My dad owned a car until I was 10 years old then gave it up. From age 10 onwards, my primary form of transport has been the public transport system. I believe in that widespread use of the public transport system is very important. It helps to reduce pollution in the environment, save precious resources and prevent road congestion. Given global warming due to green house gases is one of the most serious problems in the world today, taking the public transport is one way to reduce CO2 emissions and help save the world. Many use public transport because it is cheaper and that is all they can afford.
In recent days many Singaporeans were incense by SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa's remarks:
This is “not crush load”, where a train is carrying more passengers than the standing load it is designed to carry under normal circumstances.
Crush load happens when a train carries more than 2,000 passengers.
“People can board the train – it is whether they choose to,” she said.
I took the MRT when I started working and later switched to taking taxis to get to work for roughly 7 years. I switched back to the public sometime in 2006/2007 when there was a hefty increase of taxi fares that resulted in my taxi fare to work reaching nearly $30 (also no thanks to ERP). When I switched to bus+MRT, I was surprised by how crowded they had become. However, things got worse and the trains have become more and more packed since. I couldn't take it when the train became really stuffy and I actually got sick more often taking the MRT because people are so closely pack all it takes is for someone to cough to spread diseases around. You can try holding your breath but there is really no point because ventillation won't get the viruses and bacteria out of before you need to take your next breath. I gave up on the MRT and started taking long haul buses to work....only because there is a school near where I live and students who pack the bus get down to create some space for other passengers. Switching to buses means that I take 30-45 minutes longer to get to work.
What struck me in CEO Saw's remark is not part where she said the trains have not reached "crushed load" as if it is okay for people to be packed like sardines so long as they are not "crushed". The part that struck me is when she said people can choose whether to take the train. That word "choose" triggered many other thoughts. Unlike people of other countries, most Singaporeans don't have a choice whether to use the transport system or not because the PAP govt implemented a quota system for cars (COE) which simply means the majority of Singaporeans have to use the public transport....and most of the time it is bus +MRT not taxis because of the high taxi fares and limited numbers. I've explain in another posting why no other city or govt needed to implement the COE system which is unique to Singapore. Not having quotas for means that other govts have to make the public transport comfortable enough to reduce the demand for cars and keep congestion down. Here, the COE forces people to take the public transport regardless of the quality of service.
After the unhappiness from Singaporeans about her remarks, CEO Saw came out to say this:
"I am very aware it's crowded. I take the trains all the time. I take the effort to go all the way to the northern towns to see how crowded it is during the morning peaks and I take the train with the people.
"It is crowded, but I push my way in. It is crowded, but when they are already running at 2-3 minutes (intervals), it's the most that I can do. I cannot go faster than that without compromising safety and reliability." [Link]
I'm glad there is finally admission that the trains are crowded. I hope the denial has finally ended. ...this should put an end to all the rubbish about train capacity being sufficient and so on that we have to endure listening to when those taking the train know how crowded it is. Many of you blame CEO Saw and she has become a symbol of frustration and anger among Singaporeans. CEO Saw is the highest paid CEO of SMRT[Link: Highest Paid SMRT CEO] - her pay is $1.67M. Remuneration for the company's top five executives, excluding Ms Saw's, totalled $3.2 million - 17.2 per cent higher than the previous year's. They are paid higher and higher as Singaporeans are packed tighter and tighter in our trains. You may think at this point I share your anger and frustration with CEO Saw. But I don't. Since the SMRT was privatised and became a listed company, the CEO of SMRT primary job is to generate as much profits for the SMRT so that good annual dividends can be paid to shareholders. CEO Saw is answerable to shareholders if the profits decline....her job is to make money for the SMRT and she does her job well. For SMRT passengers, all she has to do is stay above the minimum standards set out by transport authorities for quality of service and that is sufficient. It does not make sense for her to spend the profits to get higher quality of service since the SMRT is a monopoly or part of a monopoly and the customers have no other choice....no thanks to the high cost of all other transport alternatives. The privatisation of the MRT and bus system has relegated the comfort of passengers to a set of minimum standards set out by the transport authorities - you will not get anything more than that because there is no incentive to provide more than the minimum. If you look at all this you will see immediate resemblance to another group of people who are paid the highest salaries in the world for the job they do. They are supposed to take care of the citizens of the country but that single goal is overtaken by other interests and diluted by links of a govt to a complex network of business interests that provides high paying jobs and opportunities to small number of elites in a developed country with highest income inequality - a system they want perpetuate and preserve for their own interests against the interest of ordinary citizens.
The public transport system is important in Singapore because it can help to narrow the wide social divide. A good public transport that provide a high quality of service for everyone at a fare that even the office cleaner can afford can deliver widespread improvement in quality of life. Packing people in a train carriage like cattle because they are too poor to drive in a country where cars are the most expensive in the world simply worsens the inequality we already have in our society. When they invested and lost billions in Shin Corp, Citibank, Merill Lynch, ABC Learning etc we were told that it is part of the risk ...these are honest mistakes and so on. Investing in public transport carries no risk because the gains in terms of elevated living standards for Singaporeans are guaranteed....even if there are operating losses (due to subsidies for students, handicap, and the poor etc), ordinary Singaporeans are the ones who gain from it. Where did our losses in Shin Corp , Merrill Lynch and ABC Learning go?....The pockets of people like Thaksin, John Thain and other posterboys of greed and dishonesty...but it is really too much to expect the PAP govt to do something major for Singaporeans in the area of public transport.