Saturday, December 09, 2017

Will the strategic tie up with Uber be beneficial to Comfort Taxis?

Comfort Taxis entered into a strategic alliance with Uber to benefit from Uber's taxi booking app. I do not understand the rationale.

Comfort had an excellent taxi booking service using a call center. For a long time, it dominated the taxi booking market. Most taxi calls are made through Comfort.

When booking through apps became popular, Comfort already developed its app to provide this facility to its customers.

The main pricing scheme for Comfort is the standard taxi fare plus a booking fee. Comfort has also introduced its fixed fare tariff.

Comfort started to lose its market share only after Grab introduced its attractive promotions. Their customers could get a $5, $4 or $3 discount for each ride. This is very expensive for Grab and must have cost massive losses. It is not sustainable for the long term.

Grab also offered attractive incentives to entice Comfort drivers to move over to them. Again, this is done at a heavy cost to Grab.

Comfort could have responded to Grab by offering similar promotions to customers. They could have maintained their market share or suffer a smaller erosion.

Comfort could also have responded to the the loss of taxi drivers by offering incentives for their drivers to take bookings. They can also lower their rental rates and lock up their drivers on a 6 or 12 month contract.

By partnering with Uber, I suspect that Comfort is not addressing the root of the problem. Customers do not need fancy features. They want to get a taxi quickly and they want the fare to be lower. If Comfort could match what Grab is doing, their customers will still prefer to ride with Comfort.

Rejection of medical claims due to non-disclosure of past medical conditions

Many consumers had experienced rejection of their medical claims under private Shield plans due to alleged non-disclosure of their past medical conditions. In some cases, they were not aware about the past medical conditions or the need to disclose them.

Should MAS disallow insurers from rejecting claims due to alleged non-disclosure of past medical history?

Give your vote in

Low birth rate in Singapore

What is the main cause of the low birth rate in Singapore?

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Express and local services on subway system in New York city

When I first visited New York City almost 40 years ago, I observed that some lines of their subway has a local service and an express service.

The local service stops at every station while the express service stops at the major stations.

This arrangement requires two separate rails in each direction. Each station probably needs a separate platform for each direction with two rails for each platform for the local and express services.

It will reduce the travel time. A commuter can take the express train until the stop before the final destination and change to a local train for the remaining stops.

I wondered at that time why our MRT did not provide for this kind of local and express trains.

I guess that there is no need to use this approach for our MRT in Singapore. The distance is really quite short, unlike the transit systems in other major cities that cover a much bigger geographical area.

There is possibly another reason. The stations for our MRT system are about 1.6 km apart. Commuters have to take the bus to the destinations between the MRT stations. Perhaps our MRT operates like the express service in New York City and our buses provide the local service?

I wonder what is the average distance between the stations in the express service in New York City?

to websites

Many high volume websites face the challenge of designing a sign-in system that is secure (against hackers) and is convenient for users.

Google and Facebook met this challenge quite well. Their sign-in process is simple and quite secure.

Microsoft and Apple did it rather poorly. Their process is quite cumbersome.

I faced the problem when I changed to a new device (e.g. laptop, desktop, tablet or mobile phone) and requires to re-enter the passwords that were "remembered" in my old devices.

I cannot remember the passwords that were used previously, especially for websites that require a "strong password" and insists that it should be a "new" password that was not used before.

The websites of the government agencies in Singapore probably beat them all. They are the most troublesome.

Some people use an app called LastPass that remembered the passwords used before. I tried it, and found it to be more troublesome than helpful. So, I gave up on it.

There must be a better way to address this challenge.

The approach that I prefer is to allow the user to decide on the level of security that is really needed. For websites that do not contain sensitive information, allow them to use any password that they like. They can opt to use a strong password or even to have a 2FA authentication.

Should we keep the mandatory death sentence for drug offences?

Malaysia has changed the law to remove the mandatory death sentence for drug offences. Under the new law, the death sentence will be at the discretion of the judges.

Singapore continues to impose a mandatory death sentence for drug offences. Should Singapore changed the law to give the discretion to the judges?

Here are the views of the people who voted in The Wisdom of the Crowd.

a) 40% said that we should keep the mandatory death sentence to deter drug trafficking.
b) 36% said that this involves human lives. We should not impose the death sentence when there is an element of doubt.
c) 20% said that we should give the discretion to the judge to impose the appropriate sentence.
d) 4% said that we should keep the mandatory death sentence to remove the burden from the judges.

A total of 56% said that we should remove the mandatory death sentence and let the judge decide if the death sentence should be imposed on each individual case. The other 44% prefer that the mandatory death sentence be kept.

Should e-scooters be banned from the roads?

There were a few serious accidents and fatal casualties involving e-scooters on the roads.

Should e-scooters be banned from the roads? Here are the views of the people who voted in The Wisdom of the Crowd.

a) 43% said that e-scooters should be banned due to the many accidents.
b) 30% said that the riders should be required to get a licence.
c) 17% said the the vehicles should be licenced.
d) 11% said that they provide a useful form of transport and should be allowed on the road. There is no need for licence or other restrictions.

What should SMRT do about the frequent breakdowns of the MRT trains?

After installing the new signal system from Thales, the NS and EW lines of the MRT system experienced frequent breakdowns and a collision at Joo Koon.

Some people think that more time is needed for the new signal system to be tested. Other people think that sufficient time has already been given and that the frequent breakdowns are unacceptable.

What should the SMRT do about frequent breakdowns?

Here are the views of the people who voted in The Wisdom of the Crowd.

a) 58% said that SMRT should terminate the Thales contract and revert to the old system. This option is still available.
b) 16% said that SMRT and LTA should be given more time to sort out the problem with the Thales system.
c) 14% said that we should provide alternative transport to reduce the load on the MRT trains
d) 12% said that the breakdowns do not happen every day. We should continue to use the MRT system.

Sentence meted to couple who tortured the disabled waitress

A couple was sentenced to a total of 30.5 years for torturing a disabled waitress, who was their tenant, for 8 months and causing her death.

Was the sentence too lenient?

Here are the views of the people who voted in The Wisdom of the Crowd.

a) 49% said that the sentences were too lenient. They expected a longer sentence.
b) 34% said that this matter should be left to the judge as they had a fuller access to the facts compared to the general public.
c) 15% said that the sentences are quite long and are adequate.

I have observed in the past that many people in Singapore tend to take an extreme view. This is reflected in the 49%. In this case, it is balanced by other people who take a more moderate perspective.

Lessons from bubbles and ponzis

When a bubble burst, all the people who invested are caught. They cannot sell the assets that they are holding. Nobody wants to buy them.

This was the case with the tulip bubble, with the ponzi schemes and is likely to be the case with Bitcoin (when it burst eventually).

When people were investing in the gold bar ponzi scheme, many investors knew that it was a ponzi, but they thought that they could get out at the "right time". When they made the decision to get out, it was too late. Many other people also decided to get out. There were no buyers.

If you invest in a property bubble, it is not so bad. You can still hold on to the property and wait for the next cycle. You may have to wait for three decades, as has happened in Japan, and still there is no sign of light. This may apply to property in Singapore also.

Investors in bubbles and ponzis should learn this lesson. It happens all the time.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Should the citizenship be taken away for being involved in a crime?

A former S League player was given a citizenship. Later, he was involved in a global match fixing scheme. He went to jail. After that, his citizenship was taken away.…/gaye-alassane-singapore-ci…

Do you agree with the decision to take away the citizenship?

Give your vote in

Top priorities for PM Lee in 2018

What are the top priorities for PM Lee in 2018? Should they be reflected in Budget 2018?

Here are the views expressed by votes in a survey carried out in The Wisdom of the Crowd.

a) Improve wages and security of jobs - 38%
b) Reduce the cost of living - 30%
c) Solve the MRT problem - 17%
d) Settle his quarrel with his siblings - 9%
e) Play an active role as chair of ASEAN - 7%

The first two choices, totalling 68%, affect the financial well being of the citizens.

The likely increase in GST will make matters worse. It will increase the cost of living beyond the additional revenue that will flow to the government. It has an escalating effect. A 2% increase in GST is likely to translate to a 5% or 10% increase in prices in many places.

17% said that he should focus on solving the MRT problem. Perhaps he should just ask if the frequent breakdowns are due to the new signal system and if the teething problems are being sorted out, or remain unresolved?

Maybe, he can take the hard political decision to get Hong Kong MTR or Taipei MRT to manage the SMRT? That would be somewhat embarrasing for Singapore, but it could be not as bad as the frequent breakdowns.

How can he settle his quarrels with his siblings? It could be easy. He just need to disband the minsterial committee that looks into what to do with the house that Mr LKY lived in previously. He should just allow the house to remain a private residence.

Can he do much as chair of ASEAN? Will that help Singapore? We do not know. But he should not spend too much time on it, while there are so many problems to be solved in Singapore, right?

Should Jolovan Wham be charged for organising a silent protest in a MRT train?

Jolovan Wham is now being charged for organizing a silent protest in a MRt train. He arranged for a few young people to wear the tee-shirts and red a book on the alleged Marxist Conspiracy that occurred 30 years ago.

Should be he charged for this silent protest under a law that made it a crime for any protest to be carried out without a police permit.

Here are the views expressed in a vote in The Wisdom of the Crowd:

a) The public should be allowed to express their views and objections peacefully - 43%
b) The law should be removed as it goes against the constitutional right of free expression - 26%
c) The law should be applied only where the protest involves distrubing the peace - 17%
d) The law is quite clear. Any form of public protest is not allowed - 8%
e) He should be given a warning instead - 6%.

In summary, 86% find the charge to be in appropriate. Only 14% said that Jolovan should be charged.

Main causes of a high level of depression

What are the main causes of the high level of depression in Singapore? There was some international comparision that showed our level to be among the worst in the world.

According to this survey in The Wisdom of the Crowd, the top factors are, in this order:

a) High cost of living - 50% voted
b) Fear of losing jobs and high demands of the job - 36%
c) Relationship within the family - 8%
d) High demand from the education system - 4%
e) Gambling and debts - 2%

Once in a while, we read about suicides due to the stress from the education system and from gambling debts, but they account for only 6% of the total.

The most important causes are still the high cost of living and employement issues.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Should we worry about the increasing number of elderly in the population?

Should we worry about the increasing number of elderly in the population?

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Should condo owners be allowed to rent out their apartment under AirBNB?

Should condo owners be allowed to rent our their apartment for short term stay under AirBNB?

Give your vote in

Budget 2018 - Clearing house for Wallet Payments

At the National Day Rally in 2017, PM Lee suggested that we should promote e-payment, similar to the AliPay and WeChat Pay in China.

Several operators have since launched their platforms (i.e. e-wallets) to allow e-payment using QR Code. They include GrabPay, NETS Pay and DBS PayLah.

Each operator makes a special effort to market their wallets to merchants and hawkers.

I am afraid that the proliferation of platforms will not help in promoting the use of e-payments. We cannot expect a merchant to sign up with several platforms to receive e-payments from customers on those platforms.

I suggest that the Monetary Authority of Singapore or the Association of Banks set up a clearing house for e-wallet payments. If the customer and merchant are on different platforms, they can clear their transactions through the clearing house. This is similar to the current process of clearing cheque payments through a clearing house.

The clearing house can also be the channel for customers to top up their e-wallets from their linked bank accounts and for merchants to transfer money to their linked bank accounts.

By using the clearing house, the wallet operators will not be saddled with the cost of making separate linkages to the banks. This will reduce the infrastructure cost for the wallet operators and the banks.

I also suggest that all e-wallet operators be licensed by the MAS. A condition of the licensing is that the operator has to set up a trust account in a bank that contains the total balance of all the balances in their customers' e-wallets. This will give confidence to customers that their e-wallets will be safe and that they will not lose money when their operator fails

I hope that my suggestion will be helpful to promote e-payments in Singapore, reducing the cost of payments and increase productivity and innovation.

Tan Kin Lian

Budget 2018 - Simplify CPF contribution

The following document shows how employers should calculate the CPF contributions for their employees. It contained 15 pages included tables in 11 annexes, numbered A to L. Click here.

It is a nightmare for a small employer to calculate the CPF contribution correctly for their employees. It is also costly for them to engage a developer to write the codes for the CPF contributions in their payroll systems.

I suggest that the government should simplify the contribution rates as follows:

a) Set up the table showing the "standard rates" for contribution rates applicable to employees in the private sector.
b) The contribution rates for older employees and permanent residents can be set certain percentages of the standard rates.

The public sector can be handled in a separate paper.

Tan Kin Lian

An alternative system for SMRT to consider

I question the decision to invest $195 million in the new signal system for the NS and EW lines.

I find the amount to be excessive. I also dislike the many instances of "signal faults" that caused the frequent disruption in the train services and the collision at Joo Koon station.

Under the old signal system, we did not have the frequent breakdowns that are occuring now.

Could this be caused by bad implementation? Did we rush to implement the new system without proper testing?

More important, will we be able to see the light of day soon. Can we get over the frequent disruptions? How long more do we have to wait to see the improvement in service that was expected from this large investment?

Another question is - do we have an alternative?

I believe that we have an alternative to the Thales CBTC system. I know that they are a reputable system and their system is used in many cities.

But I do not accept that we need to implement an expensive system just because it is used in other cities. The more important question is - is there an alternative?

What is the system expected to achieve?

Take the NS line. It runs for 45 km and has 28 stations. The average distance between the station is 1.6 km.

If we despatch a train every 2 minutes, the average distance between 2 trains is 2 km, based on an average speed of 60 kph. 2 km is a long distance. Even if we reduce the interval of the trains to 1 minute, the average distances is 1 km.

We like the trains to arrive at each station on time. There could be local factors that cause the train to be temporarily behind schedule. The can be rectified by getting the train to increase the speed until they are back on schedule.

There is the challenge to get the train to stop at the exact spot on the platform, so that they train and platform doors can open. I prefer that this be achieved using local signals and sensors, rather than rely on the central system to tell the train exactly where to stop.

There is also the challenge to get the train to slow down or stop to avoid collison with the train or another obstacle ahead. Under normal circumstances, this should not happen, as the trains are all moving at the expected speed and there is a distance of 1 or 2 km between the trains.

But we have to deal with the unexpected emergencies.

I prefer each train to have a collision avoidance system. This is already installed in expensive cars. I like a similar system to be installed on each train. Remember, this is to be used only in emergencies. It is not intended to regulate the speed of the train.

The speed of each train will be regulated by the central control system. This system has the primary goal of instructing the train on the speed that it should travel.

The central system should not be burdened with the task of getting the train to stop at the right spot in the platform (as it can be delegated to the local sensors and systems).

I have developed a prototype of a system that describes how my approach can work. They can be viewed here.

Operation of the system

Signals of the system

Monitor screen for simulation

If you have any feedback, send email to

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A better system of signage for MRT stations

The MRT station in Seoul uses a sensible system of signage.

They numbered their exits from 1, 2, 3, etc.

On passing the gantry, I can see a big signboard showing all the prominent buildings and the exit gate. Along the passage way, I see only the direction for each exit gate. The signage is small and easy to understand.

At some prominent places, there will be another board showing all the prominent buildings and exits.

I like the common sense of the people in Seoul. I hope that our planners follow their approach.

The algorithm for TKL train control system is working fine now

I managed to fine-tune the algorithm for the TKL train control system. It is now able to despatch a train every 1 minute and to have very few trains taken off the system, even if they have some train fault.

The monitor also display the trains that have a high percentage of being late. This indicates that the train may have some fault and should be inspected and repaired.

You can watch the monitor in

My system does not cost $195 million. It probably can be installed for $20 million and should not cause the kind of breakdowns that have been experiened recently.

Keep a driver in the MRT train and expand the duties

SMRT invested $195 million to install a new signal system. I suspect that the main purpose is to allow the trains to be operated without a driver.

I disagree with this approach.

I will make the train run automatically (but at a much lower cost) and still have a driver in the train. The driver will take over in case of emergency.

At other times, the drivers will be responsible to watch the TV monitors for all the cabins in the train and to act on any disorderly behavior or render needed assistance to any passenger.

SMRT needs only 400 drivers. They have a workforce of more than 5,000 people. They can reduce the manpower in the maintenance department by using "smart maintenance" concepts. Currently, they have 900 more maintenance staff compared to Taipei MRT which handles a similar volume of traffic to SMRT.

Allow platform doors to be opened

A few breakdowns were caused by "signal fault" which caused the platform doors to remain closed.

There should be a manual override to open these doors and keep them open until they are fixed. We did not have platform doors in the past.

The platform doors were installed to prevent people falling or jumping to the tracks. The risk is quite small even if the platform doors are kept open. For people who are prone to suicides, they can also jump from buildings, right?

Many train stations in other countries do not have platform doors anyway. It is nice to have this safety measure, but it is not essential.

This kind of problem is faced by Hong Kong's MRT. They have a 10 hour delay that occurred half a year ago, caused by the same kind of problem.

Why did the government decide to act against Li Shengwu?

Why did the government decide to act against Li Shengwu?

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Did Li Shengwu scandalised the court?

Did Li Shengwu scandalised the court by referring to a "pliant court system"?

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Will the current chairman take over as CEO of SMRT?

Do you expect Seah MM (current chairman) to take over as CEO of SMRT?

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Do we need an expensive and sophisticated train control system for the MRT?

Like Singapore, Hong Kong also paid a lot of money to upgrade their signal system. The average cost is about S$75 million per line. Singapore cost is about $85 million per line, but it is a few years later - probably due to inflation.

Hong Kong also faced problem with signal issues.

My common sense tells me that both countries paid too much to install a sophisticated system that is not necessary and is causing a lot of problems.

The trains run at a maximum speed of 80 kph. That is as fast as a car on the road. Allowing for the time for passengers to board and alight at each station, the average speed of the train is 45 kpm for the entire journey.

If the trains run every 2 minutes, the average distance between the trains is 2 km. That is a very long distance. Do we need a sophisticated and costly signal system to handle this operation?

I prefer to have an onboard collision avoidance system on each train. It will prevent collision.

Apart from this feature, I like to see a signal to tell a train that it is approaching a station, so that the train can slow down, and another signal to guide the train to the exact place to stop on the platform.

These signals are processed locally on the train and do not need to involve the control center.

The only control data that needs to be send by the control center is the speed for the train to take. This may be necessary to synchronise the speed of the various trains, and to ensure that they arrive punctually and are evenly spaced.

If the system is kept simple at the control center, the risk of "signal faults" would probably be minimised. Of course, we could still have local signal faults.

This is my common sense perspective. It can save a lot of money and give less breakdowns.

Should consumers shop for groceries online?

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should consumers shop for groceries online?

The views are quite mixed. However, the majority appears to think that it is a bad idea.

You can see the breakdown of the votes in

Is the government too intrusive?

I asked this question in The Wisdom of the Crowd - Is the PAP government too intrusive?

53% of the people who voted said that they are neglecting their duty to ensure that citizens have jobs to match the cost of living.

28% said that they are intrusive in the wrong issues, such as restricting freedom to express views.

15% said that they are neglecting their duty in the issues that need their attention.

You can view the breakdown of the votes in

Are we paying too much for the Thales system?

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Are we paying too much ($195 million) for the Thales signal system?

67% of the people who voted said that we should have a commision of inquiry to look into the issue.

14% said that the sum is grossly excessive.

Nobody said that the money was well spent.

You can look at the breakdown of the votes in

Should e-bikes be banned from walkways?

Should e-bikes be banned from walkways?

Give your vote in

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Long queue at opening of Gong cha outlet

Is it good for people to queue for many hours at the opening of the Gong Cha outlet?

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Do we need so many security guards in Singapore?

I asked this question in The Wisdom of the Crowd - Do we need so many security guards in Singapore?

38% of the people who voted said that they are not effective in preventing crime.

30% said that they are unnecessary.

17% said that the higher cost of security guards will encourage management corporation to reduce their manpower.

This makes a total of 85%. Only 15% said that they serve a useful purpose.

You can view the breakdown of the votes in

I agree with the votes. We tend to follow the past practice blindly, even though it did not serve a useful purpose. We need more people to be thinking and questionining.

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