TL;DR – But… actually he made some sense.
MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah asked Minister Khaw in Parliament last week if there are plans to provide additional help for those affected by the discontinuation of the off-peak pass for elderly commuters. In answering that question, Minister said:
“When we know a particular resident has been inconvenienced because of this, and despite the various 25 per cent discounts and so on, could not still afford their transport fares, as a local MP we do chip in if I discover such cases”
When I read that, I rolled my eyes so hard. Did Minister Khaw mean needy Singaporeans get help for transport fares only if MPs fork out their own cash? Or did he mean that needy Singaporeans have to depend on the good graces of their MP to get the help they need?
But that’s so subjective.
MPs “chip in” by finding different ways to help
So, in eye-rolling exasperation, I went to rant to my friend who has been helping out at one of those Meet-the-People-Sessions (MPS). I asked him what he thought Minister Khaw had meant.
My friend explained that MPs do indeed fork out their own money to help needy Singaporeans. But that’s usually the very last resort, after all other means have been exhausted. And those means include ComCare allocations and transport vouchers.
I also learnt that it’s actually easier for a needy Singaporean to get transport vouchers from MPS than it is to get any other forms of subsidies from government agencies. Fewer forms to fill in, fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through, much faster. But those are usually stop gap measures. MPs usually then help the needy Singaporean get longer term, more regular assistance. So when Minister Khaw say MPs “chip in”, he probably meant they find ways other than government subsidies to help.
He could have been clearer though.
Off-peak pass was a failed experiment
Having said that, just because MPs step in to help doesn’t mean that we should do away with the off-peak pass for elderly commuters, right? I mean… those passes will definitely help the elderly manage the cost of transport, right?
After I was done rolling my eyes and ranting to my friend, I went back to read what Minister Khaw in closer detail. It turns out that less than 1% of seniors who held concession cards had purchased the off-peak pass. And that meant that fewer than 200 pass users were shifted to off-peak travel.
In other words, the off-peak pass didn’t really achieve what it was trying to do, which was to get more seniors to travel during off-peak hours. As Minister Khaw put it:
“While I encourage making mistakes, when you discover something doesn’t work and you keep on banging your head against the wall, why do you do that? You get a headache.”
To be replaced with something that will benefit A LOT more people
Which makes sense. It’s a government scheme. Government scheme should serve a sizeable group of people.
The off-peak pass, at best, served 200 people. So rather than have a scheme that benefits only 200 people, the government has decided to replace off-peak pass for seniors with lower morning pre-peak fares with up to 50 cents discount. That is supposed to benefit at least 300,000 commuters.
I think that’s replacing a failed experiment that only benefitted only 200 people with a measure that will benefit at least 300,000 people is a good move. So… even though Minister Khaw does say a lot of things that make me go “WTF?!”, this time round, what he said actually does make sense.