Posts Tagged ‘LTA’

In the SMRT War Room

In News Reports on January 24, 2014 at 3:10 am

Poor SMRT. January sure is a bad month for the company….

Des Quake has never felt so besieged in his life. Outside the reinforced walls of his War Room, he can hear the howls of anguish and anger. People who couldn’t get to work on time. People who missed important business meetings. People who got no reception on their cell phones. They were baying for blood. And now, the chief was on his back… What did he say? Disappointment? Frustration?

Steely eyes fixed on his subordinates through rimmed spectacles, Quake started railing at them. “Six times this month we came under attack! Where to put my face now?’’

His subordinates stared at their well-polished boots, mandatory footwear for tramping through tunnels and along train tracks. Subordinate 1 decided to speak up: “We evacuated everyone safely. They were de-trained. Then they were re-trained. Those still in training were told to avoid danger zones. We also kept our communication lines opened.’’

Quake’s eyes bored through Subordinate 1. “And where were you when all this happened? Hiding in the trenches? You should be in the front line! I could shoot you for deserting your post!’’

If he had his way, he would have ordered a summary execution, Quake thought. Except that he was now in the corporate sector and had to contend with the likes of HR departments and trade unions. Oh…the days of a swift court martial!

Subordinate 2, a perky young scholar, snapped a smart salute. “Sir, I suggest we take a defensive position and hold your predecessor responsible. She went shopping but forgot to buy essential supplies, like maintenance parts. She also forgot to send out recce missions to scout for danger and defects. We cannot be expected to be battle-ready in such circumstances.’’

Quake looked at Subordinate 2, wondering if he should bust the cherubic face down to bus captain.  But his university grades were too good. And there was HR. He was minded to replace the HR head with a military man. He should log this down…In the meantime, better be polite to this ambitious young man who was a former white horse in the army.

“I admire your strategy. But pushing blame is no way to accomplish our mission. Our target is zero stoppages and a quick response time if any should occur. Remember the new protocol – we get our rations cut if we can’t achieve our mission. Your families will starve during Chinese New Year.’’

Subordinate 3, ever the optimist, said: “We should go on the offensive and hire a PR company to explain our conditions to ensure that we don’t get too much flak. Just like Anton Casey did.’’

Quake was quaking with anger by now. What sort of troops was he commanding? And why was he dealing with trains when he was better with tanks? And who was this Casey anyway? He had never came across the name in military books – and he had read all of them.

Quake wished he was back on manoeuvres in the non-concrete jungle. Life was easier. He could camouflage himself.  

“Are you mad? People will ask us why we’re spending money on PR when they have just been told to pay more.  How is that fair? You think we will fare better than Casey? We’ll be shot and quartered by the media, including international media!’’

Subordinates 1, 2 and 3 looked at each other and telepathically decided on their next strategy: Blame those lower down the line, like the signallers and trackers, liaison officers and drivers… They recited a list. Including recommendations to sack, discipline, cancel leave, dock pay for not meeting KPIs, no CNY holidays.

Quake was about to go ballistic. So now, they’re sacrificing their men, he thought.

He was never one for a cowardly retreat. He would rather die on his sword. Even if it was a ceremonial one. He couldn’t contain himself and machine-gunned the room. With Hokkien expletives.

The War Room went quiet. A map of the North-South line fluttered down from the wall. Someone had forgot to superglue it. It was a bad sign. A line had been breached.



Parliamentary pieces

In News Reports on January 20, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Or what you need to know about what happened in Parliament

That bed crunch

It’s old people lah. More of them over the years taking up beds in hospitals and spending more and more time there. Well, that’s the answer given by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on why the bed crunch happened. For evidence: the proportion of patients aged 65 and above admitted to public hospitals rose from 28.6 per cent in 2006 to 33.4 per cent last year. Now you would have thought everyone knew Singapore was greying. And why use 2006 as a year of comparison? For dramatic effect? What was it last year? The proportion couldn’t have suddenly jumped! Also, he didn’t address the question of why this happened at the year end? Is it because their families don’t want them disturbing their festivities?

Solutions proposed: More beds of course and a “transformation’’ of the healthcare system away from a hospital-centric one. That’s been suggested over the years – to focus on primary care and step-down care. Perhaps, a reason people like staying in hospital is because it is heavily subsidised and they can use Medisave and Medishield. Seems that the current health financing should be skewed towards the other two ends of the system to get patients out of acute hospitals. That’s one for the Medishield Life review committee.

That riot

So was it drink? The G said there were “indications’’ that alcohol was one thing that fuelled the riots in Little India but would rather leave it to the courts to ascertain. Seems the House can’t quite decide on the right way to control alcohol consumption and sales. Workers’ Party’s Pritam Singh seems to be advocating a lifting of the restrictions in the area or that the rules be applied “across the board’’. Is he worried that the rules looked like only Indian nationals were being targeted? So the misery should be spread around to keep everybody dry? Anyway, the police are getting more powers to control the alcohol restrictions. For a year. And only in Little India.   

So was it abuse of foreign workers? The G said there was “no basis’’ for concluding that this was a cause of the riot. For evidence: the Manpower ministry helped some 7,000 foreign workers with difficulties last year, or less than 1 per cent of the 700,000 work permit holders. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) referred about 640 cases of mistreatment, or less than 0.1 per cent of work permit holders. “I therefore find it puzzling as to how some individuals can so quickly conclude or criticise that there is widespread and systemic abuse of the foreign workforce; or that these were the reasons for the riot,” said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

Anyway, more recreational centres with amenities such as remittance services and supermarkets will be built to add to the current four centres for foreign workers. No, don’t know how many. Don’t know when or where.

That expressway

The good news: ERP rates along the Marina Coastal Expressway and the East Coast Parkway, which goes as high as $6, will be revised. This was the G’s response MP Liang Eng Hwa, who pointed out that traffic speeds on the two expressways exceeded 65kmh at certain times of the day. Thank you, Mr Liang! Now when will this happen? In “due course’’. Seems the LTA conducts a review of traffic conditions on roads and expressways with ERP gantries every quarter. Let’s hope the ERP rates are coming down sooner than that.

As for the MCE, you’ve heard all the reasons for the jams in the initial days of operations. They remain the same: Not enough pre-publicity and not enough signs. Not because of design.  

“I think that was a premature conclusion; if indeed there had been a design flaw, we would likely have seen congestion not only on that particular morning, but on a number of mornings to follow and perhaps even in the evenings as well,” said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

Random thoughts on today’s news

In News Reports on January 14, 2014 at 12:11 am

Sometimes, things strike me as I’m reading the news reports. I don’t know if the same things would strike you but I thought I’ll just share them. 

A Bishan maisonette has just been sold off to a couple for $1.05million, which is $250,000 over valuation! This, in the days of property loan curbs! More interesting tid-bit in the ST story is that there are 285 “landed’’ “public’’ homes here. A corner terrace house in Whampoa recently fetched $1.02million. They were built by HDB’s predecessor, Singapore Improvement Trust. Who are these lucky fellas who are sitting pretty in them!?!    

Wow! Strong words in court: “Mercifully he passed away… and did not have to witness the proverbial washing of his family’s dirty linen in public.” That was from Justice Quentin Loh who said the sons of the late Singapore scouting pioneer Dennis Goh had instigated the suit to get their sisters removed as joint owners of the Clementi flat he left behind.

Am tempted to talk about a man who wanted to light his girl’s fire but chose to set her alight but it doesn’t seem very PC. Anyway, the scorned and love-lorn ex-cabby pleaded guilty yesterday. Here’s what’s interesting: The man, who was suffering from a major depressive disorder, had been detained not once, but three times, under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows suspects to be held in custody without trial, according to ST. This provision is for people considered a danger to society. Hmm…

The Thai teen who lost her case against SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) may not have to pay trial costs which amount to more than $200,000. That is, if the teen, who lost her legs in the accident, doesn’t appeal, said SMRT and LTA. That seems like a lot of money to deter anyone…It’s a warning that the girl is going to have to pay through her nose if she fails again in the next round. Or it’s a plea to her to think very carefully about whether she really has a case against them. All that would really depend on how her lawyer advises her. Got case or no case? Can get that $3.4m in damages or not? The authorities should come out quickly with those guidelines on legal costs as promised by the Chief Justice earlier this year. I still can’t get over the fact that the two doctors who sued Mindef for infringing their copyright for mobile medical stations said they stopped pursuing the case because they ran out of money to fight it…

Our schools are good. No, they’re great going by the O level scores of the 2013 cohort.  Of the 34,124 who took the exam, 82.7 per cent attained at least five passes, matching the record set in 2004, said ST. That’s the big picture. What about the weaker students? According to TODAY,  the 4,170 students from Normal (Academic) course who sat for one or more subjects, 90.3 per cent have obtained at least one O-Level pass. Is this an improvement? Maybe, we should turn out attention to this group of students next and see how we can help them level “up’’?

New transport fares are going to be announced on Thursday and the G is promising help for the lower income. They can expect fares to go down to the levels of 10 to 15 years ago. Anyone remember what that was like? The thing is, the G talks about public transport vouchers again. Now if I remember correctly, hundreds of vouchers in the past hadn’t even been taken up…Either people really don’t need them – or there wasn’t a good plan to get them to the needy. Perhaps, that should be fixed first.

Here’s an ST Forum letter writer’s appeal: “We have the police force to protect us from bullies. So why not set up a social media police force to protect us from cyber bullies?’’ Who wants to apply for the job?


When asking for more doesn’t help

In News Reports on January 3, 2014 at 4:06 am

Over the past few days, the court has come down hard on those who asked for more. Here’s a sample:

The house that the neighbour built

The skinny: So a couple went to a neighbour and said: Will you re-build my house just like the way you built yours?

Or was it vice-versa?

The neighbour went to the couple and said: Would you let me re-build your house in the way that I did mine?.

In any case, a two-page contract was signed over a budget of $350,000. Then the builder sued the couple for $89,000 because he claimed they were asking for improvements that weren’t originally planned for. The couple counter-sued for almost $200,000.

The fat: The couple had bullied the builder, said the judge, into making improvements and were in fact “flim-flamming’’ him and “squeezing him for more’’. The couple got $25,000 but the builder got $35,000 and $12,000 for legal costs on top expenses he incurred in the suit. The couple has appealed.

The moral of the story: People in glass houses should not throw stones.

What is a “constructive dismissal’’?

The skinny: It’s about your boss making your life so hard at work that you’ve got no choice but to quit. That’s what an ex-employee of Robinson’s said he was fired terminated because he’s gay. He got four months of wages, although he was entitled to two. He went to the court for more.


The fat: It depends on the employment contract. Robinson’s can terminate staffers so long as they give out two months pay as compensation. In this case, the man got four which meant that his claim was “doomed to fail’’, said the judge. In any case, he couldn’t link the “stigma’’ he supposedly suffered as a homosexual with a breach of employment contract. Plus, if his case succeeded, it would open the door for others to claim more from their employment contracts than what was stipulated by alleging breach of trust and confidence, the judge. The odd thing is, the story that ST carried on Wednesday didn’t say why the man’s contract was terminated. Surely, that would be relevant too? The man is appealing.

The moral of the story: Your employment contract is the most important piece of paper related to your work.

I spy…my cheating husband

The skinny: How much would a spurned wife pay for a private eye to keep tabs on her philandering husband? One dentist paid $55,000 to get evidence for her divorce from her chief investment officer-husband. She claimed that the 213 hours (over 26 days) of surveillance at $195 an hour cost $41,000. Plus she said she spent $13,600 for “forensic extraction’’ from his laptop and cellphone. He, however, produced a “source’’ which charged $400 per day or $6,000 for an “unlimited package until the evidence is found’’.

The fat: Evidence of his infidelity was produced within just three days of surveillance. Why the need for 26 days of spying, asked the judge. The wife got $10,000 for her pains. You ask yourself if the wife was just being extra careful and wanted fool-proof evidence. Or which private detective agency she went to…

The moral of the story: Sometimes, there is no need to over-do it.

Thai teen’s court journey

The skinny: The teenager fell onto the tracks at Ang Mo Kio station and got run over by a train. She lost both her legs and wants SMRT and the Land Transport Authority to pay her $3.4m in damages. She said they failed to keep the station safe for commuters. She is now 17. The accident happened three years ago and a 12-day trial was held. She said she was pushed, and then revised this to losing her balance.

The fat: She lost her case. The judge said the station had enough safety measures and the chances of someone falling on the tracks was “miniscule’’. Even more miniscule are the chances of some falling just as a train was pulling in – like one per 119.9 million passenger trips. Also, CCTV footage showed that she was neither pushed nor did she lose her balance. She appeared to have fainted when she tumbled over. She hasn’t decided whether to appeal. What the news reports don’t say: Whether she had been compensated in any way during the three years.

The moral of the story: Just because you suffered harm doesn’t mean you have to blame someone for it. (And this is NOT because I don’t sympathise with the teen. I do. It was a terrible thing to happen. My best wishes to Ms Nitcharee Peneakchanasak.)  

A smarting SMRT

In Money, News Reports, Society on July 5, 2012 at 3:23 am

No one should be surprised that SMRT got whacked by the COI over the train disruptions. The way the COI went at it during the hearings, it was clear the panel thought very little of the checks SMRT made and its emergency preparedness.

What’s surprising is the SMRT response to the report which have been variously reported as “harsh”, “mincing no words” etc. It defended its maintenance system, and talked about how it matched up to other standards. Of course, it said, it could have done more. Hmm…so is it accepting the report or not? Or is that taken as a given?

What is also surprising is that the LTA was taken to task in a gentle manner.

Today newspaper had this point as well : National University of Singapore (NUS) transport expert Lee Der Horng felt that the COI could have gone further in examining the LTA’s role.
Noting that the “whole report has one purpose – to assure us that the system is safe and reliable”, Associate Professor Lee said: “The incident was preventable but was not prevented. It is disappointing that SMRT did nothing, things that were supposed to be checked were not checked.”
He added: “And all this while, where was the LTA? They are the regulator and should know the system better than the operators – if not how do they regulate? I would question if the regulators have the corresponding technical capabilities to be able to regulate.”

It makes you wonder what sort of role LTA should play as developer and regulator – and whether as MP Cedric Foo suggested, the two roles should be separated. Apparently, the MAS works this way – it would be good to know more about this.

The Transport Ministry said it accepts the COI report and will give a fuller response next week. I hope it will be a blow-by-blow response, from why it was tardy with followups on maintenance, the gaps in its inspection regime and what it role it plays in drawing up evacuation plans. This is rather more important than drawing up a whole new set of fines for train operators who fall down on the job, as the LTA said it would do. I mean, you can fine a commercial operator to the hilt, cane them, jail them, hang them. But nobody punishes a regulator.

In fact, the regulator should have even higher standards and accountability.  It is the body the public places its faith in. We trust that the civil servants in regulatory bodies will do a decent job of protecting the rest of us from commercial predators and private interests. That’s what they are there for. In fact, BT noted that MP Irene Ng had asked the Minister if SMRT seemed more concerned about making money (for shareholders) than maintaining the rail system (for commuters). That was in January. Going by the COI report for SMRT to focus on the engineering aspects, I suppose her guess was right.

So really, everything will boil down to that perennial question: the balance between private profit and public service

I wonder how much all this will cost the SMRT? I don’t mean the penalties, but getting up to speed as the COI wants. Its already said it would replace the claws…How many more engineers will it need? More machinery, like that very sorry-looking lone train inspection vehicle that was left to rot? Or as Chris Tan says in ST – maybe technology to detect sagging third rails, high speed cameras?

Looks like plenty of money needed to add new infrastructure, and more to come up with checks that will have their engineers looking at every rail line. I suppose SMRT board is very busy now working out new administrative structures, setting out new budgets. The good thing is, it DID do well in terms of turning empty space into retail space…so maybe money from one side can finance the other…

On a separate note, I was so so glad to see the ST graphic on what happened to cause the breakdowns and how third rail, claw, fastener, collector shoes hang together. Finally, enlightenment!