How to encourage incompetence: Paying $1.8million for Transport Reliability

So, our transport companies just got paid a cool $1.8 million for “improved bus waiting times under the Bus Service Reliability Framework”. Under this framework, the Excess Wait Time (EWT) of a select set of buses are measured before transport companies are rewarded for reducing EWTs. This would ensure that buses are more spread out, making waiting times shorter for everyone.

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In theory, this is fantastic. In practice? We’re encouraging incompetence. Here’s how I look at it.

How Businesses Work

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Any private company that deals with consumers would tell you that their business depends on keeping customers happy. They (generally) do this by:

  • Keeping service standards solid
  • Keeping the product good
  • Improving on existing standards

Businesses that don’t achieve the above will either close down, or find it very hard to survive.

SBS and SMRT are both private transport companies that deal with customers. It would then logically mean that they would need to:

  • Keep bus timings reliable
  • Keep buses working
  • Keep improving on bus arrival timings

Instead, we have to reward them for doing things they’re already supposed to. Sort of like giving that underachieving kid a Participation Medal.

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Rewarding “good enough”

Instead, we decide to reward the concept of “good enough”. As in, it’s “good enough” that transport companies lowered their waiting time, so we’ll pay them to the tune of $1.8million. I’m not kidding. Here’s what the LTA said to Channel NewsAsia:

“Overall both operators have sustained improvements in reliability since the implementation of the BSRF trial, through enhanced management of the bus fleet and the hiring of more service controllers,”

Let’s break this down:

  • Both operators have sustained improvements in reliability
  • By improving the management of their bus fleets…
  • …and hiring more service staff

But the original role of the bus companies is just that: To provide a reliable public transport service and continually improve their companies to stay relevant.

Don’t believe me?

Okay, well. It’s right here in the SBS website:

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The Vision is to move people in a safe, reliable, and affordable way. RELIABILITY is supposed to be a core value in the SBS Bus brand, the operating word being “supposed”, I guess. I mean, how else do you explain the fact that we have to pay them extra to be reliable? Maybe SBS is really just taking all of us for a ride, and making money along the way.

Why are we giving them extra money, just for doing their jobs?

What is happening

We’re rewarding companies (with taxpayer dollars) for simply generating sufficient output to cope with the current public transport situation. What happens when we grow our population even more? Will we be paying SBS and SMRT even more money to “stay on par”?

While we’re rewarding “Reliability”…

We might as well do the following:

  • Reward The Straits Times for posting articles daily.
  • Reward CapitaLand Malls for staying open every day.
  • Pay people extra for showing up to work every day.
  • Pay utility companies extra for providing electricity and water every day.

This absurd list can go on forever. You see, the absurdity of it all lies in the idea that the authorities have deemed it fit to give reward money for marginal competence. Underneath all of this, there is a discomforting notion that if marginal competence is worth this much in their eyes, one must wonder how low the bar actually is. Now that, is the part that should have us all very worried.

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