Chris Reed
Jun 27, 2013

Can marketing and partners drive Singapore's free travel initiative?

It was pure bad timing that Singapore MRT launched a Free Travel program just as the haze meant that people didn’t want to leave their homes or had left the country…..

Can marketing and partners drive Singapore's free travel initiative?

Singapore have just launched a revolutionary new travel scheme to ease congestion and reward commuters for getting up early. Completely free travel if you finish your journey to a city centre MRT station by 7.45am.

There have been some pretty cheesy marketing campaigns around this by SMRT that will not have helped persuade Singaporean residents to give up their beds to save dollars. I actually think that McDonalds have done more to persuade residents to get up early by offering a free cup of coffee to those who do drag themselves out of bed. I have not seen many other brands try and capitalise on this innovative campaign as well.

As usual in Singapore this imaginative but very simple initiative divides opinion.

Well to put it another way people who dislike anything the PAP Government suggest think it’s a bad idea and everyone else loves it!.

The idea itself is sound and wise and if you judge it purely on its merits is hard to criticise. The number of commuters who travel after 7.45 is double those who travel before therefore the before 7.45am has been targeted because it has capacity. MRT and buses are generally less packed then than after 8am at its peak. Diverting some of these people from after 8am to before 7.45 is therefore logical. 

So if you are willing to forsake your lie in and you work in the city centre you will be rewarded. Free travel as long as you finish by 7.45am.  Even if you finish your journey at 7.45-8am you will only be charged 50% of your usual fare which again is a wise move. This new Free Travel scheme will enhance the existing scheme which discounts all fares before 7.45am and will extend it to additional stations.

The government picks up the tab at around $10million for the trial year starting end of June. Not much compared to the billions being spent on the new and existing MRT/Bus infrastructure but if it persuades 10-20% of people to change journeys and therefore makes life better for those who travel after 8am then it will be a small price to pay. We all have to adapt while the MRT network is still being built.

Wisely targeting the CBD where many people start early or whose companies can start early anyway makes sense. If your office is open then why not?

There has been feedback from a recent NTUC survey that said 60% of employees are not keen on flexible working due to it potentially causing friction in the office. This seems just bizarre and backwards in its viewpoint. The world is moving to flexible working, move with the times. Yahoo’s CEO is not the rule she is the exception. Flexible working improves productivity. You don’t have to be in the office to be effective! In fact the opposite is often true.

More importantly for Singapore it’s good for working parents and if people focused more on that than their careers and being “seen in the office” but not actually doing any work then maybe Singapore’s fertility rate would not be the lowest in the world with all the knock on effects this has…..!

There are additional benefits here too for the work-life balance in Singapore. Coming in early means that people are entitled to leave early too. Your contract should be flexible enough to allow this, if not see your boss/HR manager to make it so. This has the double knock on effect of easing congestion for the afternoon rush hour too. If people are leaving at 4pm or 5pm rather than 6pm or 7pm then congestion on MRT going home will also ease again making life easier and less congested for everyone.

Other benefits include an increase in productivity. People who get in early achieve more and produce more. Why? Because they are not distracted by other people and can focus on their work!

This is probably why employers have also been targeted to help persuade employees to come in early as it benefits them as well as the public transport system. 12 organisations have signed up to work with the government on this. They have agreed everything from flexi working to improving remote working and even introducing showers into offices. All logical and great ideas that benefits the employee and employer as well as fellow commuters in one go. Win-win.

Students and higher education establishments are also being talked to with regards to how they can get involved and benefit from this forward thinking initiative too. SMRT does need to reach out to more brands like McDonalds and work with them on creating business related incentives and added value to encourage a change in thinking from both commuters and employers.

You can’t have it both ways…don’t complain about the MRT being packed and the price if you are now given the option of getting free travel and more space by getting up earlier…..


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