LTA mobilising SAF soldiers during MRT breakdowns

From ‘Talk of SAF helping out in rail incidents sparks debate’, 22 Aug 15, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

News that soldiers could be roped in to help out during massive train breakdowns has sparked a debate about whether the military should pitch in during such incidents. Many questioned if rail disruptions are a “matter of national security” and whether the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), “a national resource”, should be called upon to help the public transport operators, which are commercial entities. Others, though, felt it was worthwhile tapping the military, which can be mobilised quickly and is “quite dependable”.

The Straits Times reported that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has approached the SAF to explore deploying the men in green to give directions and manage crowds. They will be tapped only during large-scale disruptions.

Currently, personnel from the police, Public Transport Security Command and Singapore Civil Defence Force already help the LTA and public transport operators to manage such incidents.

On the issue of getting soldiers to lend a hand in the case of major disruptions, commuters had a variety of views. Accountant Lee Boon Chye, 29, who takes the train from Ang Mo Kio to work in Raffles Place, said: “While the army has the manpower and resources to get things done, it should not be helping to solve problems of companies that are profit- driven... It is also not a national crisis that requires soldiers. “These companies can hire auxiliary police officers or private security firms.”

…Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said it is “not a bad thing” to involve the SAF for contingency planning, especially for worst-case scenarios. The associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University said: “Train breakdowns have so far resulted in delays for a few hours.

“But a train breakdown could become a crisis if there are other untoward consequences, such as a stampede, civil unrest or if the train breakdown continues for days or weeks… it will then be justifiable for the military to support efforts to manage the crisis.”

The last time the SAF was activated for a major event that had nothing to do with shooting and killing people was LKY’s state funeral, where 10,000 men and women were roped in to make sure the procession went smoothly (No job too big for Ah Boys, 16 May 15, ST). Other festivities which involved the army include the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, the recent SEA games, and of course the annual staple that is the NDP. The military supposedly has the most experience in organising massive groups of people quickly, and besides defending the nation or going overseas for humanitarian relief efforts, it sidelines as the country’s largest logistics organisation. It’s also a dependable source of cheap labour.

Event planning aside, SAF soldiers have been also tasked to patrol airports to beef up security against terrorists, which led some to question whether our boys in green are even qualified to handle hostage situations or urban warfare. There’s an unlikely long-standing relationship between SAF and public transport operators. In 1976, SBS ‘borrowed’ SAF mechanics to repair their buses in the midst of labour shortage. More bizarrely, soldiers were ‘volunteered’ to become guinea pigs in an 1987 experiment where they were subject to a mock breakdown exercise in the middle of a tunnel, squeezed into two cars to mimic peak hour conditions without air-conditioning. What is this, the Third Reich?

So not only does the SAF supply us with human bodies to do ‘sai-kang’, they also provide trial participants for ethically questionable experiments that test the limits of human endurance. Presumably because they’ve been adequately hard-drilled by the war machine to swallow unspeakable torture. Incidentally, both the LTA and SMRT chiefs are former military stalwarts, so no surprise that they probably agreed on this brilliant idea with a top brass handshake. Ah Boys to MRT Ushers, really. Furthermore, shouldn’t stampede control be managed by the riot police? Or we’re all reserving those guys for Little India scuffles?

So if we’re all fine with sacrificing our army pawns to tackle ‘national crises’ in peacetime, why stop at MRT breakdowns where there’s a remote chance of stampedes and ‘civil unrest’? We could apply their operational finesse in other matters that may affect ‘national security’, so that our police officers can focus on other areas like arresting bloggers. Here’s a list for consideration:

  1. McDonald’s Hello Kitty Queues
  2. Primary One Registration
  3. Securing JEM in event of fire/ceiling collapse/flood
  4. Security at K-pop concerts
  5. Crowd control when Kong Hee goes to court
  6. Sentry duty at SMRT depots in case of trespassing vandals
  7. Collection lines for SG50 Commemorative notes
  8. Picking up dead fish hit by mysterious seaborne disease
  9. N95 mask distribution during bad haze conditions
  10. Road marshalling at marathons. Wait, they’re probably already doing that for that Army one.

Lui Tuck Yew’s resignation and the Singapore Boat

From ‘All have stations to man on the Singapore boat’, 13 Aug 15, ST Forum

(Steve Chiu Shih Tung): Though the major disruptions on the MRT lines were mentioned in Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, we can only guess at what the real factors behind his resignation might be (“Lui Tuck Yew decides to leave politics“; yesterday).

But let’s suppose that the MRT breakdowns were the factors; we ought to contemplate how our responses to the breakdowns might have shaped Mr Lui’s decision to step down.

As citizens, we are all in this one Singapore boat. It’s a boat well envied by international watchers, but it’s a boat that’s already 50 years old, and we have a lot of infrastructure, like the MRT, that has been faithfully serving us for several decades now.

As this Singapore boat weathers all kinds of storms, we must realistically expect wear and tear, damage and even downtime to some of the key machinery running this boat, such as the MRT lines. The MRT is just a microcosm of the crucial machinery running this Singapore boat.

…Storms will come and, often, they are beyond our control. We would do well to rise above our frustrations in the face of inconveniences, recognise the efforts of our fellow countrymen and cheer them on, as they do their utmost to serve us all as we weather these storms together.

The writer has successfully used the pretext of our Transport Minister stepping down from his ‘poisoned chalice’ to display his knack for cheesy analogies. Firstly, to be more specific, Singapore is a SAMPAN, as described by PM Lee himself. Once you’ve got that boat analogy down, you need to make it rock, hence ‘weathering the storms‘. One may argue that a massive MRT breakdown is not a random act of God but an inherent system failure, a problem that Lui has supposedly ‘inherited’ from the past, according to Low Thia Khiang. Not surprisingly, ministers who once owned the transport portfolio decided to keep mum about Lui’s sudden decision, or Low’s suggestion that someone, somewhere along the line of the condemned screwed up. That includes Khaw Boon Wan (Acting Transport Minister circa 2003), and retiring ex Minister of Communications Mah Bow Tan (1991-1999).

Incidentally, just before Lui was tasked to ‘brave the perfect storm’, he spoke of poison mushrooms during his 2011 GE rally. And sick was what our aging MRT turned out to be. Despite having the cards heavily stacked against his favour, we got our Free early morning rides and a new Downtown Line due by the end of the year. Tower Transit London won a bus tender with the Government Contracting Model.  Naturally, with his boss reluctantly accepting his resignation, the accolades from co-workers came pelting like the gentle rain. He was ‘hardworking’, had a ‘heart’ for Singaporeans, and worked the ground like all Ministers should. He descended into the dark belly of the beast with the unwashed masses.  He referred to these niceties, in his own humble words, as ‘obituaries and eulogies without the flowers’. How accurate. We haven’t had such pleasant things said about a PAP politician since LKY passed away.

To say that things haven’t been smooth sailing for the former Navy Chief is an understatement. The hashtag #tuckyew has been trending on Twitter ever since 2011, first tweeted by a guy called Martin Wong: ‘Let’s trend #tuckyew’. For the past 4 years, any delay in train service, any instance of a SBS driver not understanding English, every time a bus gets so packed it passes us by as we flag for it,  someone tweets their frustration with a ferocious, tragically catchy ‘Tuck Yew!’. Alas, despite Facebook pages dedicated to ousting Lui out of the position, our PM’s stand on cock-ups under his Ministers’ watch has remained firm. In response to the Wong Kan Seng-Mas Selamat episode, he said that we should not encourage a culture where officials are forced to resign whenever something goes wrong, that this may appease the angry public, but ultimately leave the problem unsolved. Which explains why WKS is relinquishing his seat ONLY NOW.

An outgoing SMRT CEO, on the other hand, may get the most unceremonious of public farewells. Just ask Saw Phaik Hwa.  Current CEO Desmond Kuek also got rapped for declaring his $2.25 million salary. Nobody is going to send the SMRT CEO off with a bouquet and a heavy heart when they decide to step down, so maybe being Transport Minister isn’t quite the shittiest job in the world after all. Yet, for some reason, nobody tweets ‘PhaikHwa!’, or ‘BakChye’ (Desmond Kuek) when shit happens.

As for the Singapore boat, it’s probably less a case of a good man tossed overboard, but one setting sail for less turbulent waters towards the horizon. Here’s wishing Tuck Yew all the best in his future endeavours. To his successor, let’s pray that he makes good of his time in charge while walking the plank.

ACS chartering 5 MRT trains for rugby match

From ‘SMRT acknowledged prior approval should have been sought: LTA’, 27 Aug 2014, article in Today online.

Transport operator SMRT has explained to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) why it let Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) charter five of its trains to transport students and staff to a rugby match yesterday (Aug 26) at the National Stadium. SMRT has also “acknowledged that prior approval should have been sought”, said an LTA spokesperson in a statement today.

“The operator is required to obtain LTA’s approval to run trains for non-public transport purposes because as regulator, LTA is responsible for ensuring that train services to the public are provided as scheduled, and that any additional trips in the network do not adversely affect such services,” the spokesperson added.

ACS(I) had chartered the trains to transport 3,000 of its students and staff to the Schools National C Division rugby final match, which was the first school final to be held at the new National Stadium at the Sports Hub. Yesterday, the LTA said it was looking into the appropriate action to take against SMRT after the public transport operator failed to seek the necessary approval from the authorities before letting the school charter its trains.

They've got a ticket to ride

They’ve got a ticket to ride

When asked about why they supported this private entourage, SMRT said that they believed in ‘supporting local education’ and ‘national initiatives’ without compromising core service delivery (Rugby: ACS(I) to charter five MRT trains…25 Aug, ST). This was a rugby championship match between rival schools, not a mass deployment of martyrs to the battlefront. It’s MRT playing host to a private event, where instead of your favourite restaurant or theatre being closed off for some company party, it’s 5 entire trains. I doubt LTA would have said NO anyway even if SMRT had asked for permission. The alternative would be 80 buses clogging up the roads and this is one premier school which is more than able to afford hiring a Zeppelin or cruise liner if they wanted to. Better to inconvenience some lowly train commuters than aggravate those car-drivers, eh?

Still, when you see ACS’s motto being flashed on the LED scroller in the image above, you can’t help wondering if SMRT the public transport provider is sidelining as a party organiser here. If a school like ACS could hire MRT trains to bring their students to a sports competition, what’s stopping a multimillion, Government-endorsed company from doing the same to bring their employers to a Dinner and Dance, or from office to Changi Airport for an overseas AGM? If I’m very influential, could I hire one train just to ferry people to my gala wedding in style, complete with buskers and champagne? After all, it’s cheap, eco-friendly and SMRT has given us the assurance that normal passenger service would be minimally affected. Imagine if traditional rivals like RI or Hwa Chong followed suit with their own mass events. Hwa Chong even wanted an MRT station named after them for God’s sake. In fact, managing director Lee Ling Wee went on to ENCOURAGE more schools located near the CCL to charter trains during off-peak hours because it seems that they could afford it. You know, just to dispel the notion of MRT chartering being the sole right of elite institutions. Maybe SMRT should have an online booking system too, and exclusive themed trains like ‘Summer Wedding’ or ‘Ruggers’ Fiesta’ which you can choose to upgrade to.

I think if the event had been a charity fundraiser or a Big Day out for pioneers or the handicapped, few would complain. But this was for a select group with no noble intentions outside of flying some school flags or chanting slogans for a sport that only gets screened live in dingy Irish bars. I for one would rather watch a Bonsai pruning competition than the Rugby World Cup final. ACS’s private joyride had no philanthropic, ‘educational’ value or ‘national’ objective worthy of inspiration or pride. So why does rugby warrant this special privilege? Vivian Balakrishnan could have skimmed his YOG budget had he thought of chartering for volunteers and participants back in 2011. If you accept the argument that this is ‘cost effective’ then anybody can justify using the MRT as their grandfather’s train to move thousands of people for other frivolous reasons. Does SMRT have any qualification criteria at all?

As for that LED marquee screen that otherwise no one ever gives a shit about, now there’s an idea for a wedding proposal, guys.

Woman pooping in public near Holland Village MRT

From ‘Photo of naked woman at Holland Village goes viral’, 13 Aug 2014, article in insing.com

A photo of a woman squatting with her bottom exposed at one of the MRT station entrances at Holland Village in Singapore is going viral.

It was posted by Facebook user “Denise Yii” just before 2pm on Wednesday 13 August and she claimed that the woman “wiped her bottom with a tissue and placed it in her bag”.

Could this be the same woman who got away scot-free after taking a piss in a Pinnacle@Duxton lift? Both are known to be ‘atas’ areas, one a luxurious, world renown public housing project, the other the original ‘hipster’ enclave.  HV has long lost its vintage allure, a former yuppie-infested watering hole, now a place where you can watch heartland invaders take a dump while you sip artisanal coffee by a cafe window above. Now it’s a ‘hole’ of an entirely different sort.

In 2011, a caller to a radio station named Samantha complained that Holland Village was for ‘cultured’ people and that it was no place for uncouth heartlanders, who with their singlets and flip-flops were tarnishing the image of her hangout. I wonder how she feels now knowing that these people are shitting on her territory. Up to now the grossest sight anyone in HV can witness is someone walking around in a pair of goddamn Crocs.

The culprit was completely bottomless from the photo, and if not mentally unsound she could be a member of Albert Yam’s ‘naturist’ movement taking nudism to its animalistic extreme. It’s not the first time someone took off their pants in HV, though.  In 2009, a couple strolled down Lorong Mambong totally nude for kicks. Not sure if they left any droppings behind.

But why, of all godforsaken places, by an MRT exit? It appears to be a favourite spot for serial poopers. Earlier this month, a mother was caught coaxing her son into defecating by Chinatown MRT. Yet what’s really disturbing about this image is that the kid appears to be eating a CARROT. WHILE SHITTING. That’s what vegetables do to you, son.

Even the financial heart of the nation wasn’t spared. In 2012, someone, or something, left a turd-tastic load in Raffles MRT station. It looked like the Cavalia troupe was in town for a tour and forgot to bag it. And speaking of bags, imagine the HV shitter bringing her bag and her stained tissue onto a crowded train, or sitting next to you on the priority seat.

But at least it’s not done IN THE TRAIN, you say? Well, check this shit out.

It seems that even for a ‘garden city’, people still can’t seem to be able to get to the nearest bush in time. Before the MRT came to Holland Village, there was at least some green cover for those urgent bowel movements.  But maybe there’s more to this than the corprophilic whims of someone who’s mentally ill. Maybe the HV pooper is really a radical activist protesting SMRT’s less than stellar service, sending a faecal message to the organisation, saying ‘This is what I think of your Free WiFi, SMRT!’ Well you don’t have to punish our cleaners, or our poor eyes that way, lady. Watch out, Sentosa Cove.

Update: The woman, a Singaporean, was caught and let off with a stern warning, reportedly suffering from a long history of schizophrenia and intellectual disability. Meanwhile, the Duxton pisser remains at large.

SMRT giving away Care stickers to needy passengers

From ‘ SMRT rolls out stickers and special queues to promote better travel etiquette’, 25 July 2014, article in CNA

Transport operator SMRT has rolled out two schemes to create a better travel experience for commuters who require special attention: Priority queues and care stickers.

Priority Queues for lifts in some train stations will ensure that passengers in need are able to access the lift more easily, SMRT said on Friday (July 25). The trial will see floor stickers pasted at the entrance to lifts at 12 selected MRT stations…

Care Stickers are meant to help SMRT staff and commuters identify those who may need help along their commute. Commuters may approach staff at all SMRT Passenger Service Centres along the North-South, East-West and Circle Lines, as well as SMRT Bus Interchanges (Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang, Sembawang, Woodlands and Yishun) for a Care Sticker that corresponds with their special needs.

SMRT said the measures are meant to help five groups of commuters who might require special care and attention: Expectant mothers, senior citizens, parents travelling with infants, commuters with mobility needs and unwell passengers. 

“Our bus and train services carry more than 2.5 million commuters every day and among them are some who might need some extra care. While passengers are generally courteous and are willing to offer seats to those in need, we feel that a sticker could help commuters identify and extend care more easily,” said Mr Alvin Kek, Vice-President of Rail Operations at SMRT Trains.

I'm wearing this because I want a seat

I’m wearing this because I want a seat

That we need priority badges to nudge commuters into giving up their seats is a worrying affirmation that we have a ‘compassion deficit’. I once saw a pregnant lady in the advanced stages of gestation sitting in the reserved seat with a ‘care sticker’ and my first thought was ‘WHY IS THIS THING EVEN NECESSARY?’, followed by ‘Where did she get that?’. Didn’t LTA already assure us that a staggering 94% of passengers will give up their seat to those that need them more?

Yes that is exactly how a needy person views the Reserved Seat

Yes that is exactly how a needy person views the Reserved Seat

As if queuing for the lifts, at the platform etc isn’t bad enough, now we have pregnant women queuing at the control stations to get a sticker so that HOPEFULLY someone would surrender their seat to them. Kinda useless if people are pretending to sleep isn’t it. What if no one gives up the seat still? Are expectant mothers going to charge SMRT for wasting their time? Besides, men, no matter how old and hobbly they are, are NEVER EVER going to paste on themselves a sticker depicting a grandmother carrying bags of groceries from Sheng Siong. If I just had an arm in a cast, I wouldn’t opt for a sticker that makes me look like a complete invalid. I foresee only the Pregnant sticker being the main sell here, which would be especially helpful if we can’t tell if a woman is carrying a baby or just fat, while the rest can jolly well end up in some quirky heritage section of the Philatelic Museum.

Of the 5 stickers, the one for the ‘unwell’ passenger (with the face mask) presents a somewhat ‘sticky’ situation. Are SMRT staff bloody DOCTORS? Can they TELL the difference between someone who’s ‘not feeling well’ vs someone who’s just faking a concussion to get a seat on the train? Did SMRT consider the potential abuse of this ‘privilege’ system? If I create a bootleg sticker or get someone to sell me his ‘Unwell’ badge, and I’m shameless enough to pretend to be sick, I can go around bugging people to surrender their seats, brandishing my privilege in their faces like a crappy employee flashing his MC to his boss.

Won’t this also mean additional time taken up by staff to hand out stickers instead of more important tasks like security or tending to REAL emergencies? Or making sure people don’t drink WATER for that matter. I may get so tied up ‘looking out’ for people with care stickers to ‘care’ about a suspicious bag in the corner with a disturbing ticking sound coming out of it. Maybe SMRT should get people carrying bulky bags to put stickers on them saying ‘Thanks for making sure I’m not a suicide bomber’.

This all seems like an elaborate charade to distract us all from SMRT’s real failing: actual service standards. Barely a week ago, the company was fined $1.65 million for disruptions, and now this sticker idea seems to be suggesting they still have money to spare, using the theme of ‘graciousness’ as a smokescreen for lapses in ‘efficiency’.  It started with some juvenile marketing of characters right out of a children’s book, where we had toons resembling pirated Minions like Stand-UP Stacey rapping about ‘the goodness in you’.

More like Stand-Up-for-Stickers-Stacey now. If there’s one character they missed out it’s Bag-Down-Bala (to ensure ethnic mix). Because people with huge backpacks blocking the way and knocking people into a state such that they qualify for Unwell stickers are the worst.

Other than lift priority queues, SMRT also invited buskers to make the rush hour a more ‘pleasant’ platform experience as part of a 3 month trial. Then there are the ‘Lorong boys’ who go around carriages getting grumpy commuters in the mood for jitterbugging instead of staring at their damn phones. Which is all fine and sweet, but is really the equivalent of giving a kid a soothing lollipop while you’re pumping a stinging enema up his rectum.

CISCO officer taking $10 coffee money from maid

From ‘Ex-CISCO officer jailed a week for taking coffee money’, 17 May 2014, Today

A former Certis CISCO security officer who took S$10 in “coffee money” from a domestic helper was jailed for a week yesterday.

Kalaiarasan Muniandy, a 22-year-old Malaysian, was carrying out his duties on Jan 19 at Paya Lebar MRT Station when he spotted Ms Hasna, a domestic helper, drinking water at the station’s premises. Kalaiarasan then told her that she would be issued with a summons of S$300 for doing so and took down her particulars. When she told him that she would not be able to pay the fine as she had only S$10 with her, he asked her to place the money on his desk and told her to leave.

When the helper’s employer found out about the incident, she lodged a police report and the case was referred to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. For his act of corruption, Kalaiarasan could have been fined a maximum of S$100,000 and jailed five years.

The picture says carbonated water, btw. There are bubbles.

Even babies are not spared from this absurd ‘no drinking’ rule. In 2010, a news clip depicted an SMRT officer kindly asking a mother and her child to get out of the train to BOTTLE-FEED water. Not sure if this is video staged, but it also features an officer fining a schoolgirl for eating peanuts, and issuing a stern warning to an auntie for drinking water after taking her medication. It’s like the classic reality television series ‘COPS’, except on the MRT. WHY U NO GIVE CHANCE?

A woman was also fined for eating a sweet on the train. Her penalty? THIRTY DAMN DOLLARS. Why is the fine for drinking water 10 times that amount? Could it be that the consequence of consuming sugary snacks is merely the drawing of pests, while a puddle of plain water is a deathtrap? With our trains packed to the brim, how many passengers have actually slipped from dripped water and suffered skull fractures from it? You’re more likely to get bruised in a fist fight than keel over on a few drops of water, really. If safety is a concern, why not BAN passengers from entering the train if they’re soaking wet from the rain too, or wet umbrellas for God’s sake. Wait, you’re not supposed to even enter or remain on a train when it’s FULL.

So rules are rules, and SMRT would like to claim that they have been applying it across the board, whether you’re eating a KFC chicken wing or sipping from a water bottle for throat relief. But have they really? Some water sippers have been let off the hook with just a warning instead of the maxiumum $500 fine. Another blogger recounts an SMRT auntie telling her off for drinking mineral water (but presumably let off without a fine). Surely there should have been exceptions when we were experiencing the drought some months back? What if you’re an NSman on the way home after a vigorous day of training in the hot sun defending our nation, or a catatonic elderly person on the priority seat? If I had the money to spare I would go around MRT stations testing SMRT protocol to see how much they would fine me if I drunk plain water, Coke or chicken soup that my dying grandmother made especially for me. Or see how far I’d go if I fake a voice as hoarse as someone with trachea cancer.

‘Coffee money’ didn’t always imply bribery in the past. In the 1930’s it was used by the rich to describe little ‘tokens’ which they generously give out in addition to a servant’s salary. And 20 cents could probably buy you an actual cup of coffee then. Today even HOT WATER is more expensive than that. In the 60’s ‘coffee money’ was a smaller sum of ‘extortion’ or ‘protection’ money given to gangsters. It wasn’t until the seventies when the market rate of coffee money rose to $10, and referred to petty inducement of any figure of authority to waive a criminal charge or bend some regulations. This CISCO officer reportedly asked for $30, but settled for 10 as well. What of the maid then, shouldn’t she be charged for offering a bribe too? By the way, you could get jailed for giving Malaysian traffic police ‘kopi money’ to waive off a speeding ticket.

The record for the world’s cheapest  ‘coffee money’, was an astounding ONE DOLLAR in 1980 used to tempt a customs officer into clearing cargo for a shop assistant. What an insult, I can’t even get anything out of a vending machine with that kind of money these days. Well technically speaking, back then you could use that to buy a kopi-o and even get some change back. On the flipside, the largest amount of ‘coffee money’ recorded so far could be the $2000 accepted in 1969 by a BP oilman to obtain dealership for a petrol kiosk. That could get you at least 40 cups of kopi luwak.

Wonder what Kalairasan did with his $10 ‘coffee money’. Maybe a Grande Starbucks Frappucino with a side order of cheesecake. They serve free coffee in jail, I hope.

SMRT train in Bishan depot vandalised

From ‘Train at Bishan depot vandalised; police investigating’, 10 May 2014, article by Grace Chua, ST

A train at SMRT’s Bishan depot was vandalised, in the third such incident here in four years. Police said they received a call early on Monday morning at 6.17am, requesting assistance “at a premise along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1”. When the police arrived, a case of vandalism was reported, said a spokesman, who added that investigations are ongoing.

SMRT spokesman Alina Boey said on Saturday: “Vandalism was found on one of our trains at Bishan Depot on May 5. We have since made a police report and will assist the police in their investigations.”

…SMRT has previously been fined $200,000 and $50,000 for two separate security breaches at its depots.

In May 2010, two vandals cut through the fence of SMRT’s Changi depot and spray-painted graffiti on one side of a train. One of them, Swiss national Oliver Fricker, was given seven months’ jail and three strokes of the cane, while his accomplice, Briton Lloyd Dane Alexander, remains at large. In August 2011, a hole was cut in the fence at the Bishan Depot, and the words “Jet Setter’s” were spray-painted on one of the trains.

20141205_ln_mrt-01

Go home train you’re drunk

What the article omitted was that the fate of the previous Bishan depot vandals who painted ‘Jet Setter’s’ remains unknown to this day. I’m also surprised to read that Lloyd Dane Alexander is still on the Interpol manhunt list since 2010, and has been all but forgotten. Meanwhile we’ve apprehended, quite speedily I must say, 5 boys who vandalised a Toa Payoh rooftop , a solo vandal for desecrating the Cenotaph, and a woman ‘street artist’ responsible behind ‘My Grandfather Road’, all within days of their violation. The only explanation as to why our Police and Interpol combined still have trouble finding Lloyd, dead or alive, over these FOUR YEARS is that he may have, along with the ‘Jet Setters’,  jettisoned himself into outer space.

According to the Sunday Times (Vandals strike Bishan MRT depot, 11 May 2014), it appears that the vandals’ work wasn’t as pretty as that of ‘McKoy and Banos’, a ‘wordless scrawl 3m long and a metre high’.  There was also NO physical breach of the fence, so whoever gave SMRT the slip must have picked up a stealth skill or two from the Toa Payoh vandals. Why aren’t these people recruited as SAF spies and saboteurs already, elite soldiers adept at scaling fences and buildings more than 20 storeys high?

In case you’re wondering where the money from the previous $200,000 fine goes, it’s into the Public Transport Fund to help needy families with transport fares. Which means for this serious breach of security, SMRT is penalised by giving money to LTA, who in turn transfers it to people who need the MRT and its buses the most i.e the money ultimately GOES BACK to SMRT. In comparison, train disruptions in 2011 cost SMRT $2 MILLION. Today, our trains still get disrupted, and occasionally someone still breaks into a depot to vandalise it.

How is such a fine even effective in the long run? Shouldn’t putting some big bosses’ heads on the chopping board be a greater deterrent to operational negligence? Is Lui Tuck Yew going to express his ‘disappointment’ again that SMRT has allowed this to happen THREE times, despite SMRT taking additional security measures by employing Certis Cisco to conduct round-the-clock surveillance? In 2010-2011, the remedial actions were under the charge of Saw Phaik Hwa, who has since resigned and joined Auric Pacific in 2012, the same company  responsible for Delifrance and Sunshine bread. So far no one has died from either.

It’s worth noting that the Toa Payoh vandalism took place on May 7, TWO DAYS AFTER the Bishan depot incident (May 5), and the culprits of the former were caught (10 May) just as the news of the MRT vandalism broke. Which means SMRT took a few days to report this to the Police, just like how they took 2 days to report Fricker and Lloyd’s intrusion. Is it any wonder that the vandals are still at large given the lead time gained from SMRT keeping quiet, probably scurrying about with their own ‘internal investigations’ , more worried about their reputation than catching the people responsible? Wait, WHAT reputation.

I’m predicting a $500K fine this time, and maybe SMRT might just withdraw their intention to extend Free Early Bird Train Rides till 2015. In the end, it’s not SMRT, LTA or the Minister of Transport, nor even the vandals themselves (if they never get caught) who suffer, but us the commuters.

Postscript: Police are working on the premise that this might be an inside job as there are no traces of trespass, taking fingerprints of SMRT employees working the night shift on May 5. The latest ST article (Police take fingerprints of SMRT employees, 13 May 2014, ST) also used Melbourne as reference (35 cases of train vandalism a MONTH), emphasising that vandalism is a scourge that affects major cities and suggesting that we’re already doing a good job keeping it to 3 in at least 3 YEARS.

Some writers have suggested cracking down on spray paint cans, banning sale to minors and registering buyers, analogous to our reaction towards chewing gum. Well, why stop there, why not control crayons, colour pencils and paintbrushes too? And even if we deprive the majority of creative tools, there are other ways to deface public property, like throwing excrement for example.

 

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