorism, could cause chaos. Should we build up a complementary system, using buses, to reduce this over-reliance and build up the capacity that is badly needed during the next few years (before the new MRT lines are open)? How can this be done?

I suggest to allow express buses to operate between the bus interchanges. These buses do not stop to pick passengers along the road. They can use the bus lanes and travel quickly. There should be a local service using small buses and local taxis to bring people from their homes to these interchanges. Do you like this concept?

Information on Company Website

I urge each company to put the following information on its company website in the "Home" page or the "Contact Us" page - name, address, telephone, fax and email address.
See the example on the right.

This allows the public to send letters (in soft copy) to them at their corporate e-mail address. Their staff can forward the letter to the relevant person to handle.

Provide feedback on Wireless@SG

The director in charge of infrastructure development wishes to get feedback on locations where Wirelss@SG is not working well. Please send the feedback to them at the following:

Merry Christmas

To all readers of my blog: 
Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2012
Tan Kin Lian

ST Forum: Replace queuing with online registration

Published in ST Forum
THERE was a stampede at the launch of a new smartphone in Central Jakarta in November ('BlackBerry maker's woes in Indonesia'; Dec 13). In Singapore, there was a long queue for the launch of the Bedok Residences condominium ('Bedok project draws long queue, but...'; Nov22).
We have also experienced long queues for primary school registrations and for tickets to popular events.
The system of queuing for priority is archaic, poses hygiene and social problems, and could lead to disputes and disorder.
We need to have a more practical way of allocating priority. All interested parties could be given sufficient time to register their interest before a closing date through an online system. The priority could be decided by balloting or drawing lots through an electronic system that can be verified to be transparent and fair.
It should be possible for such an online system to be shared by any organiser, replacing the queuing system. The authorities may have to step in to promote such an alternative arrangement for the sake of transparency and orderliness.
Tan Kin Lian

Friday, December 23, 2011

Usage based data plans

The mobile operators intend to introduce usage based charges for their data plans, instead of unlimited usage. Details are shown in this Business Times report:
StarHub, SingTel may revise charges to deter hefty usage
The telcos' crusade against virtually unlimited mobile data usage might soon be upon 3G shores.
StarHub and SingTel are taking a good look at revising their 3G price plans, the two telcos told BT yesterday.
StarHub said that it may 'review current (3G) pricing plansand consider introducing usage-based data pricing', in response to BT's queries.
I do not mind paying usage based charges. I have a plan that limits my data usage to 1G, but the actual usage is only 500 M a month. I have now upgraded to a cheaper plan that provides 16G, but I don't think that it is necessary.

Hotlines to call taxis

Removing peak hour surcharge

The regulators allowed taxi companies to levy surcharge during peak hours - the reasoning is that the hire fares will encourage more taxi drivers to come forward to pick up passengers. But this has an unintended consequence - many taxi drivers are not available during the short period before the surcharge come into effect, creating an artificial shortage.

In other cities, there is no peak hour surcharge, so they do not have this artificial shortage. Perhaps the taxi drivers are already compensated during the peak hours based on travelling time, in addition to distance. If they are caught in a slow moving traffic, they will get additional fare based on the time.

Perhaps this is a new way to fix the taxi fares - based on distance and travelling time. If the fare is low - where the taxi is stuck in congestion, the taxi driver can get an additional fare based on the time spent. For example, the fare can be $0.60 per km or $0.40 per min, whichever is higher. If the trip is 15 km and took 20 min, the fare is the distanced based fare of $9 (as it is higher than the time based fare of $8) plus a flag down fare. In normal circumstances, the distance based fare is more than adequate, so the time based fare does not need to come in.

I believe that this fare system may be easier to understand and can compensate the taxi driver during peak hours when the traffic is slow.

Pre-paid SIM card of other countries

There is a small company operating in Singapore that sells the pre-paid SIM card of other countries. You can buy the SIM card from their distributors in Singapore. You can forward your Singapore calls to the number in the pre-paid SIM cards through VOIP. You do not need to search for the pre-paid SIM card at the airport on your arrival. More information can be obtained from their website:

Set the benchmark

Some people argue that the government should not be involved in providing services, such as public transport, communication services or health care - that these services are better left to the market.

There are two arguments for the government to be involved:

  • Where the services are provided by large businesses with strong pricing power, such as in our public transport and communication services
  • Where there is the need to set a benchmark for the prices - such as in health care
In these cases, the government can play in regulating the prices and standard of service, to be used as a benchmark for special services to be provided by the private sector to serve special needs. For example, if the fare for travelling a certain distance on public transport is known, consumers can form a decision to pay a higher price to take taxis or other types of private transport.

It would be best for the services to be provided by many private operators following the benchmark prices. If the benchmark prices are too low, there will be lower supply and higher demand, leading to imbalance. In that situation, the prices can be raised so that the supply and demand becomes more balanced. There is still a need for flexibility in adjusting prices and judgement to be made in this regulated environment.

Health care is another important area to be regulated. The public needs to know the price and standard to be expected for certain types of treatment. They can use them to judge the performance in the private sector.

I urge the government to be more active in setting the regulations, but to allow flexibility so that the regulated prices and standards can meet the changing needs.  Please share  your views.

ST Online Forum: Get client approval for CDP access

ST Forum Page
I SHARE the concern of Mr Eng Tiang Chuan ('Guard against rogue brokers'; yesterday) about allowing stockbrokers to have unrestricted access to their clients' accounts in the Central Depository (CDP).
This concern can be alleviated if the access is on the specific approval of the client. At present, the client has to open a trading account with his specific stockbroker, which is already linked to the CDP account. It would be quite easy to modify the system to allow the client to indicate if the specific broker is allowed to view the CDP account.
In my case, I would be happy to allow my trusted stockbroker to access my account. If there are specific actions that need to be taken - for example, rights issues - I would like my stockbroker to alert me, so that I could take the appropriate action to protect my interests.
If I do not take up the rights issue, for example, I could sell the rights in the market, rather than let it lapse due to an oversight.
There could be other corporate events that the client might benefit from after being alerted and advised by a stockbroker, provided the stockbroker knows that the client has some holdings in the shares of that company.
I wish to suggest another feature - the CDP should allow the client to see an audit trail of the people who have viewed the holdings in the CDP.
This will give the confidence that only the authorised persons had made the access, for a legitimate purpose.
Tan Kin Lian

To all readers of my blog ....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good and bad regulations

Some people have the idea that all regulations are bad - they add to cost and cause trouble for the ordinary people. This is the propaganda of some people, most notably the Republican politicians in America - they argue that Government is bad and should be kept as small as possible.

If we study the issues carefully, we will realize that the propaganda is flawed. What will happen to our society, if there are no laws and regulations, if every person can do what they want, if the powerful can bully the weak and get away with it, if people can cheat other people of their money?

We do need laws to identify what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, what is lawful and not lawful. If the Government and the law makers fail to carry out their duty, society must surely become chaotic and uncertain. People will have to take costly measures to protect their personal interest. This may be more costly, than for the measures to be taken collectively by the Government or behalf of the citizens.

Certainly, there are useless and wasteful regulations that do not add value and increase the cost and create wasteful bureaucracy. We see them all the time. The bureaucrats justify them on flimsy grounds, such as "security" and "privacy".

We should not create or continue the useless measures blindly. We should examine, from time to time, the cost and benefit of the measures, and look for more practical solutions. Even if the solution involves some risk, we may have to accept the risk, if the risk is remote and the cost of preventing it is excessive. Judgement has to be made.

I want to point out that there is a difference between good and bad regulations, and that judgement has to be made by the people in charge. It is often a balance between the cost and benefits - a need to get the facts and use the right moral values to make a decision.  It would be wrong to blindly state that all regulations are necessary, or that they are bad.

What I fear for Singapore is that the people in charge are not taking the responsibility to make the judgement, on the grounds that it can be left to the market. The unwillingness to accept responsibility, to have an open mind, to discuss with the affected people - have now become the prevailing culture in Singapore.

Please share your views on this matter.

Set up a regulated basic taxi service with centralized booking

This is the full text of my letter sent to Today paper. The editor has made some changes to shorten my letter that was published in the newspaper.

EditorVoicesToday Paper
I agree with Lin Tai (Today paper, 20 Dec 11) that booking fees for taxis should be capped at $1. The current taxi service in Singapore is clearly unsatisfactory - poor service, lower utilization of taxis (while taxi drivers wait for surcharges and additional fees) and high cost for commuters.
It is time for the Land Transport Authority to review the current model of deregulated taxi fares, which has not been working well for a long time.  
I suggest that the authority should now regulate the taxi fares and booking fee for the basic taxi service that is allowed to pick passengers on the road. The Authority can also appoint a service provider to operate a centralized booking service to allow commuters to call any licensed taxi for this nominal fee. This will make it unnecessary for each taxi company to install its own expensive booking system. It will also provide better utilization of taxis and better response time to commuters. 
 Individual taxi drivers can also be allowed to get a license to operate this basic service, without being tied to a taxi company. This will open up the market to real competition.
Apart from the regulated basic taxi service, the taxi companies can be allowed to operate their own non-standard services. They can charge their own fees for the special service and can take calls at the booking lines. These special taxis should be identified separately and cannot be allowed to pick up passengers on the road.
Tan Kin Lian

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Could it be due to sabotage?

I wonder if the damage to the collector shoes in the MRT trains could be due to sabotage? After all, we knew about the inadequate security in the MRT depots where vandals were allowed to deface the trains. Any views?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Provide a complete service

The Open Net contractor came to install the connection to my home. They found an internal pipe was blocked. They asked me to get another contractor to fix the problem. This created a problem of communicating between different sets of contractors.

It would have been better if the Open Net contractor had arranged with their sub-contractor to do the necessary work, and to quote a reasonable fee for this work. The home owner does not want to spend the hassle of engaging another contractor and making the coordination. The problem faced by the home owner became the problem of Open Net anyway.

I face a similar problem with installing a telephone line. The contractor will point out what they do not do, and ask me to get another contractor to do the additional work. It would have been better to have reasonable rates set for the additional services.

This type of "pushing responsibility" around is now the culture in Singapore. This is why things become so troublesome and expensive. We need a  new approach - to provide a complete service at reasonable charge. The regulator must come in to do their part, to set the right environment. By leaving matters to the market, it becomes so confusing for consumers.

Online form for SMRT

I wanted to send an e-mail to the SMRT. I could not find their company e-mail address of fax number. I was only able to send an online form. It was a formidable form, enough to discourage communication. I hope that all organizations will provide a company e-mail address for the public to send emails directly to their inbox.

ST Online Forum - run parallel bus services

I SUPPORT the suggestion by Mr Christopher Jude Loh ('Viable alternative'; yesterday) to allow more buses to be deployed on a permanent basis to run parallel to the rail system.
The recent breakdown of the SMRT trains should wake up the people in charge.
It is better for the buses to be operated by private operators, who should be given a licence by the Land Transport Authority to operate this service. This will truly provide competition to SMRT and help to moderate its fare increases. It will also relieve the congestion on the trains, which now happens at most hours of the day. It will provide a true market alternative to commuters.
I suggest that the fares to be charged by the bus operators should be pegged to the same level as the SMRT fares. While this may appear to be on the high side, it will increase the supply of buses, especially from hard-working private bus operators.
The increased supply will reduce the demand for the train services and will force SMRT to reduce fares. Given the choice between standing in crowded trains and having a seat (I hope) on a bus at the same fare, some people may opt for buses, even if the travel time is longer.
There are other practical issues to be considered, such as the heavy investment required by private operators to buy a bus and install the fare system, but they can be addressed when there is a will to find a solution.
This will be market competition truly at work.
Tan Kin Lian

Monday, December 19, 2011

Get rid of these bad icons

Here are the bad icons that have come to represent Singapore today.

ERP - adding cost to cars and taxi fares
GST - adds to cost of living
Highest paid political leaders
FT - I find this word offensive
Avoid responsibility - start from the top

Do you have any to add?

Restoring our icons

There were several icons that Singaporeans had been proud of -

  • CPF - adequate savings for retirement
  • HDB - affordable housing
  • MRT - reliable and clean
  • Environment - clean, green and crime free
One after another is falling down. It is quite sad. Apart from blaming the government for the failures, what can we do to put matters right?

New financial rules to take effect from 1 January 2012

From next year, you will have to go through a financial adviser to invest in unit trusts. You cannot invest in them directly, unless you prove that you have the financial knowledge. This new rule has its positive and negative points. But its most negative point is that it does not address the underlying issue that it is trying to correct.

ST Online Forum - avoid tonnes of wasted paper

Published in ST Online Forum, 19 December 2011
EACH day, I receive several items of mail in my letter box. After a few days, the mail for a household becomes quite a large bundle.
Many are marketing fliers, unwanted magazines and other junk mail. Legitimate business mail is mixed with the junk mail and could be overlooked.
It would be more convenient and efficient if more businesses sent their regular clients statements and other materials in soft copy through e-mail, rather than physical mail.
They will save on printing and mailing costs and provide more convenient service to their customers. The option to receive the mail in soft or hard copy can be left to each individual customer.
Perhaps the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore could set up a portal for the people to indicate their preference. They can log into this portal to give their name, identity card details, home and e-mail addresses and indicate their preference to receive mail in soft copy. They should be required to authenticate their preference with SingPass.
The approved government or business organisations should be allowed to check their customers' identity card details against this database.
If there is a match, the home and e-mail addresses can be provided to the organisation to verify the request, update its database and to send its materials in soft copy in the future.
The relevant authority can approve the organisations that are allowed to access this database, on an undertaking by the organisations to observe a code of conduct and approved usage.
This centralised system of recording the individual's preference will be convenient for both individuals and organisations.
It will be a major step to convert a large number of individuals to the new method of receiving mail and cut down on the tonnes of paper that is now being generated and delivered.
We will see a significant reduction in our business costs and better use of our resources.
I hope the relevant government agency will take up this challenge.
Tan Kin Lian

PAP government policies

Alex Au has written an excellent article about how the PAP government is trying to change its policies. Read here.  My own view, which is quite similar to Alex, is that this is quite difficult - as it has to do with their culture and beliefs. But, if they adopt the values of honesty, fairness, courage, positive attitude and public service, they can find the way.

ST Forum: Provide Effective Alert System

This letter in the ST Forum highlights the importance of communication and customer service, in handling an emergency or unexpected overload. Many businesses fail in this task. I read about the delay in the Open Net company and had experienced with the same underlying issue - they were not able to cope with the high workload. This is an important task that big organizations have to deal with, and their existing systems cannot cope. I hope that the big experience of SMRT will get the leaders of the big organizations, including our government agencies, to pay attention to this issue.

SMRT has launched a Twitter feed to give updates on train service disruptions ('More help for passengers'; yesterday). While this is a step in the right direction and an immediate improvement to the provision of timely and accurate information to the public, we have to be mindful that the majority of people do not have Twitter accounts.
But almost all residents of Singapore have a mobile phone. So SMRT and all other major public transport providers, including taxi companies, should provide SMS alerts on any disruption to their services.
Using SMS alerts would greatly enhance public accessibility to such information. As we witnessed during two days of major train service disruptions, travelling on other modes of public transport also was affected as a result, with overcrowded bus stops, long queues at taxi stands and a long wait for buses.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and our public transport operators could learn from the National Environment Agency and national water agency PUB, which provide effective and timely round-the-clock SMS alert services for heavy rain and high water levels.
Registrations for the services are easy and the SMS alerts are reliable and extremely useful.
To make transport service disruption information via SMS alerts more accessible, there could be an option for the public to get the alerts in other languages as well, apart from English. This would help address feedback that the electronic displays, written notices and signage at the stations were in English only.
Effective remedies to the train service disruptions may take some time to implement and we cannot rule out more disruptions in the coming days. While the LTA and SMRT may not be able to provide quick solutions to the technical problems, enhancing the flow of information to the public can be done much faster.
Lee Kai Yin
Alex Au had also written an excellent article on the same issue - communication and the flow of information. I invite you to read it. Read it here.

What is the solution for big companies? They have to find an innovative way to deal with customers, to improve communication, to handle the large workload.  Here are some suggestions.

Case study of Dropbox
How to improve customer service

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Discrimination against poor Singaporeans with foreign spouses

I know of many Singaporeans in the same situation as high-lighted here. It is time for Singaporeans to speak out against this bad policy.

Quote: Making the poor struggle and undermining the well being  of Singaporean children with foreign mothers, harms thousands of families in our country.  It exacerbates the pain of poverty for these families without any gains for our society. If the PAP may think that they gained something by penalising the poor for getting married and having children, but they have not...they have lost the trust and support of these men and everyone in the country that feels that each Singaporean should be treated with fairness and dignity.

MRT train breakdown - passing the buck

Here are the observations by Mr. Wang aka Gilbert Koh.

Transport woes - cartoon by Wing Lee

Learning Tips

Here are some interesting tips on how to live and enjoy life, and also about interesting places in Singapore. I will transfer it into a mobile app later.

Reply to Tan Jee Say

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