Govt will ensure SMRT stays focused on its core business
MPs concerned that SMRT may lose focus on core transport service as it jointly bids for telco licence
Will the collaboration between public transport operator SMRT and OMGTel affect our train and bus services?
That was the concern raised in Parliament yesterday, after SMRT announced its plans to work with OMGTel to bid for the fourth wireless telecommunications carrier licence last month.
SMRT said it may invest $34.5 million in the telco subsidiary of local tech company Consistel if it wins the bid.
Tampines MP Baey Yam Keng had asked about the impact of this collaboration on SMRT's core business.
In reply, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "I expect SMRT to remain fully focused on providing reliable and efficient public transport services. In this regard, SMRT has given assurances on multiple occasions."
SMRT's chief executive officer Desmond Kwek had previously said that the operator "has no intention" of becoming the fourth telco here.
Mr Lui assured the House that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will continue to "keep a close eye" on the public transport operators here to ensure that they are not distracted by their non-public-transport businesses, and that their primary mission of providing public transport services is not compromised.
Penalties are also in place for the public transport operators if they do not meet operating standards, Mr Lui pointed out.
In a supplementary question, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong asked how the Government will ensure that SMRT is not distracted by its pursuit of a non-core business.
"Thus far, the penalties do not seem to be working very well in terms of ensuring that the smooth operations will benefit the commuters," she said.
Mr Lui said LTA will first look at the use of manpower with regard to SMRT Trains, which is the entity that LTA regulates.
"So if, for example, we see senior manpower being taken out from SMRT Trains to be used to support their venture with the fourth telco, we will be very concerned," he said.
Transport analyst Lee Der-Horng said that as long as the transport operator does not forget its core business and responsibility, the public should respect it as a private operator.
"This is also why we want to get the private operator to do the business. They can maintain certain flexibility and even some creativity (in their operations)," Dr Lee pointed out.
He added that he sees no actual concern in SMRT's partnership with OMGTel, should the transport operator decide to invest in the telco subsidiary.
"If they want to penetrate into the mobile communications business, that's when it is a little controversial.
"But if SMRT can expand their business into something more profitable, and in the process cross-subsidise its core business, then it's not a bad thing," said Dr Lee, a transportation planner and engineer by training.
One way commuters can possibly benefit from the SMRT-OMGTel collaboration is having telco service centres located at bus interchanges or MRT stations, instead of near them.
"From time to time, we have no choice but to visit the telco's office (for certain matters). Many of the service centres are near to transport infrastructure, but not really inside.
"Maybe to this extent, this combination has certain advantages," he said.
Another possible benefit is having wireless internet on the go, Dr Lee pointed out.
"Nowadays, whenever people arrive at any location, they ask for the Wi-Fi password even though they have a data plan.
"If the SMRT-OMGTel combination is saying, 'If you use my telco, you get free Wi-Fi when you ride the MRT', it will be a major plus point," he explained.