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.

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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.

 

Entering or remaining in the MRT when it is full

From ‘Puzzled by MRT rules’, 28 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Adam Tan): BEFORE reviewing the penalties for flouting MRT rules, the authorities and train operators should do more to educate the public on the regulations (“Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review”; last Saturday).

For instance, not many know that it is an offence to pass items between the paid and unpaid areas without going through the fare gates. I often see people doing just that. It makes no sense for someone to enter the paid area for just a few seconds to pass an item to another person. If security is an issue, items passed into paid areas can be screened by the security staff.

Then, there is the offence of “entering or remaining in a train when it is full”, which carries a maximum penalty of $500.

How does one define a “full” train? If the train is full and no one gets off, is that an offence? And if someone manages to squeeze in, will he also be fined? Don’t the operators want their trains to be running at full capacity? Indeed, it is timely for a review of MRT rules.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.57.52 PM

‘Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review’, 25 Jan 2014, ST

Last August, a student was fined $400 for unauthorised use of a station socket to charge her mobile phone. She was guilty of ‘improper use of electrical equipment upon the railway premises’, which carries a maximum fine of up to $5000. In 1988, SMRT imposed a ban on DURIANS and a penalty of $500 if you decide to sneak some onto the train. This is in accordance to rule 7 which states:

7.(1)  No person shall bring into or upon any part of the railway premises —

(a) any luggage, article or thing which —
(i) exceeds the dimensions or weight restrictions specified on notices posted by the Authority or its licensee in the railway premises;
(ii) cannot be carried or otherwise accommodated on the railway without risk of damage to railway property; or
(iii) causes a nuisance or inconvenience to other persons using the railway premises.
We are also probably the only metro system in the world that has a sign barring a specific FRUIT. A true icon of Singapore indeed.

Singaporeans getting prickly over MRT rules

Interestingly enough, durians were deemed a nuisance a year before another notorious item was recognised as a threat to MRT systems: Chewing gum, which you now can’t ‘consume’ or even ‘attempt’ to consume. I have to confess I’ve gotten away with this a few times, but thank God no one has ever confronted me to inspect my mouth for evidence to charge me with.

What constitutes a ‘nuisance’ or ‘inconvenience’ is relative. I’m impartial to durians, but there are worse smells on the train, like the body odour of a sweaty kid after PE. Nobody’s going to yank him and his stinky towel out of the train and fine him for causing olfactory distress to passengers. Some people think big prams are a nuisance, but no one would ever fine parents for boarding trains with them. As for the no passing of stuff across gantries rule for security reasons, it only makes sense if EVERYONE is screened. If I wanted to blow up a train today, I could hide bombs in a pram with a baby inside and get through the fare gates without a hitch, with or without accomplices sneaking explosives to me over the barriers. The SMRT staff wouldn’t even check if I had a real baby inside at all.

Then there’s the awkward rule of ‘entering or remaining in a train when it is full’. According to Regulation 12:

No entry into train when it is full

12.  Without prejudice to regulation 11, where any authorised person determines that a train is full, no person shall enter or remain in the train if directed not to do so by him.

Though it’s reasonable to bar people from squeezing into a packed train, does this rule also mean that this ‘authorised person’ has the right to force people ‘remaining’ in a too crowded train to get out of it? As for ‘full’ trains, previous SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has even denied that the trains were ever crowded at all, saying that ‘people can board the train, it is whether they choose to’. If rule 12 is actively enforced, it’s not that we don’t ‘choose’ to squeeze in, it’s that we don’t want to be fined $500 doing it in case this ‘authorised person’ decides that the train is ‘full’, wherever, or whoever, he or she is. In fact, it’s more rational to fine people from ‘entering or remaining’ on a crowded PLATFORM instead. Just look at this disaster waiting to happen. Look at it.

If you think that entering or remaining rule is silly, in 1991 SMRT banned SITTING on parapets along both sides of the escalator landing of City Hall MRT station (Sitting on MRT parapets banned, 2 April 1991), which they scrapped a few months later. Thankfully they did not heed the pleas of a certain Today writer, who in 2009 demanded that ‘hugging and kissing‘ be banned too. Seems like to some people, public displays of affection are more toxic than the foul stench of durians.

Postscript: SMRT replied on the first day of CNY (MRT rules must be read in context, 31 Jan 2014, ST Forum), with the intent of making us feel bad that they had to work on the response over Reunion Dinner.

(Helen Lim, Director, Media Relations):…The provisions of the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations should be read in context to understand their intent. For example, the regulation on “no entry into a train when it is full” provides for an authorised person to direct passengers not to board a train if he determines that it is not safe for it to carry more people, and penalises non-compliance.

In this context, the regulation empowers the staff of public transport operators to regulate passenger activities, and ensure that the MRT continues to operate in a safe and efficient manner for the commuting public. This is used only when the situation warrants it, and no commuter has been fined for entering a crowded train.

So much for ‘entering’, where’s the part on ‘remaining’ on a train when it’s full? Note that the penalty reads ‘entering OR remaining’, not ‘entering AND remaining’. SMRT never gave an example of when a ‘situation warrants it’. Maybe if the passenger was wearing something like this?

Similarly, the regulation stating that items should not be passed between the paid and unpaid areas is intended to prevent the MRT from being used for trade or business purposes.

As the primary purpose of the MRT is that of a people mover, it is important to minimise the use of the system for the delivery of goods, which would impede commuter movement and add to crowding.

OK so it’s not for security reasons, and I’m glad SMRT remembers that it’s supposed to move people, though sometimes we’ve had to move ourselves after detraining during a breakdown. Next time if you want to return something to a friend on the way to work, it’s best doing it before 730 am at City Hall station so you won’t get charged for stepping in and out of the ‘unpaid’ zone.  Otherwise it’s a $2000 fine for ‘impeding commuter movement’, or just being a decent friend who returns stuff to people.

Lui Tuck Yew disappointed with train disruptions

From ‘Transport Minister Lui disappointed with train disruptions’, 23 Jan 2014, article in CNA

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew expressed his concern and disappointment with the recent spate of disruptions on the SMRT rail network during a meeting with the operator’s CEO and senior management on Thursday.

He was also briefed on the status of the ongoing investigations and SMRT’s preliminary findings on these incidents. Mr Lui said: “I share the frustrations of train commuters affected by these incidents, and I empathise with them on the anxiety and uncertainty that they may experience.

“I am also very concerned about SMRT’s service recovery efforts, particularly in reaching out to affected commuters promptly and keeping them updated during these incidents.”

Minister Lui has been ‘concerned’ and ‘disappointed’ before. In 2011 he expressed the same emotions about the N-S line breakdown which had someone resorting to breaking a window with a fire extinguisher. He told SMRT chairman Koh Yong Guan that he held the board and the management team ‘responsible for making it right’. 3 years later, it looks like disappointment alone won’t cut it anymore. Koh Yong Guan is STILL board chairman, and unless our minister has forgotten all about the pledge to uncover the ‘root cause’ in 2011, perhaps it’s time ultimatums are issued instead of second chances and tame euphemisms for ‘pissed off’.

Disappointment is shaking your head and walking away, and it has been a favourite tone adopted by some our ministers whenever someone upsets them. Lim Swee Say, for instance, was disappointed when DBS retrenched workers in 2008. S Jayakumar was surprised and ‘disappointed’ with accusations by Malaysian officials over the Pedra Blanca incident a year earlier. Disappointment is a mother telling her kid nicely that he’s an utter failure, but still loves him anyway. It’s time to slam your fists and up the ante, Lui Tuck Yew. Even your name rhymes with a classic expression that should have been thrown at SMRT a long time ago. They’ve had their chance to redeem themselves, but not only have they struggled to set things right, they even managed to convince the PTC that they deserve their fare hike.

There’s no shame in telling SMRT how you really feel to show Singaporeans that you mean business. Try DPM Teo’s expression of ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with the ICA checkpoint lapse and MFA trespass. Or DPM Wong Kan Seng being ‘totally appalled and flabbergasted’ following the ICA passport mix up in 2008. K Shanmugam recently revealed that he was ‘terribly upset and offended’ by what Anton Casey posted on Facebook. If you want SMRT to wake the Tuck up, you have to take it on a personal level beyond tepid ‘disappointment’, that you’re upset, furious, bloody disgusted and that such breakdowns are totally UNACCEPTABLE. It will even help you score brownie points for the next election, even if chances are nothing’s going to happen to the SMRT board anyway.

MRT fare hike and breakdowns are separate issues

From ‘Fare increase hard to justify’, 21 Jan 2014, Voices, Today

(Lawrence Seow): I cannot believe that the Public Transport Council has stated that train breakdowns and the fare hike are separate issues. How can the fare increase be justified without an improvement in service quality? These breakdowns are becoming a problem.

Moreover, the public transport operators are still making a tidy profit, and they are asking for more. In Japan, if these disruptions were to happen as often, the operators responsible would be ashamed to ask for any fare increase.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek called the timing most ‘unfortunate’ when the North South Line was disrupted yesterday, leaving 19,000 passengers stranded. This came 4 days after the PTC announced the 3.2% hike from April. He said SMRT applied for the increase due to the rising costs of maintaining a ‘SAFE AND RELIABLE’ transport system. The last round of hikes was in Aug 2011, when the 1% increase coincided with the opening of the complete Circle Line. We all remember what happened to that line some months later and I wonder where that $15 million additional revenue went to. If we take the PTC’s word for it, that breakdown and the 2011 fare increase had nothing to do with each other at all. It’s like paying 50 cents extra for chicken rice and finding out that you got more cucumber than meat. Except that you’ve got more to lose when you’re stuck in a train late for work than feeling cheated over an overpriced lunch.

Our train operators seem more focused on staying financially afloat than becoming more efficient at what they do. ‘Unfortunate timing’ or not, something needs to be done. Yet nothing much has changed since the last exercise; trains are still overcrowded, people don’t get to board even after 3 to 4 trains, and shit like this happens.

A fair hike. To the next station.

A fair hike. To the next station.

Walking the ‘high road’ was unheard of when we only had the red and green lines in the past. Imagine paying the extra charge when you could jolly well walk yourself from station to station for FREE. But since we can’t do anything about the PTC’s decision, perhaps we should call for operators to be transparent with how exactly they spend our money to tide over ‘operational costs’. Half of the revenue had better go into fixing those damn cables and signals, or if you can’t do anything about overcrowding at least improve the 3G connection in tunnels, rather than spending money on Free Wi Fi spots so that foreign workers can entertain themselves before passing out half naked in the station.  Or make sure your staff are alert to psychos entering carriages with freakin’ samurai swords instead of standing around nagging passengers to move inside. A bloody massacre in the MRT because of a safety lapse has NOTHING to do with fare increases, I’m sure.

The train system shouldn’t be addressed in isolation simply by pumping money into it. You need to figure out how to alleviate traffic flow as a whole, like encouraging alternative forms of commute (bicycling), overhauling our entire urban design or tweak immigration policies to curb this congestion epidemic. Otherwise, we commuters will continue to be slaves to a formula devised by people who’ve probably never taken a peak hour train ride in their life, and end up becoming what Anton Casey refers to in his FB as ‘poor people’.

Time to wake up, Transport Ministry. You can’t just impose fines for sloppy standards anymore because that’s still our money they’re surrendering to you. We can shake and rattle all we want, but in the end, heads must roll.