THE first day of free train rides into the city area for early birds got off to an "encouraging" start yesterday, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Its figures show that the number of commuters tapping out of specified stations during the pre-peak hours of 7am to 7.45am shot up. It rose 25 per cent to nearly 29,000 against the daily average of 23,000 for the first three weeks of this month.
On the other hand, the number of commuters who tapped out during the 8am to 9am peak period fell to almost 86,000, a 9 per cent decline from 94,000.
The trial involves 16 MRT stations, including Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown and City Hall.
A Straits Times poll of 70 commuters at five stations, however, found that only around 5 per cent of them got up earlier for the free ride yesterday, the first day of a trial effort to spread the morning peak-hour crowds.
But change takes time, said transport analysts. The LTA said it will monitor the changes in the next few months before drawing conclusions about any change in people's travel patterns.
The reason: Travel patterns take time to stabilise as employers and employees make adjustments in workplace and personal arrangements. "There may be daily fluctuations as well," said the LTA spokesman.
When the situation settles, studies will be done to determine how many people will start their journeys earlier, she said.
Agreeing, transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said it will take two to three months to gauge commuter response. "It is still the school holidays, and people take time to change and get used to new travelling habits."
The year-long trial by the Government, which is costing it $10 million, also offers a 50 cent discount to those who tap out between 7.45am and 8am.
The number who did so fell as well, from 13,000 to 12,350 - a 5 per cent decline, said the LTA.
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has projected that the free rides could move 10,000 to 20,000 - or 10 per cent to 20 per cent - of train users away from the peak period.
Among yesterday's early birds was administrative assistant Elizabeth Anthony, who left her Sembawang home 15 minutes earlier.
The 58-year-old said: "Usually, I take a bus, but this is good savings which I can donate to charity... I will save about $1.70 a day."
But the remaining 95 per cent preferred their sleep, like recruitment consultant Jimmy Ng.
The 31-year-old, who spends about $50 a month on transport between Hougang and Raffles Place, said the savings are not substantial. He added: "I would rather sleep a bit more, and I don't mind squeezing a little on the train."
Auditor Josephine Lee, 24, said bosses need to implement staggered work hours for the scheme to work: "No point going to work earlier if my firm won't allow us to finish work early."