Sh*t happens – Singaporeans are not unreasonable people.
But what happened last night when both the North-South Line (Red Line) and East-West Line (Green Line) services were cut off was nothing less than unforgivable. Many people took to the official corporate and minister’s social media platforms to express their frustrations, and I spent a fair amount of time reading through them, which I hope the Minister and the relevant parties did too.
There were a few people who were defensive – why blame our minister for an unforeseen power outage? Why not Desmond Kuek? Why not give our government time to find solutions? Why make mountains out of molehills?
Here are some real reasons I think why people were pissed off –
1. Recent SMRT CEO salary hot topic
Just last month, SMRT CEO salary was a hot topic in Singapore. Mr Kuek’s salary was between $2.25m-$2.5m. It had gone up progressively but significantly from $611k in 2012. Comparatively, the CEO of SBS Transit is only paid between $500k-$700k.
From my perspective as a commoner, SBS Transit serves Singapore island-wide with their fleet of buses and pretty precise timing that we could check from our phones. I’ve hardly had any experience of bus with faulty air-conditioning, spoilt seats, and only faulty EZ-link machine once in a blue moon. Doesn’t that mean that Mr Gan is doing a much better job on a larger scale and at longer service duration time-wise (buses still running after MRT closes)? What exactly has Mr Kuek contributed (in consistency or improvement) to deserve that handsome paycheck?
2. This isn’t the first time
Gone were the days when we could say, “Eh let’s take the train, sure reach unlike bus may have traffic jam.” I’d even get a little anxious when the NSL train slows down, or when the NEL train door opens twice.
The first incident was as early as December 2011 and that incident alone affected more than 200,000 commuters. All the other hiccups in-between aside, the latest incident affected 250,000 commuters. There isn’t a huge quantity difference, and you mean the problems and crowd control system hasn’t improved after 4 years?
Sure, I see signs showing smiley faces indicating that trains are working fine, but what about the emergency SOP? Assuming that each double-decker bus capacity is about 125pax and at evening peak period it’s about half full and has space for 62pax, isn’t it apparent that practically no number of buses is going to be able to fetch 200,000-250,000 commuters under any circumstances? Why are they insisting on dispatching SBS buses to help, instead of finding alternative solutions that, honestly speaking, would cost them something more than nothing?
3. Transportation Cost Inflation VS Quality of Service
Enough has been said about the rising cost of transportation – rising every now and then, and people wished our leaders fought more for us than being “satisfied” with fare revision proposal by PTC. There is always room for negotiation and that’s what a leader is for – to look after our welfare and always question changes. With questions come discussions, proposals and evaluations. There is no shortcut for negotiation but that seems to be missing link that’s bringing the people and the corporation apart.
Once again, I take a look at the changes in our bus fleets and MRT trains. How different were they 10-20 years ago and now? SBS trains are air-conditioned, have wheelchair-accessibility, minimizing the gap from the bus to the bus stop, more comfortable seats and IRIS service.
NEL isn’t very different from the NSEW Lines, we went from having seats in every cabin to no seats in certain cabins, now we can’t eat or drink on the trains medicine inclusive, green line and red line trains are slowing down, sometimes even stuffy and barely-audible announcement amidst the screeching sounds.
Oh right, we now have flashing lights on top to see which station is next, which door is opening. Anything else? Cuter interior designs? And?
As far as I’m concerned, the DownTown Line has been nothing but a nightmare, with poor signage and confusing platforms.
The LRT system is also rocket science, and just days ago, a bunch of us at the Punggol LRT platform couldn’t even find an SMRT staff for help, and had to ask the cleaner. Dozens of stickers, East and West lines, arrows going both ways, signages “under maintenance”. They couldn’t justify the fare revision, because their quality of service is going nowhere but down.
4. The point of having a Minister
This is a sensitive and dangerous point to talk about, but I’d say it as respectfully as I can.
To put it bluntly, I wish we knew more about what a Minister can do other than apologizing, being “concerned”, being “satisfied” and reporting that he’s understanding the crisis as it unfolds.
When the earthquake happened not too long ago and our young warriors were emotionally shaken, I see our education minister waiting for them at the arrival hall, and being with the parents, the children, the ace squads, getting in touch with the people at ground zero.
Aside from ONE Facebook post within 24 hours of the crisis, what else was within the means of the transport minister? What authority did he have that he could have utilized?
Even McDonald’s could find a way to make better of the situation. I believe Singaporeans are not so unreasonable as to expect our minister to get dirty and all hands-on for the maintenance work, or manage crowd control island-wide.
The very least I wish he could do was to keep the communication channels open with the people. He needs to know that we are not saying that he’s not working, we just want to see him address the issue to us as human beings. Help us feel better, find a way to appease, be diligent with investigation updates, and tell us that you understand our frustrations. All of which, was missing from his sole Facebook update.
From his FB post, people saw excuses – this is the first time (cannot blame us), too early to conclude (we don’t have an answer), I’ve told SMRT and LTA to work through the night (then what are you doing, constructively, besides from being briefed?).
I wanted to know – did you go all the way down to the commuters and talk to them as a human, as a leader, one on one, to get a sense of the crowd at the bus stop, form your own opinions about what happened and what could be done?
From the bottom of your heart, say that it’s not the first time an incident this scale has happened and as a transport minister, such failure is strictly unacceptable and has to be rectified, and I will do all I can to get to the root of the problem once and for all? We will get through this together and I hope for the patience and understanding of everyone?
It’s not that difficult, to be honest. I don’t even have to refer to any opposition member. Mr Heng Swee Keat is one good example –
EDIT: Even our PM had a better model answer that our transport minister needs to learn from.
5. The people do not get rightful nor timely compensation
It’s been a lengthy entry and I’m thankful for anyone who takes the time to read till this point. The last reason I wish to bring up is that people are upset because we would never be compensated for the time nor money lost, both in the long and short term.
We are told that fare revision is necessary to cope with maintenance and operational cost. Yet when these corporations do not perform up to standard, they would suffer financial penalties. Don’t you think that doesn’t make sense?
We are putting in money to get better service, yet the PTC watching over them is taking away when they are not doing well enough. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
When a train failure happens, people have to spend more time squeezing their way out of train stations (and even tunnels), spend more time waiting for so-called free bus trips, spend more time taking bus than train, suffer the traffic jams that follow and endure the overwhelming crowd.
The others, those who spend time queuing for taxis, having to call for cabs, having to pay for the waiting time when cabs get stuck in the same traffic jams, pay for the transportation failure financially.
And then there’s the other group of people who are totally innocent – those who had their own agendas at that same point in time, who cannot board any bus or grab any taxi, get delayed by traffic jams, and possibly miss important occasions like breaking fast, birthday celebrations and even flights. Worst of all, I believe these people were not accounted for or defended for in the stated 250,000 people affected.
At the end of the day, the people are frustrated with the lack of proper and timely communication, reassurance and we are doubtful that anyone would be there when we suffer in case of crisis.
Emotionally, financially, physically – the experience was a nightmare, a turmoil that in the end, we are still on the paying end for, while the CEO gets a huge salary when it gets increasingly challenging to solve the problems and we don’t even see how he’s helping or leading.
I’m not trying to start a war here – I just wish the leaders could see the problem from the people’s point of view, see us as human beings and not just a numerical figure affected by our nation’s pride (MRT system), and start putting in more effort to communicate with us, speak up for us and admit to the lack of quality and unfair fare hikes.
As a child, when I made a mistake, my teachers and parents have always told me that sorry is never enough. You have to correct your mistake, and do what’s right. The same rule applies to everyone.