Sunday, 14 September 2014

Slip in user ratings for Singapore transport

Rising expectations among reasons for poorer showing, say experts
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2014

WHETHER it is trains, taxis or plane trips, transport standards here have slipped in the eyes of commuters and travellers, who have rated them lower nearly across the board over last year.

Taking the biggest hit as a single category was Changi Airport, which saw customer satisfaction drop by 11.8 per cent.

National carrier Singapore Airlines also saw a dip of 5.7 per cent over last year. Fierce competition among international players and higher expectations from travellers were the main reasons for the lower scores by local aviation players, said experts.

The airport, considered a mode of transport as it is an aviation hub, scored 75.4 out of a possible 100 points. This was based on a survey of eight transport and logistics categories by the Institute of Service Excellence (ISES) at Singapore Management University.

To come up with the customer satisfaction index for this sector, the institute, which released its results yesterday, examined customers' expectations, their experience, and value for money.

Feedback was gathered from 7,250 locals, tourists and transit passengers from Aprilto June.

Mr Jochen Wirtz, a marketing professor at the National University of Singapore whose research interests include customer satisfaction measurement, said the poorer showing could be because industry standards are moving up, and regional airports have upgraded in the past four years. "People's expectations are changing - what was great 10 years ago has become the standard today. Others are catching up," he added.

Nonetheless, Changi Airport was the top scorer out of all the categories, and SIA, with its 74.9 score, maintained top spot among the airlines.

Other airlines surveyed include Emirates, (73 points), Qantas (71.7 points), and SilkAir (71.4 points).

ISES director Caroline Lim said: "With the intensity of competition between airlines, it is very easy for them to emulate one another in areas (such as) entertainment systems (and) food and beverage."

Changi Airport and SIA also fared better than MRT trains and public buses, which have, for the past year or so, been hit with complaints of overcrowding and long waiting times during peak hours. The same goes for taxis, which customers say are scarce during peak hours and rainy weather.

The MRT system scored 59.7 points this year, down from 64.1 points. Public buses also dropped about two points to score 58.5, and taxi services dipped about four points to 63.2.

According to Mr Wirtz, having one thing go wrong could colour the commuter's entire experience.

"There is the halo effect. When important aspects of a service are bad, they colour the judgment of all the other aspects," he said.

Budget airlines showed a slight improvement of 1.2 per cent over last year to 68.3 points, while local postal services provided by Singapore Post showed a significant improvement, jumping 5.7 per cent over last year to 71.2 points.





Situation likely to worsen before it gets better
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2014

CHANGI Airport has done well to grow passenger traffic amid tough competition from rival airports, but travellers, it seems, are a less happy lot these days.

So says a recent survey by the Institute of Service Excellence at the Singapore Management University, which polled about 1,000 travellers over three months from April.

Of the more than 30 firms spanning the education, logistics and transport sectors - including bus, taxi and MRT operators - that were ranked in the annual survey, Changi Airport saw the second biggest year-on-year drop of almost 12 per cent in customer satisfaction levels.

This is despite the fact that the airport did better than other transport firms, including Singapore Airlines, in this year's rankings.

Respondents were not asked to list bugbears. But anecdotally, it appears travellers and visitors are finding the airport more crowded these days. This has had a direct impact on service levels - for example, longer waits for taxis and passport checks during peak hours.

The good news is that the situation should improve eventually.

Changi has announced expansion plans to cope with growing traffic which hit 53.7 million passengers last year - more than 80 per cent of the current capacity.

The airport has embarked on a project to expand Terminal 1 and is building a new facility, T4. This will boost Changi's total handling capacity from 66 million passengers a year now to 85 million.

But the bad news is that between now and 2017 when T4 is expected to open, the situation is likely to worsen as traffic grows.

The story is no different for the public transport system. Faced with delays and overcrowding, commuters gave bus and train operators lower service rankings. And while measures have been announced to improve the travel experience, it will take some time for the benefits to be realised.

Since 2011, operators SMRT and SBS Transit have injected more than 2,000 train trips a week but the majority of trips added to the North-South and East- West lines are outside peak hours. This is because of an old signalling system which can run trains no closer than two minutes apart.

A $195 million overhaul of the system is in progress but it will be completed only in 2016 for the North-South Line and 2018 for the East-West Line.

The Government embarked on a $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme in 2012 to fund new buses and improve service.

In the meantime, plans are being finalised for a new bus contracting model to be rolled out in phases from 2016. This will see the Government take on the substantial investment of owning the assets, that is, the buses and depots, while transport firms will bid to operate parcels of routes.

The aim is to remove some of the commercial risks that can come in the way of operators improving service levels.

With growing customer expectations, Changi Airport, bus and train operators and other service providers must continue to up their game and invest in new initiatives, products and technology.

Fail to do so and rankings will be hit again when the same survey is done next year. Indeed, this is almost a given in view of the time lag from now until the time the improvements are completed.


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