One man’s breakdown is another’s income opportunity

From ‘SMRT says sorry for its message to cabbies’, 16 Dec 2011, article by Daryl Chin, ST

SMRT has apologised for a message it broadcast to its fleet of taxis yesterday amid the chaos on the subway system. The message, which flashed on its drivers’ screens at about 8pm, read: ‘Income opportunity. Dear partners, there is a breakdown in our MRT train services from Bishan MRT to Marina Bay MRT stretch of stations.’

A photo of the screen – presumably taken by a passenger – soon appeared on social networking site Twitter and spread online, drawing sharp criticism.

‘Bad enough they are raising taxi fares, now they want to cash in on an event that is their fault to begin with,’ said sales assistant Candice Tan, 24, one of the many who tweeted about it.

Attempts to contact the photographer were unsuccessful. The message, presumably sent by SMRT call centrestaff, would have reached all 3,100 taxis in its fleet. An SMRT spokesman said last night: ‘We are sorry for the oversight. Our staff were using a template message, and we have since corrected it.’

Some More Revenue, Taxis!

The second breakdown in a week came after a Circle Line delay the day before. News of the trauma of passengers stuck in tunnels went live before SMRT could even recover from the backlash of its ‘official statement’ fiasco yesterday. Train windows were smashed out of desperation, passengers plunged into darkness and sent on a pitch-black tunnel march between City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut, images which anyone who’s seen the 90’s Sylvester Stallone disaster movie Daylight would find hauntingly familiar. I exaggerated in a previous post that SMRT was keeping silent because of zombie carnage in the train and on platforms, and looking at the state of chaos and the contorted faces of victims in agony, it appears that I wasn’t too far off the mark.

SMRT: Tunnel vision

Seems like SMRT is running out of ‘I’m sorry’ templates too. Here it’s ‘We are sorry for the oversight‘, last night it was:

We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused…Preliminary investigation shows that around 40m of the power rail had been damaged between the City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut stations.

Inconvenience, of course, is a gross understatement, especially if you have passengers gasping for air, resorting to sacrificing fire extinguishers to smash windows to stay alive. One can only guess at the kind of mixed feelings that cabbies would have capitalising on stranded, desperate commuters only too eager to head home after a hard day’s work, although the cruel coincidence of the two incendiary events (MRT breakdown, taxi fare hike) reeks of a backdoor cost-recovery conspiracy on the part of SMRT, which not only has to deal with ticket refunds and whatever damages sustained because of angry, oxygen-deprived mobs, but foreigners sueing them for negligence after having their legs pulverised by trains. Or perhaps so much attention was given to ‘security breaches’ that there were simply not enough people to inspect cables every once in a while. Give me a graffitti-strewn train that gets me to work and home on the dot rather than a squeaky clean one that disgorges passengers into tunnels smack  in the middle of nowhere.

SMRT isn’t the only body exploiting the misfortune of others. Just after the Japanese tsunami in March this year, Mediacorp sent out an email soliciting for advertisers who might be interested in ‘breaking news’ coverage, each 30-second commercial costing $5000. Edwin Koh, Senior Vice President, stepped up to ‘apologise unreservedly if we had been seen to be insensitive to the gravity of the situation’. Note that it could have been either Mediacorp or SMRT who wanted to hush up DJ Hossan Leong for tweeting about the Circle Line fault yesterday as well. But it’s only the amoral nature of business after all, and corporations like these two have been ‘cashing’ in way before the advent of social media, whether we like it or not. Pharmaceutical giants ‘cash in’ whenever there’s an outbreak of disease, weapon manufacturers in the event of war, and likewise a swarm of passengers with nowhere to go is prime catch for cabbies.  Whether you call it ‘good business’ or ‘income opportunity’, the fact of the matter, as it is everywhere else, is that there is always a market for misfortune. It’s just unfortunate that an ‘oversight’ exposed the unfeeling machine that SMRT really was all along. So much for ‘MOVING people, ENHANCING lives’ as its motto boasts, when it has done the exact opposite these past few days.

Tsunami=Income opportunity

Let’s not forget another player in the grand scheme of things; ComfortDelgro for raising fees in the first place, after which we’ve seen wave after wave of sociopathic behavior occurring, from old men vandalising taxis, to graffitti on taxi panels about how we’re like ‘donkeys’ and always ‘Pay and Pay’, and the most ‘Grand Theft Auto’ of them all, a Trans cab taxi going on a hit-and-run rampage across town. Police blamed it on DRUGS, naturally. Maybe it’s the same drug that the SMRT spokespeople have been taking these couple of days, one that depletes every ounce of empathy in your body. Then again, according to writer/film-maker/lawyer Joel Bakan, corporations  are inherently self-interested psychopaths, with one of the traits being a ‘callous unconcern for the feelings of others’. A big, fat ‘Check’.

Nobody died during the shutdown last night (though it was reported that one fainted), but if there’s anybody that should be ‘apologising unreservedly’ it should be an actual PERSON, not the epitome of insincerity  in the form of the collective ‘WE’, crafting a response with the cut-and-paste dexterity as one garbles swill from random leftovers for pigs. The only trait that separates a chief mafioso from a company head in the context of exploiting tragedies for personal profit is that the gangster never needs to apologise.  This is how conspiracy theorists would view this situation: If you’re stuck with a cure (fare hikes to alleviate cabbies’ miserable takings) which nobody wants to take, then you have to create the disease (train failures). The truth is ‘shit happens’, but adding to the stink with a ‘template oversight’ is just ‘full of it’.

We want to see a sorry face, not a sorry excuse for an answer.

Postscript: And here’s SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa’s ‘very, very sorry face’ during a press conference later in the day. Isabella Loh must be thanking the heavens she never got into a seat as hot as this.

CEOs can resign, it is whether they choose to

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7 Responses

  1. The payments of train breakdown penalty is of no problems. Just talk to Minister Lui and he would approve another round of fare increases to cover such penalties.

  2. […] choose to” – SMRT CEO – Lui Tuck Yew’s FB Note: MRT Breakdown – Everything Also Complain: One man’s breakdown is another’s income opportunity – Yours Toothfully by Dr Chan Joon Yee: Down Again – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: “Commuters […]

  3. You know how the Gaman will explain this?
    (i) its a once in 50 years occurrence
    (ii) its brought about by increased precipitation and climate change
    (iii) the contractors’ workers fail to clear the fallen leafs properly
    (iv) rubbish accumulated on the tracks causing it to short-circuit.

    And those smartarses who broke the windows, better prepare to have your ka-cherng WHIPPED till you bleed. The Lor in this Cuntery is: Sinkaporeans hoot Gaman popperty Gaman hoot your Behind!
    Pia! Pia! Pia ! (sound of skin being flayed and flying off)

    Unless of coz you are foreign talent, then you’d be let off with a tap on your talented wrists.

  4. Capitalising on someone’s misfortune is sick. We oft heard PAP calling Singaporeans to be gracious and think of the less fortunate. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, the “first class” institutions, controlled by PAP, could only think of themselves rather than the people they served. Calling SMRT taxi to grab “business opportunity” from the distraughted SMRT train commuters, and just after the unreasonable taxi fare hike, is disgust beyond words.

  5. Haha what face. Its a face that could strand a thousand trains. If Ms Saw feels any shame and has a professional sense of accountability, she should resign. And if she does not or PAP do not ask her too, thats another big chunk of votes lost. The govt should pick what it should sacrifice….

  6. Income opportunity ?

    Now we can witness for ourselves the conflict of interest in having our public bus/taxi/mrt services being carved out to 2 major operators with our Govt having a keen commercial interest in making sure both of them are guaranteed profitable at the expense of public commuters.

    So where is the real need for both of them to be efficient & economical ?

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