Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Public Transport: Why so many problems?

"66 year old woman killed after being hit by SBS bus in Sengkang this morning""SMRT bus mowed down school boy at traffic junction in Woodlands". These are the headlines I've seen over the past week. Besides these incidents where innocent lives were injured or loss, there are also countless numbers of "train disruptions" where thousands of commuters were affected.

When SBS and SMRT increased their fares last year, it was due to "cost pressures" and they guaranteed that the increase will bring about "better service for the commuters". So is this the "better service" that they are talking about? Why are these problems only surfacing now, and not before the fare increase?

I searched throughout the internet, and found this article on regarding the training and working hours of bus drivers in SBS. Below is an extract:

"ALL our new bus captains go through a structured 29-day training programme which focuses on driving and safety skills as well as customer service skills.

Our bus captains from China go through an extra 21 days of training which familiarises them with local driving conditions and teaches them basic conversational English.

After the initial training programme, all new bus captains are paired with a mentor who is an experienced bus captain."

If so much is done for the drivers' training, then why are there so many incidents involving Mainland drivers? Maybe they should review their training course.

Now on to the MRT. According to SMRT, the recent train delays were caused by "falling or missing parts on the tracks", "ponding", "heavy traffic", "faulty signalling systems" etc. Explain all you want, but the truth is, the commuters do not care about the cause. What they want is a solution. And from the recent spate of events, I can only come to the conclusion that more problems are going to come while the tops guns are continuing to sleep on it.

After all the ranting, here is my view on why all these s*** are happening now. As I mentioned in my earlier post (read it here), Temasek Holdings have 54% of SMRT's shares (54.3% as at 16 May 2011), and since SMRT gives out dividends to its shareholders, we can assume that Temasek Holdings is getting the lion's share. And if you look at the founders and CEO of Temasek Holdings, everything becomes clear.  I won't spell it out here, lest I get arrested for "causing public disorder by spreading false rumors".

My sources: (On the drivers' training) (On the stake Temasek Holdings have in SMRT, scroll down to see it)


  1. you suggest that "commuters do not care about the cause. What they want is a solution."

    Yet you instead decide to assert that 'top guns..sleeping at the top' is the cause and do not make any attempt to propose a solution.

    1. I did not say that the "sleeping top guns" are the cause (maybe my wordings caused some confusion), and while I did not propose a solution, I did suggest the root of the problems in my last paragraph, and if my assumptions are true, then it makes solutions nothing more than cheap talk.

      In case you don't what my last paragraph is talking about (it's a bit vague), I'll say that it has something to do with Government interest and profits.

  2. Hi Mimi,

    Although I understand ur frustration with all the recent breakdowns, I just feel that we as Singaporeans should also have some perspective. I've lived in several cities around the world (NYC, London, HK, Taipei + short periods in Seoul and Chicago) and Singapore's MRT and public transport system is considerably better that any of these cities.

    In most of those cities, intervals between trains are usually much longer, breakdowns are accepted as part of life (in fact I used to always check the service status of the trains on my phone b4 I left my house), whole train lines are shut down for days at a time and overcrowding is much much much worse (not just during peak hours but most of the day). Prices are also much higher in these other cities, I believe Singapore is one of the cheapest (HK and Taipei are close but the others are all way more expensive).

    I am not saying that just because it happens in other countries, it is acceptable for it to happen here. In fact, I think it is a good thing that we demand high standards from our public services. But we must also have some sense of perspective and not get so overly worked up every time something goes wrong, as if the sky is falling down! My friends from London were here on holiday during the December breakdowns and they we shocked by how angry singaporeans got because of it. It seems we have become so pampered and used to near-perfection that we have forgotten how to respond constructively when things go wrong.

    Just my 2 cents. xx

    1. True, maybe we should stop complaining about train breakdowns, but when innocent lives are involved, we just cannot afford to be so lax in our behavior and show tolerance towards these sub-standards. In the Sengkang case, the green man was flashing and the old lady was already halfway across the road, but the bus did not stop and just ran her over. What's even worse is that SBS flip-flopped in its response to the victim's family when they asked SBS to pay for the body's repatriation to Malaysia.

      I admit that a lot of Singaporeans like to complain, sometimes too much, but it pisses us off even more when transport companies raises our fares with the promise that problems will be resolved, yet the problems only intensified.

    2. Thanks for the reply mimi!

      With regard to public safety, I completely agree that we should adopt a high standards/zero-tolerance attitude.

      In the Sengkang case, I think the response of SBS abt the compensation was definitely wrong but thankfully they did the right thing in the end, which is most important. Also, I think their initial flip-flopping was probably more to do with bad PR and lack of experience with these types of incidents than any malice or ill-intent.

      With regard to the safety standards and training of drivers, my concern is that Singaporeans are trying to depict these in terms of foreigners being incompetent and useless etc. (especially if you read all the new media sites), which I don't think is fair nor is it the root cause of problems.

      In my personal view (and having spoken to friends who were former employees in SBS/ Comfort DelGro), I think the dropping safety performance is mainly due to over-working of drivers. Drivers now do longer shifts with shorter, less-regular rest breaks. As a result they are naturally more tired (maybe even exhausted) and so less alert and sharp at the wheel. That results in the kinds of lapses and accidents we've seen in recent weeks.

      The main reason for this is not surprising; lack of drivers! And this is not easy to solve since very few (if any) Singaporeans want to take up jobs as drivers/captains. So the PTOs have to recruit from overseas.

      Also, with regard to your point on prices, it is worth noting that Singapore has generally low fares compared to most developed cities with similar populate sizes (again HK and Taipei are close but the rest are way more expensive - Even with recent price hikes, we're still one of the most affordable cities in terms of purchasing power parity.

      Also, the price increases have been less than the increase in fuel prices, so in other words, the PTO's have absorbed most of the increase in costs. We Singaporean commuters also tend to remember only the price increases and forget the price reductions, see;

      Also, keep in mind that in the end, someone has to pay for the services. Its either the commuters or the government (i.e. tax revenue) which is also basically our money!


    3. If the standards here improve, then I have no qualms with paying more. After all, what you pay is what you get. But what i'm afraid is that most of the profits have been "sucked off" by "something" or "someone", thus leaving the company with almost nothing to improve the plight and standards of new drivers. Otherwise, why would a profiting private company require 1.1b from the Government to help them purchase buses and their operating costs?