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Tan Kin Lian provides personal accounts of his experiences with public facilities.

Public facilities need to be improved

Tan Kin Lian

Singapore has an excellent living environment. We have trees, parks, clean roads, good drainage and fresh air.

But we seem to lack certain public facilities, such as maps, signages and public toilets. I wonder – why are these essential items overlooked?

Maps

If you are familiar with your neighbourhood, you can get around well, even with your eyes closed.

But, if you have to visit another neighbourhood or town, you are advised to bring along the bulky street directory. You will need it to find your way in your car or on your foot. Even taxi drivers have trouble finding their way in Singapore.

If you do not have a directory, you are likely to have difficulty in asking for directions. Singaporeans are bad at giving directions. They either do not know the way, or give unclear directions.

Recently, I parked my car at Suntec City and had to get to Millenia Walk. I was not sure about the direction. While trying to identify the nearby buildings, someone approached me and asked, “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the National Library?” I knew that it was somewhere near North Bridge Road, but I was not sure about the directions.

I wished then, that there was a map showing the location of the major buildings, roads and bus stops within a radius of two kilometres. This map is best displayed at the bus stops.

We have a bewildering network of bus services in Singapore. The bus guide published by Transit Link is unwieldy to carry around and difficult to use. Many people find it confusing to take a bus to an unfamiliar place. They have to drive a car or take a taxi.

If we have a map displayed at each bus stop showing the buses serving various places within two kilometres, many people will be encouraged to take the bus to get to the nearby MRT station, bus interchange, town centre or other public place. Even tourists will be encouraged to take the bus, instead of waiting for a taxi.

Signages

Singapore has poor signages. I find the signages at MRT stations to be unhelpful. I had a lot of trouble looking for the right escalator to get to the right level, especially at stations serving two MRT lines. I also find it difficult to locate the correct exit to get to my destination. The signages are usually small, poorly located and confusing.

I used to have a lot of trouble locating the exit from the MRT station to the shopping malls at Junction 8, Bugis Junction and other shopping malls. I get the nasty feeling that the SMRT management does not get along well with the management of the shopping malls. This probably contributes to the poor signages from the mall to the station and vice versa.

Public Toilets

Public toilets appear to be non-existent in Singapore. Have you ever seen a sign at a public place pointing the direction to a “public toilet”?

If you need to use the toilet, you have to find a shopping mall, office or shop and ask them for permission to use it.

Once, I parked my car at a multi-storey car park at Telok Blangah HDB estate. I needed to use the toilet urgently. There was no such toilet at the car park. I asked a resident but he could not tell me where to find a public toilet. I had to walk for about 500 meters, and searched through a dozen HDB blocks, to no avail.

Finally, I found the community center. It is a big community center, so it took another five minutes to locate the toilet.

On another occasion, I visited my stockbroker’s office. The office is visited by many customers who had to settle their transactions. Again, I had to use the toilet. I found a toilet near the lift lobby but it was locked and reserved for employees only. There were no toilets for customers or the public.

I went back to my stockbroker and made a complaint. Does it mean that the public does not need to use the toilet?

Thirty years ago, I stayed at Marine Parade HDB estate. I was active in the grassroots organisation. There were frequent complaints about people urinating in the lift. Children were suspected to be the culprits.

In my view, the actual culprit was the HDB planners. They did not deem it necessary to provide public toilets. If children are playing outside and had to ease off, they are expected to run all the way back to their homes. Of course, they found the public lifts to be more convenient.

What about workers who had to work around the estate? Where can they go, when nature calls? Again, the lifts seem to be the only available places.

Cause of this inadequacy

What is the reason for the lack of maps and signages? I suspect that these facilities are not defined to fall within a specific department. Do they come under the Land Transport Authority, the Land Office, the Tourism Board or the HDB? If the Prime Minister does not make a decision, it seems that all the agencies will be pointing to each other to take on this cost in their budget.

Public toilets clearly fall under the purview of the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry does provide these facilities in markets and food centers. Beyond these places, they seem to want to avoid carrying the costs in their budget. It seems to be quite convenient to leave it to the shops, offices and businesses to take care of their customers and the general public.

Sigh! This is Singapore. I hope that there is someone responsible to look after the needs of the citizens that do not fall clearly within the defined ambits of the existing ministries.

Kin Lian’s column, Out Of The Box, features every Wednesday on TOC.

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