Saturday, April 19, 2008

Who is driving?

Taking public transport this week has been particularly stressful. One morning, during rush hour (between 8 and 9), I had to wait about 35 minutes for the SBSTransit Bus service that I normally take to come by. And even then, I had to forego it because the bus was almost fully seated. With the horde that were trying to board (yeah, that's what 35 minutes of waiting results in), there wasn't a chance of my getting my foot into the bus, much less my leg. So I had to wait another 10 minutes before the next bus came by. I am a regular commuter on this service and I had thought that I had learnt all its idiosyncratic schedules there was to learn about it. For example, if it rained, or had rained an hour or so before, you can expect the wait to be much longer. This in spite of the fact that this bus service's terminus was only a mere 3 or 4 stops way. But SBSTransit would claim that the inbound service would be held up with slow moving vehicles or even encounter traffic jams. Thus the outbound service is inevitably affected. But that was a sunny morning. There was not a drop of water on the road. What went wrong? I am sure SBSTransit has an answer that would put the blame on others, like God, the road, or other vehicles - anything but itself. I wonder if LTA should not fine SBSTransit for such horrendous lapse of service?

Then, on another occasions, again in the morning rush-hour, a huge crowd had gathered in Outram MRT station on the East-West line. I was doubtful that I could get on the next train. I did get on the next train - I had to push my way in - why must I be penalised with a longer wait? But it was a real squeeze. Fortunately nobody screamed 'molest'. You can imagine that in such a packed train, quite a number of commuters would not have anything to hold onto to steady themselves. I thought what a disaster it would be if a train did stop abruptly, as it did during this ride. Many of us were thrown off balance though we recovered in time - no thanks to SMRT. I thought, we might not be so lucky next time. What if the train stops abruptly and it was packed to the brim the next time? I can imagine everyone thrown off their feet and on top of one another. If this is followed by panic, commotion and screams, I can imagine what a disaster it might turn out to be. We don't need a terrorist's bomb to cause a deadly mayhem. One can move only so much in a confined space, and if everyone wants to move at the same time, the stampede can be deadly. But people who whip out their calculators to prove that their trains have not reached capacity yet don't think of these things. And they likely don't take the train either. The 'not my problem' syndrome seems to prevail here.

The extra 700 trains that SMRT has promised cannot come too soon. Since SBSTransit never promised anything, there is nothing to look forward to except more squeezes.

With this kind of unreliable service, and the hack-care attitude of the operators, is it any wonder that anybody would want to give up his car in Singapore? Well, there is the premium service that SBSTransit is going to run this coming Monday at $3.50 a pop. That's a good alternative except - where have they been all these years? Of course, that was because the government put so much restrictions on bus operators because of the monopoly it granted SBSTransit that public transport services just simply became non-responsive to changing commuter means and demands. All of which goes to show that civil servants should be the last people you'd want to appoint to conduct the business of transport. Let the people, the long-suffering commuters, decide if they want to have alternatives and are willing to pay for them. Well, better late than never, except that SBSTransit is still very selective about running these services. I remember some months ago receiving a survey from a public transport operator about how I took public transport to work everyday and if I was willing to pay $100 - $150 a month or thereabouts (works out to $5.00 to $7.50 per trip) for a regular premium one-way service. Well, I haven't heard from them since, so I think the response was maybe not so enthusiastic, or people just didn't want to pay that kind of money, or the transport operator didn't find it worth their while. Whatever, I still think there is demand for this type of services. Maybe the private transport operators haven't woken up to the opportunities here.

Whatever it is, I cross my fingers when I take trains packed to capacity nowadays. For all our sakes, it had better be a smooth ride.

Image source: Author: Emlyn Addison


Anonymous said...

Am not speaking for the operators, but sourrces told me they have serious bus captain shortage problem (some 300 vacancies). More have just resigned after bonus payout for greener pastures like inter-city coach and truck driving. This means strething the exsiting pool even further. Inevitably adhoc unvailability (eg tierdness, sicknes) do happen resulting in missed trips. MOM resticts the sources of bus drivers (Don't understand why). Will fine help to solve?

Anonymous said...

I used to take the buses, and on occasions I felt I was going mad because of the tremendous din caused by TVMobile. Apart from the irregular service and insane routes, TV Mobile makes taking SBS buses a hellish experience. I am fortunately to be able to own a car now, and will never give it up. On occasions when I have to take SBS buses, for the sake of my mental health I couldn't wait to get off them!

Anonymous said...

Well,if SBSTransit cannot manage a monopoly, then don't expect sympathy from its customers. Bus captains leave either because they are paid better elsewhere, or the working conditions are better elsewhere. These are within the control of the monopolist to improve for their captains. So are they blaming the government now for restricting their sources of drivers?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately they can only get to as far as they can do to improve for their bus captains. Their revenue is capped by the fare cap (pegged to macro-economic factors like CPI and average national wage increase, plus a productivity gain extraction some more...) as set by PTC. At best they are just a mundane utility industry to work in -- and perpectually subject to public censure some more! Don't think it has to do with monopoly argument here. Good luck to them and commuters (who obviously do not want fare increase!).