SMRT decides to stop announcing train delays: A blow-by-blow account of the EWL disruption

SMRT decides to stop announcing train delays: A blow-by-blow account of the EWL disruption

At 8.00 am, the first tweet came in. “Pasir Ris station. Train packed like sardines but not leaving station for at least 3 minutes. Platform is getting crowded!”

At around this time, rush-hour commuters along the East-West Line (EWL) were beginning to notice the delay. A huge crowd had begun to form on the platform at Tampines. If not for the large fans spinning overhead, the air might have been suffocating. People were staring at their phones again. You can still hear the mynas squawking and the sky is still a nice pale blue. There is a serene quality to your misery; and at least you’re not alone. Everyone waits, patiently. In a strange solidarity, no one grumbles aloud. The trains are late again and it’s going to be another jam-packed trip to the office. But at least the air-con works. Or so we hope against hope. Something must work around here. This is Singapore.

But there will always be that one person. That troublemaker. The one who cannot abide the wait. The one who must ponder aloud. And so, with a picture that speaks a thousand words, @hikariazie took to twitter at 8.04 am. “As much as Tampines is getting more crowded, What is with the 7mins train intervals during peak hr #smrt? -.-” she asked.

And so it began, the lie was exposed. This would not be another ordinary Tuesday of shuffling around in the train every stop. No, first you wait, then you do the shuffle, then your boss asks you why you’re late (again).

The only problem? No poor soul checks the #smrt tag every time he or she plans to leave the house. No, poor souls prefer to wait for something official from @SMRT_Singapore or from the mainstream media. And so, deprived of any warning, the poor souls join the mass of human suffering congregating outside what used to be a train station.

It’s 8.06 am. The platform is still packed. People cannot board the train without mastering the dark arts. But at least there’s no train fault because the trains are still moving. At least that’s what SMRT tells itself. No train fault! The operations manager declares. Social Media Timmy scribbles it down on his notepad: No train fault! No tweet required! Back to my cat videos!

It’s 8.09 am. Jimmy asks, “EWL down @SMRT_Singapore ?” Nope, not down. Ops Manager Bobby reassures Social Media Timmy. The trains are still running. People just aren’t willing to move in. Nothing we can do about that. And indeed, the trains are still running. Service reliability is at a 100%. Please stop harassing the staff, Jimmy.

Meanwhile, a queue is forming outside the station. Soon this is what it’ll look like:

It’s 8.24 am. People begin to speculate. One thinks it’s a train fault. I haven’t the heart to tell him that, unless some red lights go off, there is no such thing as a train fault for SMRT, only additional waiting time.

A minute later another person tweets, “are the trains still dead on the EW line? #smrt #SMRTRUINSLIVES”.  Please check that privilege young woman. Be grateful you have clean streets, low crime rates, an efficient government, cheap public housing, and excellent public transport. Oh wait.

It’s 8.28 am. Tampines MRT station has turned into a rock concert, except there is no concert, only a stone-cold silence. Eyes glued to phones; all in a giant mass. At least we have our phones. Thank god I didn’t forget to charge. The queue has extended beyond the station now. By The Straits Times’ definition, there are hundreds. By any other, there may be thousands. But to SMRT, it’s just another glob of the working masses; there’s no need to count. They’ll get there when they get there. We worry about trains, not commuters. Ye who work 9 to 5 cannot be worth much anyway. Pay your fares and move along now.

It’s 8.30 am. In comes the black and white picture. What better way to express the misery of waiting. What a clever play on the meaning of time. There is no life, no colour, just a dull awaiting. Is the train even on the way?

It’s 8.31 am. Simei is getting it too. Sarah starts using hay expletives. “What in the bleedin hay is wrong with the MRT at Simei??” Customer satisfaction hits a 10-year high.

It’s 8.32 am. Now your turn, Paya Lebar.

It’s 8.33 am. Some commuters are catching on. Where’s the announcement? Isn’t that what we used to have?

It’s 8.42 am. The interrogation begins. Alexis, wants to know, “what excuse do you have, @SMRT_Singapore? Not raining today” Social Media Timmy runs, sobbing, to Ops Manager Bobby. He’s sobbing. A grown man. Cyberbullies! He screams. That’s the third one this month, Ops Manager Bobby sighs. At least the shrinks are getting better at diagnosing and treating PTSD now. Post Track-fault Stress Disorder. Call in Social Media Tommy. He’ll know what to do. Doesn’t take a genius. Just don’t post anything, barks Ops Manager Bobby.

It’s 8.44 am. Still no annoucement. Commuters catch on.

It’s 8.49 am. Welcome to Pasir Ris. Enjoy your wait outside the MRT station.

It’s 8.54 am. Some have been waiting for 40 minutes.

It’s 8.56 am. Still no announcements. This time, commuters wonder if it’s intentional. Trying to hide it from the news?

Social Media Tommy has been replaced by Social Media Tammy. He really shouldn’t have touched the keyboard. Now the paramedics have to see him out. What a mess, thinks Ops Manager Bobby. And to think I just bought this suit yesterday.

At around 9.03 am, The Straits Times reported an additional 10 minutes travelling time along the East-West Line. Tabloid journalists from ST even tried to contact SMRT. Social Media Tammy, thinking she would be commended for her initiative, picked up the phone. Bad idea. She had to be replaced because of that. The paramedics were starting to ask questions. There goes another one. Good help is hard to find these days. Ops Manager Bobby looks across the room. You! You’re Social Media Terry now. You have one job. Just one. Hands off the keyboard and no talking to the tabloid.

It’s 9.12 am. You’ve got to give it to Singaporeans. The expletives only start flowing after the kids have gone to school. They don’t need to hear this. There are no exams today, right?

Today is a special day. Today, SMRT decided that there would be no need to notify commuters of the delay. They probably reasoned that the commuters that have already been inconvenienced by the minor delay would not be any better served by an announcement to the public.  Commuter satisfaction was, after all, at a 9-year high in 2016. This year must mark the 10-year high. What better way to achieve that then by doing what we did before. After all, there weren’t many announcements about track faults and train faults and signalling faults last year and look where that got us. So no, announcements aren’t helpful.

In fact, we wouldn’t want Singaporeans blaming the rail workers who have been working so hard while Singapore sleeps. We wouldn’t want Singaporeans to blame the poor chap responsible for SMRT’s social media. And we most certainly wouldn’t want them to think that the statistics could possibly be wrong. No, rail reliability has improved by three times and we must make sure there is no disconnect between the numbers and public perception. And so, SMRT has decided that for the good of all Singaporeans, it must stop announcing train delays.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Answer’s no. Back to work Social Media Terry.

Note: Ops Manager Bobby and Social Media minions are fictional persons. Duh.

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