Phase 1 of Circle Line to open on May 30

Public transport ridership has been going up – and with it comes more crowding.

To ease the situation, the government announced that two rail projects – Jurong East Modification project and the North-South Line extension – are being brought forward, and 22 new trains being bought.

Still, with the changes only kicking in by 2011, the squeeze will still be on for a while.

Last year, public transport ridership spiked by 7.4 per cent – one of the fastest rates in years. And the overcrowding is being felt on MRT trains.

“MRT trains still suffer from an overcrowding problem. Has LTA (Land Transport Authority) reviewed the capacity? Is it possible to add more tracks on the existing lines, which are now overcrowded and have reached maximum capacity,” asked Cynthia Phua, MP for Aljunied GRC.

With 900 additional train trips per week added since last year, that is the best the system can do in terms of train frequencies, given the current constraints.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Transport Minister Raymond Lim said the only way to increase capacity is through infrastructural changes.

Currently, there is a bottleneck at the Jurong East Interchange station. The whole system is slowed down as the train does a turnaround, because there is only a single platform for this.

LTA is now building a second platform so that two trains can turn around at the same time, with the project completion brought forward by a year to 2011.

22 new trains are also being bought. When they enter the system, it should lower waiting times to as low as 2 minutes at the busiest stretches.

Opening new lines will also ease the crunch. Phase 1 of the Circle Line will officially open on May 30. The new MRT line will open its first five stations – Bartley, Serangoon, Lorong Chuan, Bishan and Marymount.

The other stages of the Circle Line are expected to open from 2010 onwards, and they are expected to divert about 10-15 per cent of passenger traffic.

But such large infrastructure projects take time to kick in, with one of the main changes coming only in 2011. At the same time, public transport ridership is increasing, and may go up even further during the economic downturn. So the situation may just get worse before it gets better.

One other major initiative this year is the LTA taking over the role of central bus network planner. This will be a two-stage process – first, talking to the industry, operators and experts, and then to grassroots representatives.

The transport minister said: “One of our guiding principles is to avoid making any radical, big-bang-type changes to bus services. Commuters make more than three million trips on buses every day, and we are conscious that any change must be gradual. Otherwise, there will be mass confusion.

“Our approach instead is to identify any gaps in connectivity, try to plug them, and see where bus services can be streamlined to improve efficiency of the network.”

And it is only after this is done, can LTA look at how best to package the bus routes for competitive tendering.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 13 Feb 2009

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