Tube train at Lancaster Gate station, London (image – Wikimedia Commons)
Tube train at Lancaster Gate station, London (image - Wikimedia Commons)
Tube train at Lancaster Gate station, London (image – Wikimedia Commons)

By Ghui

Singapore has run like a well oiled machine for many years and people have come to expect that this is the way that things should always be.

Given the government’s promises and the tacit understanding between Singaporeans and the incumbent ruling party, this is no surprise. In the years of intense nation building, civil liberties were exchanged in return for economic stability and efficiency.

To put it bluntly: “I, average Joe, give you my unconditional support. I put aside any questions or disagreements I may have, and in return you take care of everything for me.”

While this model has worked for the past decades, it is starting to burst at the seams. This is down to a number of factors, the government not evolving with its citizenry is but one of the reasons.

The recent all-out failure on the SMRT lines is symptomatic of a few things. MRT breakdowns are clearly more prevalent in the past three years. This could be due to rapid population growth leading to the need for fast development of infrastructure which may have increased the potential for shoddy work. The city is fast growing from a prosperous South East Asian state to a global city. Clearly, the accelerated building work was undertaken in part to live up to this growing reputation and to entice overseas investments.

There is no point in blaming immigration for the breakdown. That has already been said ad nauseam. What I would like to do is to focus on the handling of a breakdown in future. Let’s face it, in any major city, service disruptions happen. We may not like it and yes, it is utterly inconvenient but it is more productive to look at crisis management to ensure that when another breakdown happens, minimal interruptions are caused.

Londoners rolling with the Tube.
Londoners rolling with the Tube.

On the same day as the disintegration of MRT services, there was also a cessation of the London Underground network, albeit for different reasons. For Singapore, it was a technical malfunction while in England’s capital city; it was due to a strike. While the tube strike was a hindrance, the city did not ground to a halt because there was advanced notice of the strike.

Commuters were given the head start to plan their routes to and from work. Bus replacement services were in operation and Uber had a day of brisk business. To describe the system as smooth would be a stretch. That said, most Londoners took it on the chin. They accept that in any major city, these things happen. There were grumbles and complaints but most of these were directed at the reasons for the strike than the cessation of service itself.

What is perhaps the most different between London and Singapore is that Singapore does not appear to have sufficient experience to deal with hiccups. While that can be taken as a compliment – that is, Singapore is so well run that no one ever had to deal with failure – it is still imperative for any busy city to have a back up plan.

It would seem that after the breakdowns in Singapore occurred, measures that could have eased the chaos were not taken. Instead of activating its bus bridging service, SMRT chose instead to deploy any available bus resources. Despite the Committee of Inquiry recommendations in 2012, it would appear that these recommendations were not implemented. Perhaps many Singaporeans believed that things still run like clockwork and therefore no adjustments are required?

The world has changed. Globalisation and technological developments mean that people are much more mobile than before. Demands for services and goods have increased as a result and systems which have hitherto been sufficient will be strained. As Singapore transitions, there will be more gaps in the system. While regrettable, I see it as unavoidable. So perhaps, those running the country and the lifeblood of the city – that is, its transportation system – should truly invest and revamp their back up plans as opposed to rely on past laurels.

We on our part as citizens should also realise that we are on the cusp of a new social contract with the government. As opposed to yesteryear, we are no longer dependent on the government for everything. We are coming of age as a democracy and are much more vocal than before.

SMRT train (image - Wikipedia)
SMRT train (image – Wikipedia)

The “understanding” that has worked between the ruled and the rulers needs to be revised. As we mature, we will naturally question more but at the same time, we also need to accept that the government cannot provide everything. With that will come the realisation that the people in power are not failure free and not above reproach. Accountability cuts both ways.

The government should always strive to do its best for the country but it should stop promising that it can deliver all things. It is not only impractical; it is a misrepresentation that can only lead to unrealistic expectations. It should also be more encouraging of criticism, debate and questions. Fresh ideas always give new perspectives which will in turn helpful for trouble shooting.

I think it is time to accept that hiccups will happen – yes, even in Singapore. It is therefore imperative that workable back up plans are imposed forthwith. The acceptance should also cut both ways. If the government expects Singaporeans to cut it some slack, then it should also accept criticism as the natural order of things.

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