THE public transport sector will create more than 8,000 jobs by 2030, as current positions are developed and new careers created.

The Land Transport Authority said that the Singapore Rail Academy and Singapore Bus Academy will build local capabilities for bus captains and railway engineers; new careers will also be created for data scientists, service controllers and rail and bus engineers and technicians.

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan, speaking at the Committee of Supply debate, described the transport sector as a "key pillar of the Singapore economy".

"Many Singaporeans make a good living working in it. Collectively, the industry employs more than 300,000 people. The potential for further growth is great. Many well-paying jobs are waiting to be filled," said Mr Khaw, who is concurrently Minister for Transport.

He added that the Singapore Rail Academy, launched last month, will develop programmes to train workers in critical areas of rail operations and maintenance; it will also work with the rail operators and institutes of higher learning to offer pre-employment programmes and continuing education and training.

Giving an update on rail reliability, the minister said replacing ageing assets takes time. Now that all the old sleepers have been replaced, the focus this year will fall on the ageing third-rail system.

The upgrade of the signalling system for the North-South Line will be completed soon; next year, the same will be done for the East-West Line.

Mr Khaw said: "Let me sound a precautionary alert. Re-signalling is a complex operation. Getting it done perfectly is almost impossible. That has been the painful experience of London, Hong Kong and Taipei. They warned us that we should expect teething problems when we cut over the signalling system to the new one."

He also disclosed that tenders will soon be called to upgrade the North-South and East-West Lines' power-supply system, and to replace the first-generation MRT fleet with 66 new trains.

"For the North East Line, we are working with SBST to refurbish and upgrade their first-generation trains; for the Bukit Panjang LRT, we have started the process for its renewal. We target to call a tender this year for a complete replacement of its ageing components and an upgrade of its systems."

He added that the expansion of the rail system is on track, with the network growing by one km every month on average. The opening of Downtown Line 3 will be a "game-changer" for residents in the east, just as Downtown Line 2 was for residents in the west and north-west.

"A recent study found that one out of six rides on the Downtown Line was made using new EZ-Link cards. This suggests that a sizeable number of commuters living along the Bukit Timah corridor are switching to rail. The experience of the Downtown Line gives us confidence that a car-lite Singapore is achievable."

As the public transport system improves and expands, fewer people will need to own a car, he said. Vehicle-control policies such as Certificate of Entitlements (COEs) and Electronic Road Pricing remain relevant, but will be refined as behaviours and circumstances change.

Cutting off the contribution of motorcycle COEs to Category E, the Open Category, was a move to stabilise the motorcycle population; making the Additional Registration Fee (ARF) tiered for motorcycles was another.

Both these changes had been raised in regular dialogues with the Singapore Motor Cycle Trade Association.

On the challenges faced by businesses, Mr Khaw said several concessions have been made to help them manage costs. The first is the nominal 5 per cent in ARF of the open market value for commercial vehicles, plus lower road tax. The second is that such vehicles qualify for repeated five-year COE renewals to help businesses manage their cash-flow better; cars and motorcycles are allowed to renew their COEs only once.

"To further reduce the tenure of COE renewal would, however, tilt the balance too much in favour of incumbent owners, and reduce the chances of securing a COE for aspiring new owners," said Mr Khaw.

He ended his speech by touching on financial sustainability. He said significant improvements to and expansion of the public transport network require high capital investments and incur higher operating costs. The new Bus Contracting Model, for example, makes the government responsible for buying and replacing buses.

"Over the next five years, we expect to subsidise public bus services by some S$3.5 to S$4 billion."

The government also replaces rail assets under the New Rail Financing Framework; it will cost S$4 billion over the next five years.

"And all this is on top of about S$20 billion we will be spending to build new public transport infrastructure."

Fares have not kept up with rising costs and this is not sustainable, he said, adding that the Public Transport Council may sometimes have to adjust fares upwards.

"If they do, I hope commuters will be understanding."