Forum: Turn public transport operators into state-owned enterprises

The disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic gives us an opportunity to transform how public transport will work in the new normal (Time to get moving on cost-efficient transport, Sept 3).

The sharp drop in fare collection does not in itself imply the need to change fundamentals. On-demand services and cycling have their uses, but are unlikely to represent wholesale change for the foreseeable future.

Rather, I believe shifts should take place in terms of operational competency and managerial skill to achieve greater cost-efficiency and reliability.

One way to do so might be to convert public transport operators into full-fledged, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), recalling prior proposals for nationalisation.

As of 2014, SOEs represented 23 per cent of the Fortune Global 500. This year's Global 500 shows 84 out of the 124 Chinese companies on the list are SOEs.

That government-linked corporations (GLCs) already appear so frequently in Singapore's economic landscape further attests to the general efficacy of the state-owned model.

These firms are managed by professionals with relevant sectoral and industrial experience and are held to the highest standards of performance.

With the state in a position of ultimate oversight, SOEs are uniquely placed to deliver positive outcomes for society that conventional corporations are structurally ill-equipped to

achieve.

Making the leap to state direction is not infeasible, given current patterns of ownership in public transport operators - for example, Singapore investment firm Temasek is now the main shareholder in SMRT Corporation - and recent reforms in the rail and bus operating models.

To avoid operational pitfalls in rail and bus services, an SOE might well be fit for purpose.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi