How S’pore compares to other cities

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 6 Apr 2012 article “How S’pore compares to other cities” which reported Singapore as standing out in bus and train affordability compared to New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong [1].

Hong Kong’s average rapid transit fare was reported as 2.13% of Hong Kong median daily income. This is more than twice that of Singapore’s average rapid transit fare of 0.9% of Singapore median daily income [1].

The following table was constructed using data from MTR’s annual report 2010 [2] and a report from Hong Kong’s census and statistics department [3]. It shows that Hong Kong’s airport express and cross boundary service are a lot pricier than its domestic and light rail services. Considering there are no equivalent to airport express and cross boundary service in Singapore, it would be fairer to leave these out when comparing Hong Kong’s MTR with our MRT. Considering only the domestic and light rail services, Hong Kong’s rapid transit fare is just 1.5% of Hong Kong median daily income, much lower than the 2.13% given in the Straits Times article.

Fare revenue (HK$ m) Ridership (million) Average fare / ridership Median daily income Ratio of fare to median daily income
MTR domestic HK$8,668 1,299 HK$6.67 HK$407 1.6%
MTR cross boundary HK$2,487 100 HK$24.89 HK$407 6.1%
MTR airport express HK$694 11 HK$62.28 HK$407 15.3%
MTR light rail HK$409 155 HK$2.65 HK$407 0.7%
MTR domestic + light rail HK$9,077 1,453 HK$6.25 HK$407 1.5%

Hong Kong is also bigger than Singapore and this would naturally lead to longer distanced trips and higher fares per passenger trip. A fairer comparison would be to compare fares for say a 10 km journey such as the one done by SMRT [5]. The table below takes the 10 km fare figures from that SMRT comparison. It shows that Hong Kong’s 10-km journey fare is 1.9% of Hong Kong daily income, not too far from Singapore’s 10-km journey fare of 1.6% of Singapore daily income. Compared this way, Singapore’s bus and train affordability is slightly better than Hong Kong’s but doesn’t stand out against Hong Kong’s while Tokyo’s bus and train affordability is on par with Singapore’s.

Fare for 10 km journey (SGD) 2008 PPP conversion factor Fare for 10 km journey (local currency) Median daily income (local currency) Fare for 10 km journey as percentage of median daily income
Singapore $1.40 1.06 1.4 90 1.6%
Hong Kong $1.48 5.4 57.6 407 1.9%
Tokyo $1.76 116.85 193.6 12,000 [6] 1.6%

In the case of London, it was reported that London’s average rapid transit fare and London’s average bus fare are 3.35% and 1.05% of London median daily income respectively [1].

The following table was constructed using data from the Transport for London annual report 2010/11 and the UK 2011 annual survey of hours and earnings [7]. It shows that London’s average Underground fare and average bus fare are 1.7% and 0.8% of London median income respectively. The calculated rapid transit fare is almost half that reported by the Straits Times.

Fare revenue (£m) Ridership (million) Average fare / ridership Median daily income Ratio of average fare to median daily income
London buses £1,687 2,289 £0.74 £93 0.8%
London Underground £1,758 1,107 £1.59 £93 1.7%

Finally, it was reported that our average bus and MRT fares are 0.7% and 0.9% of our median daily income [8] respectively which works out to be $0.63 and $0.81 respectively. These are very close to the $0.73 fare for one bus stop ride or one MRT stop ride which is strange because not many Singaporeans travel one bus stop or one MRT stop to work.

We are therefore compelled to consider that Singapore’s hub and spoke public transport system may have distorted our average bus and train fares. Other cities that rely less on the hub and spoke system will be less affected by such distortions.

As an example, suppose someone takes an SBS bus, transfers to the MRT, then transfers to a TransIsland bus. The first bus ride will count in the SBS annual report while the last bus ride will count in the SMRT annual report. Let’s say the first SBS bus ride cost $0.80, the MRT ride cost $0.50 (with transfer rebate) and the last TransIsland bus ride cost $0.10 (with transfer rebate). The average bus fare becomes $0.90 / 2 = $0.45 while the average train fare is $0.50. Notice that $0.45 and $0.50 are both much lower than the $1.40 actual cost of the journey?

In conclusion, there may be room for improvement for Straits Times’ Hong Kong and London fare calculations. Those of New York, Chicago and Tokyo may similarly require re-calculation. Furthermore, there is a need to go beyond average boarding fare to average fare per 10 km journey to account for size differences across cities. Last but not least, many so-called trips used in fare calculations are actually part journeys. A hub and spoke public transport system magnifies these part journeys which in turn lowers the average bus and rapid transit fare. This ought to be taken into account too.

[1] Straits Times, 6 Apr 2012, “How S’pore compares to other cities”

[2] Hong Kong MTR Annual Report 2010

[3] Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, 2011 Report on Annual Earnings and Hours Survey, page 19, median income reported as HK$12,200 in 2010 for full time employees

[4] Singapore Land Transport Statistics in Brief 2011

[5] SMRT Annual Report 2010, Page 88.

[6] Japan Statistics Bureau, the figure is average wage for Japan rather than median wage for Tokyo. Tokyo average wage tends to be higher than Japan average.

[7] UK Office of National Statistics, 2011 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, Page 1

[8] Ministry of Manpower Comprehensive Labour Force Survey

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2 Responses to “How S’pore compares to other cities”

  1. ;ABC Says:

    You have not taken into account the heavy but hidden subsidies the transport companies in Singapore receive, not forgetting the $1.1b gift.

  2. Saycheese Says:

    That is what happens when nation-building gets in the way of objective reporting.

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