EMPLOYERS must put into place stronger flexible working arrangements to ease the strain on public transportation, Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Speaking at a seminar to promote the Land Transport Authority (LTA) Travel Smart programme for companies, she described it as "disturbing" that, in the 49 per cent of Singapore workplaces that have flexi-work policies in place, less than 20 per cent of employees were either aware of them or believed themselves eligible.

"There is clearly much scope for employers to do more to offer and promote flexi-work arrangements, in ways that benefit both employers and employees," she said.

The findings came from an LTA market research study of 1,500 commuters and 100 organisations, conducted in August and September last year.

It also found that 79 per cent of commuters attributed their heavy use of public transportation during the morning rush hour to rigid operating hours in the workplace.

According to Evan Gwee, senior manager for sustainable transport research at LTA, the public transportation system snarls up because more than seven in 10 of Singapore firms expect employees to start work between 8.30am and 9.30am and to clock out between 5.30pm and 6.30pm.

In the four weeks since LTA unveiled its travel early scheme, the number of commuters exiting city stations between 8am and 9am has fallen by 7 per cent.

When the scheme was first announced, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said that the government hoped to slash morning peak commuters by 10 to 20 per cent.

Nonetheless, the buck does not stop there. Dr Gwee mentioned how travelling early makes employees show up hungry and idle, and who are sometimes even locked out of the office because of their arrival time.

The travel early scheme is thus only one aspect of LTA's larger vision, said Ms Teo. The Travel Smart programme was launched last October with 12 private and public sector organisations on board, including the Public Service Division and LTA itself.

Under the pilot phase of Travel Smart, LTA provides organisations with consultants to design and implement action plans to promote flexi-work and reduce peak hour travel. One-off grants of $20,000 are also available as a goodwill gesture to participating companies.

Besides offering telecommuting options such as shorter work weeks, varied start and end times, and mobile workstations, the companies involved in Travel Smart provide staff with free breakfasts and exercise opportunities when they report to work early.

At BP, employees are encouraged to cycle to work, jog in the morning, and take advantage of a "Breakfast Club" that will open after Ramadan.

Regional lubricants finance manager Andrew Moore has been biking to BP's Harbourfront office from Holland Village since moving to Singapore a year ago. He said that he can make calls to other timezones more easily, and enjoys being able to leave the office earlier in the evening as well.