How about a kampong spirit Uber?

smrt_breakdown_20thJan_02What a way to start the week – panic-stricken by a two-hour breakdown of the North-east MRT line on an early Monday morning.

It is also the day which many students have been preparing for – their “O”, “A”, or primary school examinations. Nothing is more important for these young lives.

We were sending our youngest boy, who is in primary four, to school and thought it would be an ordinary, routine morning. The boy has been studying hard for his exams the past week and we wanted to get him to school early so he wouldn’t be flustered when he sits for his exams.

But little did we know that the next hour or so would be a panic, as news of the transport breakdown started to filter through. The first signs were several shuttle buses going past us. Why were there shuttle buses, we asked ourselves.

As we approached the Sengkang station, I checked Facebook to see if indeed there was a train disruption. And yes, there was.

Our first thought was that well, we have to take a taxi now, so the boy won’t be late for school. We decided that an opposite road would be the best place to hunt for a cab – wrong move. No cabs. Then, we moved to another location to try our luck. Still no cabs. We decided to see if we could call for one instead. The line went dead after the automated voice on the other end informed me that there were no taxis available in the area.

By then a precious half hour had passed – and school was starting soon.

As I stood by the roadside waiting for an empty cab, I noted that many of the taxis which went past us were in fact empty. The drivers were changing shifts, I presumed. These were those who had apparently worked the night shift, and they must be tired or have their own priorities to get home.

I wondered why they could not help out stranded commuters by extending their service hours. And for that matter, why couldn’t anyone with a car help out those in need, like students who have exams to rush to, or the elderly who may need to attend an important appointment, or just anyone, really, who needed to get to their destination on time.

Last week, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said he has asked the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to look into the feasibility of having shopkeepers help handle or manage the crowd during a train breakdown.

Whenever such a disruption happens, he said, there are only a handful of staff at each station to manage the crowd. These staff members would be overwhelmed with the many things they already need to do in such situations.

So, additional help would be most welcome indeed, wherever they may come from.

“This is the kampung spirit that we must inculcate in every MRT station,” Mr Khaw said.

I agree it is a good idea to involve the shopkeepers, provided we give them the adequate and necessary training for the task.

Similarly, in the kampong spirit which Mr Khaw spoke about, I wonder if we cannot devise a system where taxi and vehicle drivers can also chip in during a breakdown.

It would have been most helpful, for example, if one of those many cars which passed us this morning had given us a ride to the boy’s school. And if other car owners did the same for other people, this would be such a great way to build a caring society.

So, perhaps the authority (LTA, for example), could come up with a standard sign board which will be given to all car owners for use during such times. The signboard could simply say, “SHARE”, in big bold letters.

This sharing system will be activated by the LTA – through media announcements, for example – for the duration of the disruption.

These car owners would then pick up anyone who needs to get somewhere urgently during such times.

There will be no monetary exchange between the car owners and those they pick up during the disruption period. This will be an entirely altruistic and voluntary act by the car owner.

Now, you may ask: why would or should any car owner, who has spent thousands of dollars on her vehicle, do this at all? What is the benefit?

Well, I think we underestimate ourselves and the goodness in each of us in doing good for our fellow men, women and children.

Indeed, Singaporeans have shown their community spirit many times in the past, and I do not see any reason to doubt their willingness to help each other out during train breakdowns.

I would argue that it is better to encourage positivity than negativity, such as the suggestion by an MP in Nee Soon to incentivise those who help report or catch litterbugs. I find this a huge problem if we want to build a society and community where we all care for one another.

The idea of car sharing during a train disruption is, at the moment, a rough one, and details will need to be sorted out.

Nonetheless, by and large, I think it can work – because Singaporeans do care for one another.

As a friend told me, when I ran the idea by him: “If Uber can do it for money, we can do it for helping hands.”

Yes, indeed we can.