Saturday, July 03, 2010

Importance of the Public Transport System

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 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.


Divali said...

Straits Times Forum: July 3rd

Two to three minutes - the highest frequency MRT trains can achieve

Seats removed to create more standing room

Singapore Short Stories said...

Its really getting congested!

Anonymous said...

In Hong Kong and Tokyo, I have experienced frequencies of 1 train per minute during peak times. Surely Singapore, having the No 1 transport system in the world cannot be operating at 50% the peak rate of these 2 cities? If they can do it, they can double the number of passengers carried during peak times and ease the congestion significantly.

Anonymous said...

As Lucky has pointed out, commuters have no choice.

Just like voters have not much choice or not even a choice at elections. Somehow there is always a 66% who will frustrate those who choose the alternative.

Except the choice of voting with their feet to greener pastures, for those who can.

For those who can't or not willing , then they will have to bear with it until the 66% become 50% or less. That may take a long, long time, if at all.

Unless they all read Lucky's blog to be awakened to take action.

Anonymous said...

just as a side note: for her to take the train "all the way to the north towns".....she is actually commuting against traffic, so I won't be surprised that she can get on without being squashed.

Anonymous said...

Actually can push the way in lah, if you choose to.

Because sometimes I notice people like to crowd around the train doors while in the train, creating the impression that it is very crowded. But looking inside more closely, I observe there are some gaps inside. So in such cases, if "excuse me" don't work, I just push my way in and fill the gap inside. I don't give a damn to "tsk" sounds or stares, especially from ladies. It helps that I am of big build and muscular too.

Actually I learned this from some PRC men folks.

Anonymous said...

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.

She is like insulting the intelligence of Singaporeans.

During morning peak hours, the north bound trains got almost no people !

The editor of State Times should be sacked in not doing a good job of presenting half truths. He can simply removed the word morning and mentioned during peak hours.

sgcynic said...

We have to be very careful with how the lady chooses her words (especially modals)

"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."

Compare the above paragraphs with the following from,,,.

To this, she told MediaCorp she takes a train ALMOST every week, with her last morning peak trip "A FEW months ago".

"The fact is, we're so bothered by it (overcrowding) that we place senior management's attention to this INORDINATELY," she said.

Anonymous said...

'Take it or leave it' is the MOST CALLOUS and CARELESS STATEMENT any person of leadership had ever uttered.

Most unbecoming of an educated CEO.


Anonymous said...

Give us back our buses!
Bloody govt removed several bus services when the MRT was launced; forcing commuters to take MRT so that the company becomes viable

Anonymous said...

It is hard for the rich to enter heaven, than a camel to go throw a needle's eye.

xl said...

I've stopped taking public transport to nearby places most of the time like libaries, sports hall etc.

Doesn't make sense throwing $ away in congested 'boxes' or 'tubes' & slower than a bicycle after factoring in walking to station/bus-stop.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the LTA should pay for an upgrade of the SMRT signalling system.

Anonymous said...

Don't you peasants know that SIngapore population is now 5 million?

So of course MRT crowded lah. This is the root cause of the problem and many other problems for the peasants.

If you peasants can solve the root cause, all other problems will also be solved automatically.

Anonymous said...

It is really sad what PAP has done to Singaporeans. I got words like "peasants" etc....."66.6%" etc...It only indicates PAP has actually lost the support of the majority of Singaporeans. Why they are in power? Because of dirty tricks they use; like redrawing electoral boundaries, control of media, use of government resources for party use, etc.... an open corruption in all.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends in reservist who was working in smrt surprised us a few years ago when he casually mentioned that SMRT has been taken over by DFS. At that time, national security issue was all the rage. Our friend told us that during a meeting, the new bosses thought that all this security talk was a nuisance to profit making and jokingly asked if they could ignore the securiyt angle/

Xtrocious said...

While it would be good to have the trains run at 1 min intervals, it is physically not possible because the distances between stations are simply too short...

It takes less than 2 minutes from station to station - running it at 1 min gives no buffer if the train in front suddenly stops in between stations - the train behind may just crash into it due to the lack of stopping distance

By the way, I am not working or related to SMRT - just a logical deduction

I am also frustrated by the packed trains - even at 6.45am!

Anonymous said...

Quote from Today's papers : “I cannot go faster than that without compromising safety and reliability.” – Saw Phaik Hwa, Channelnewsasia.

Saw FINALLY admits that MRT trains have MAXXED out their operating capacity at peak hours.

Who was the transport minister who was responsible for signing off on building of the current MRT system?

Given the parameters then, why was a larger or more efficient alternative not chosen?

Seems like quite a number of ministers who were responsible for signing off on major public infrastructures were not so “forward” in their planning after all. Was the first stages of this MRT system spearheaded by MBT?

Recall the recent spate of floods that have resulted in losses for motorists and shopkeepers. Then we have the transport minister telling us that the ERP gantries are insufficient and they want a new satellite tracking system to charge us more efficiently. Now the MRT system has hit peak operation rate. All the above public infrastructure were built with taxpayers’ money.

Even if it was the old man’s bulldozed the decision to increase Sg’s population to a target of 6 million, shouldnt the million-dollar ministers of the various departments then have taken proactive steps to mitigate such foreseeable problems? They had quite a few years to lead time to avert such situations but why did they choose to procrastinate till it gets really bad and then engage in denial or fire-fighting?

So, we finally get to witness how LHL’s “A team” deals with problems.

Anonymous said...

Just because they tell you that the best interval they can do is 2-3 minutes, doesn't mean that you need to accept it at face value.

So you'd have to really question the premise of her assumptions. Whether it cannot be done, or that it cannot be done without making changes - either in infrastructure or otherwise.

Maybe it's just so much easier to let things reach "crush load", or tell commuters to take the taxi instead. Aiyah.... afterall if you've no bread to eat, eat cake lah!

Anonymous said...

In Hong Kong and Tokyo, the stations are much closer than in Singapore. Yet they can run trains in 1 minute intervals. There is a simple solution - our world No 1 team can go find out from Hong Kong or Tokyo how they do it rather than give these lame excuses.

chrono said...

Hi Lucky,

given that you are taking buses to work, and the distance fares just got implemented, did you observe any change to your transport expenses? I'm still trying to decipher it but it seems to me that there is a chance that most people may have their fares increase by a few cents while those that do transfer may even spend more as transfer rebate seems to have been taken out. We may be misled into thinking that there is not much changes in fares. Could you do an analysis on this matter?

Anonymous said...

If you wait till crush load to happen, the train and the people in it will be crushed.

In any mechanical design, you always factor in safety i.e., it is impossible to reach crush load. Unless you are attempting the guiness world of records, you can squeeze in more people in the available air space below the ceiling.

Anonymous said...

The new fare implementation has reduced the subsidy for students and senior citizens. before, the students pay flat rate, and it is still cheaper even when they have to transfer as there was transfer rebate.

As for senior citizen, I am not sure but I think it is more expensive too, with or without the transfer.

Overall I think a great percentage of people's family transportation cost has increased, when you count the children and grandparents needs all together.

This fits the demographics of our population since there are more aged population and they take back some of the baby bonuses through making you pay more for your child's needs.

Seriously, why would a distance based fare system be fairer? why does it help the bus-mrt-bus type of transfer? what is fair? make students who has no income pay so much more for public transport?

Anonymous said...

To the question about time interval. It is possible to increase the time interval, but more has to done to upgrade the infrastructure which does not make sense for the private company who is fixed on profits. In addition, infrastructure is supposed to be built by govt and not the company who runs the train system.

Even with the existing infrastructure, there are some minor things that they can do to improve the frequency but they have no motivation to do so as it will only reduce profit for each run by packing less people.

why is MTR in HK different from MRT in Sg? MTR also develops real estate that is above the train stations. That gives them the motivation to increase frequency as it would increase human traffic to all the commercial and residential properties that they develop.

There is also motivation to provide good service, since they have to compete with mini buses, taxis, trams, as the whole transportation network is multi-tiered. Good service also increase the real estate value of their properties.

MRT is trying their best to increase real estate by having malls etc, but they are not allowed to develop the whole space above the station, nor own it by the govt. Hence they have no incentive to keep upgrading the train system, since your commuter fare cannot be increased too much.
The sg govt which earns the real estate portion by selling land to developers, does not have incentive too since they get the money on the sale and not own it.

Ah Loh said...

Talk about transportation costs and service. I was trying my best to make full use of my transfer rebates before the distance fares got implemented today.

On the way to central around 1815 hrs, the train captain announced that it was not for passenger service and everyone was made to get out of the train at Tiong Bahru! It thus caused all the passengers to be in bewilderment and jam packed the next train that came in a minute. Sad. My friends who met up with me also affirmed that the train was real squeezy.

I was watching Noose 3 and they really made a good joke out of the public transport system. Haha. This malay guy says he doesn't even iron his clothes as he can feel the heat and stuffiness from others' armpits! Watch 11:51 minute. lol

Distance fares is definitely more expensive than the transfer rebates. My usual bus ride from Boon Lay to Farrer Road costs $1.33. Today, it was $1.47 the same way with the jam at Bukit Timah Road. I think my GST rebate would be gone by taking even by taking the same buses this month.

Personally, I hate taking the train. Everyone stares at each other and it doesn't help when people take pictures of girl sitting and rocking on guy's lap and stomping it. Even if I have to go anywhere, buses are preferred unless I'm heading town.

Well, my experience yesterday was... that the system made the announcement that it reached Lakeside. Panel board was flashing green at Lakeside above the door but it was BOON LAY!

Anonymous said...

Her salary is S$1.5 million and whose interest do you guys think she will have in mind?

Like the ministers, we tax-payers are feeding an expanding group of greedy monsters.

Discrete Steps said...

There's a lot of things wrong with Singapore. Where can you begin?

I think we can start with the point where we started to trade away our conscience for money.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Lucky

Come on!
You know full well that the problem is Raymond Lim and especially the person you see each time you look into a mirror.

But again its important not to let facts get in the way of liberal fantasy ... yes ... lets blog until public transport is free and everyone gets a seat ...

Anonymous said...

Saw's remarks showed a severe lack of understanding and insensitivity to ordinary people. I wonder when accidents happen because of the current 'packed levels' who will be responsible for the lives lost?

Anonymous said...

We owe ourselves a duty to think hard and see if we can make our votes count. Never venture never gain...

Anonymous said...

i agree with Lucky that public anger should not be directed at SMRT, but instead at LTA and Ministry of Transport. SMRT is merely a product of the system set up by the PAP govt.

I have worked with LTA and SMRT before for some projects. SMRT CEO Ms Saw has a retail background (she used to run DFS) and is probably more interested in expanding the commercial potential of SMRT stations than improving train services. On the other hand the culture in the operations branches of SMRT and LTA is extremely conservative such that people are hesitant about innovation and are more interested in keeping status quo so as to stay out of trouble. Its probably possible to increase the train frequency to 1 train per minute as in the case of HK or Tokyo through changes to the signalling system, but the political will to do so is zilch due to this conservative 'kia si' stat board culture which SMRT inherited as well.

This also brings to mind a program I saw on Discovery on public transport in Seoul Korea. Despite having a population density far higher than Singapore's (10mil packed into 600sqkm), the transport authorities in Seoul implemented innovative, sweeping measures, including the use of smart card similar to ez link to compile public transport passenger data, GPS traffic monitoring system, and a really extensive and efficient metro system. This program was probably produced more than 5 years back, and it just shows how pathetically outdated LTA's policies are.

Anonymous said...

Anon above,

Cannot compare Singapore with South Korea or any other country lah. South Korean President salary is only S$200K per year whereas our PM Lee is S$3.9 million. Somemore their President's pay is only a fraction of the $1.67 million of SMRT CEO.

So our PM, our SMRT and their CEO must definitely think that they are "many times better" than South Korea what.

But doesn't matter if you all don't think so. They still get paid and the trains will still remain overcrowded. For you folks that can't afford to drive, that is.

Anonymous said...

Surely possible to increase to 1min internval one la, is see if they want too or not lah...

Take trains with the people, take trains every other week all bullshit and wayang one la...

Every other week and 1 month ago very different leh... No cow sense...

Anonymous said...

Let me Phiak her until she realise the importance of a good public transport system.
Saw Phaik Hwa

chrono said...

Well, I guess my question was answered. Our transport companies are misleading us again.

Anonymous said...

Ther is NO public transport in Singapore.

Its ALL private enterprises with a death-grip on its monopoly.

The only thing that is public is the Public itself.

SM said...

The SMRT CEO actually said "the northern towns"? The northern towns got more trees than people lor. Let her try the eastern towns heading westwards, from 7.50am to 8.20am. I guarantee her sure cannot breathe from Bedok onwards liao.

Anonymous said...

I dont think singapore have the no 1 transport in the world. If you went to hong kong before, u will find that Singapore public transport is way behind hong kong public transport. MTR, the bus waiting time is much faster than singapore bus waiting time. said...

This will not work as a matter of fact, that's what I consider.