By Andrew Loh
The following article was first published on Fresh Grads.
When the authorities started to introduce air-conditioned public buses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were complaints from some among the commuting public that this would result in fares increases.
Some two decades or so later, it is safe to say all of us are thankful that our buses and trains provide at least a cool ride home or to the office, even as we have to put up with the crowds.
A little walk down memory lane provides some perspective to how far we have come, as far as public transport is concerned. (Click here for a rather well-detailed blog post about this: “Those Years When We Waited For Our Buses Together”.)
While the recent years of failings in providing world-class transport service are justifiably met with strident and loud criticisms from the public, it seems the public transport operators (PTOs) are trying hard to correct these shortcomings.
There is no running away from the fact that the failure of the PTOs’ maintenance regimes of an ageing system, in the midst of a population explosion, is the cause of the disruptions and breakdowns of services.
Hopefully, however, the PTOs have identified the root problems and are addressing them.
But some rectification work will take some time to fulfil.
For example, changing the signalling system will take several years, given the extensive upgrading works required.
In the meantime, the PTOs – particularly SMRT – have been brainstorming ways to make travelling more pleasant for the average commuter.
To be sure, its ideas have not always been sensible or helpful. For example, its introduction of buskers at train stations is reminiscence of the mobile TV in buses idea some years back. Complaints of the mobile TV being a needless distraction and a waste of resources resulted in it being canned just a few years ago.
In the same way, it is hard to fathom how a violinist on a train platform or station would make commuters’ ride more pleasant. Some may even find this “noise” incessant and an irritant, especially after a hard day at work.
But SMRT’s ideas are not all that bad.
Last March, when it announced that it would be removing the grab poles near the entrances of trains, it was met with incredulity. It even prompted some to write to the press to raise certain concerns about the move. (See here: “Removing train entrance grab poles not the answer”.)
More than a year on, it is safe to say the concerns have not materialised.
SMRT’s recent initiatives involving care stickers and priority queue for the elderly are also worth supporting.
Priority Queues for lifts in some train stations will ensure that passengers in need are able to access the lift more easily, SMRT said. One immediately thinks of the elderly, or pregnant women, or mothers with toddlers, who will benefit from this.
Care Stickers are meant to help SMRT staff and commuters identify those who may need help along their commute, it added.
The PTO explained, "We hope that both the Care Stickers and Priority Queues will work well together to encourage good travel etiquette among all our commuters. And while the stickers will help us all ensure that we can easily spot passengers in need, we also hope that commuters will continue to extend care to others in need even if they are not wearing a care sticker.”
Well, no argument with that. Everyone plays a part, however small, to make sure that we all, especially the less abled, have a more pleasant journey.
SMRT’s latest initiative – which one suspects most people welcome – is to provide power points in train stations for commuters to charge their mobile devices.
SMRT said this was part of its initiatives to "enhance travel experience, at no additional cost to our commuters".
This is more sensible than to haul students to court and fine them for using power sockets in train stations, ashappened in January this year.
The poor student was fined S$400 for charging her phone, even after she had apparently appealed to SMRT.
Hopefully, such inflexible enforcement of the rules will be a thing of the past, as more stations are equipped with these power stations for commuters to use.
While these service frills are welcome, the PTOs must not forget that at the end of the day it is how efficient and prompt the trains and buses themselves are in fetching commuters from point A to point B that matters – and to do this while also ensuring the journey is comfortable.
At the moment, there is still much room for improvement in these respects.
Nonetheless, it is commendable also to see the PTOs, especially the SMRT, trying ways and means to holistically improve the travelling experience.
They may not always get it right, but they should be applauded for trying.
Singapore’s public transport system has come a long way. It is not a bad system, all things considered.
More and newer trains and buses are being bought and added to the current fleet, signalling systems are being updated, more routes are being introduced, along with more train lines coming up in the pipeline, more drivers and operators are being recruited, and in fact the entire transport system is undergoing an overhaul.
While Singaporeans should continue to expect higher standards of service, they should also recognise the smaller things the PTOs are doing to enhance and to make commuting more pleasant, and support these things too.
Now, maybe they can extend their free travel hours by just that little bit more, or give everyone about 75-years old free travel at all times of the day…