Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The right step

Steps are afoot to re-make Singapore's public land transport system. It wants to address the perennial problem of inconsistent timing of bus services resulting in long wait times. It wants people to be able to take multiple buses without incurring additional expenses so that, in case of some delay in a particular service, a commuter can hop on another bus to another bus stop where there are other bus services not otherwise available for them to continue on their journeys. It wants to make the bus lane exclusive to buses. It would encourage premium bus services which would have fewer stops and ply routes that are otherwise not profitable....

All of these sound good. It would be a big step forward if these can be realised. The problem, as they say, is in the details. But this government is a can-do government. What it says it will do it will actually do. I hope it all comes true. But I have some reservations....

I don't know who came up with the story of Ms Jeanne Conceicao's 'circuitous daily commute' story in the Straits Times of Jan 19, 2008 (page H10). In the story, this commuter described her daily pain in getting from her home in Ang Mo Kio to her workplace in the Institute of Policy Studies at Pasir Panjang (NUS). That distance is indeed daunting for a daily commute. But the manner in which she got there was a little strange. Instead of taking the MRT northwards towards Yishun, then to Woodlands and Jurong East through to Buona Vista, I would have thought the faster and more direct route will be to take the MRT south to Raffles Place and then switch to the East-West line to Buona Vista. The northern route has a few obstacles. First, MRT trains sometimes terminate at Yishun MRT station, forcing one to wait another few minutes for the next train. The northern route is ALL above ground. Trains travel slower above ground. So even when the southern route has one more stop compared to the northern route, it would be faster by virtue of the fact that almost half of the track is below ground. Coupled with the possible stop at Yishun MRT station, Ms Jeanne has actually chosen a longer route. So in her case, the solution does not require a radical remake of the transportation system, but simply a change in route.

If our land transport planners are working on the wrong facts to remake the island's transportation system, then I am worried. Ms Jeanne's example is a bad one but it does highlight the circuitous journeys that not a few Singaporeans have to deal with everyday. And it does highlight the need for niche bus services that will operate from point-to-point on workdays to get a commuter from the main thoroughfares to offices located in remote locations. No wonder that nobody has any energy to do anything else except perhaps sit in front of the TV once they reach home in the night. It is not the office that has sapped their energies, it is the travelling.

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