Saturday, December 29, 2007

Transportation to nowhere

Many years ago, a classmate of mine arrived in class late. When asked, he told our teacher the the bus was late. The class roared and our teacher made the point that the bus is never late. We can only blame ourselves for being late. Granted there is some wisdom in what our teacher said. But it would seem that the logic of his wisdom has been suffering ever since.

Last evening, at 8pm, I was at the bus stop just across from Giant, Tampines, waiting for a bus service 27 to Sengkang, where I lived. For a while, there was no public bus in sight although many cars and private buses were whizzing past non-stop. My wife remarked that there could be a traffic jam that was stopping the public buses from reaching us. I didn't think it was logical as any traffic jam would also have stopped all the other vehicles. I didn't argue because I sensed that she was getting irritated waiting so long for a bus.

When a 27 bus did arrive, it was simple packed to the brim. People who had been waiting for a long time with us for the bus simply crowded around its entrance, trying board. Eventually another couple quit trying to board as there wasn't any standing room left. My wife and I looked at each other and also decided to wait, fingers crossed, for the next No. 27. No. 168 was more regular but it wasn't right for us. My wife said that there is a service 34 which goes to Punggol, and that we might take that detour to reach Sengkang. In the event, we never saw a service 34 the whole time (about 30 minutes) we waited at the bus stop.

When the next 27 came along, it was similarly packed so we resigned ourselves to waiting again. By this time, we were already debating whether we should take the free bus service from IKEA Tampines even though it only ran in hourly intervals. We had already waited for half a hour and by the law of averages, we should have been on our way in that free bus. But we persisted for a Service No. 34 or No. 27. It seems that our trust in SBSTransit is as steadfast as ever - there wasn't much of an alternative, anyway. Not so a Malay family of 3 adults and 4 children. They decided to take a taxi, but repeated attempts to flag one down proved futile. We wondered why taxis would not stop? Surely cruising around on 30% more expensive diesel is not going to add to one's livelihood? But that's another issue.

The 3rd 27 came and, again, it was crowded, but had standing room. So we, including that Malay family and their shopping packages in tow, packed ourselves in, unwilling to wait any longer. Fortunately, the ride home wasn't that far, but we wondered why it took us so long to arrive at our destination (40 minutes) when the journey proper (excluding waiting time) should have taken no more than 10 minutes by public transport. Our wait time was thus 30 minutes, way beyond the effective service level promised by the bus company. I say effective SL because an un-boardable bus that comes by within the promised time interval is of no service to commuters.

This is but one example of why our public bus services remain a dis-service. I can rattle off a number of other service nos. that I take regularly that exhibit the same problems. For all the can-do spirit that is Singapore, this is one aspect of the Singapore system that CANNOT do. Truly, this is a systemic failure in our public bus transportation system, bus lanes and the like notwithstanding. Senior Civil Servants got a huge raise just recently. I wonder if the Transport Minister's pay rise should not be held back until he can see satisfactory resolution to this matter? Irregular bus services, lateness, etc., is nothing new at all. It has been the bane of public bus commuters for umpteen years. Or should we treat the Transport Minister like the taxi-driver? Whether the driver has performed well or poorly in the service, he still gets the same quantum from the fare increases. How can we see improvements if we persist in rewarding both the good and the bad equally?


Driver said...

As a car-owner who only takes a bus ocassionaly , I find that every time I take a bus, there is much improvement in the service. For example, I recently had to take the bus several times becos my car was in the workshop, and I found that the bus stops are so user-friendly; the bus routes are all clearly displayed so you can easily know which bus to take. And the buses are so clean and comfortable; even has air-con and tv. Even the drivers are courteous and patient.

In comparison, taxis are so expensive, and the driving terrible.

Kommuter said...

So why haven't you dumped the car?

scooter said...

Buses and trains in Singapore are OK if you are NOT rushing for time. But in Singapore, most people are rushing to do this and do that.

I have opportunities in my life not to ride my motorcycle to go anywhere, I took the buses and trains. The trains are generally OK. It is the buses that will kill you. The inconsistent bus waiting time is wasting your life away. It does not help even if you come out of your house early to cater for this waiting time!

Epilogos said...

I think the problem is one of setting expectations. For example, it is clearly stated that the free buses leave on an hourly basis from IKEA Tampines. One makes his/her own decision based on this information to take the bus or not. Nobody would complain if the bus doesn't arrive in 30 minutes' time. Similarly, nobody complains about the buses that ferry passengers to/from Parkway Parade and Punggol as the interval time is stated clearly and the operators pretty much stick to their promises. It being free is beside the point.

If SBSTransit promises a maximum waiting time of 20 mins. then it must fulfill on its promise at least 90% of the time. As it is, my experience suggests that this target remains elusive for them. The problem for SBSTransit is that, as a monopoly, it is not up to them to decide on the service level. That is the price to be paid for being a monopoly. But since it is reaping the benefit from this as well, there is no excuse for slipping up.

driver said...

Maybe I will - dump my car; this year. Interested? Then no need to complain about rising bus, MRT and taxi fares.