I write this post with a slice of frustration. Too many times have I seen, read or heard my friends (or people that are considered my “friends” because Facebook says so and decides to showcase their flaunt of wealth on my News Feed) complain about public transport in Singapore. Or all the talk of privatisation to improve standards. I grow sick of the narrow-mindedness and childishness of it all. Sure, SMRT ain’t perfect, but allow me to share a personal story of mine.
I worked for a year in Melbourne, Australia after obtaining my degree. From 8 to 9am, trains at my station came every TEN (10) minutes. On top of that, every week, without fail, there will be at least two disruptions to a service (you will hear an announcement at 8am: “The 0820 train will not be in service today”, much to the chagrin of the commuters).
Imagine a typical day: At 0815, you’re at the train station, you wait for 5 minutes for the 0820 train that you can’t fit in, only to find out the 0830 service wouldn’t be coming. You decide to wait for the 0840 service….., only to realise that the 0830 train commuters are packed into the 0840 one that you (you guessed it!) can’t fit into. You take the 0850 service in resignation and receive a stern look from the most uptight boss in the world at 0910. Wow, 55 minutes for a journey that would take 20min off-peak. And this kind of thing is accepted as the norm. *shudders*
I remember when I first arrived at Melbourne, public transport was privatised and the company operating the public trains was Connex. From what you just heard, you could deduce they failed in their service standards as set by Metlink, the “LTA of Melbourne” (Connex trains were to arrive on time, 92% of the time; the definition of “on time” being arriving within 5 minutes of stipulated time). In other words. all Connex had to do was to deliver all their trains 3-4 minutes late to achieve 100% punctuality, which they failed at doing so.
Connex was fined a total of A$70m by the state government in 3 years(link). You’d expect a company to buck up when faced with huge fines, but things didn’t improve significantly. This is an excellent example of one of the shortcomings of privatising public transport. The Connex contract was not extended and another company Metro came in. However, it was a case of different company, same problems. I suspect most Connex employees were just re-hired into Metro.
At the end of the day, Connex/Metro employees still received their salaries, the Victorian Government received their $70m, a different company takes over in 4 years, but who suffers? It’s the commuter, who pays A$3.20 just so he/she could travel for 2 hours. I forgot to add that by the time I was experiencing the story I was talking about above, Metro was already in charge of the trains.
Hopefully, after hearing my story, you can start to appreciate our trains better. I was there at Raffles Place at 7pm, in the masses waiting for half an hour for a train home. I was also there at Clementi MRT at 8am, seeing 7 fully packed trains come and go before finally boarding the 8th train to work. Everyone (and company) has their bad days, and I think it’s really childish and unappreciative of us Singaporeans to just condemn our public transport. It’s one thing to give constructive feedback and suggestions, but a whole other thing to just write off the spine of Singapore’s growth.
Ironically, it was SMRT’s reliability throughout the years of Singapore’s development that proved to be its PR undoing. This goes to show how sometimes, Singaporeans can take things for granted.