Posts Tagged ‘public transport’

Taxi tales

In News Reports, Society on November 30, 2014 at 8:33 am

There is an interesting read in Sunday Times today by a journalist who took to driving a cab to experience what life was like behind the wheel. It logged his encounters with the good, bad and ugly passengers. The most interesting part was that he developed haemorrhoids after nine days of driving a taxi!

Anyway, here’s my version from the passenger seat.

I date my worst experience in a cab to more than 30 years ago. I was rushing to get to university and had hailed a cab. This John Lennon-lookalike picked me up and we proceeded along the PIE on a ride which involved stops and starts and plenty of jerking on the expressway. He was NOT a good driver. Trouble started when he overtook a sporty-looking car with a surfboard on its roof. He nearly clipped the car. The ang moh driver was furious and so started a car chase down the PIE. Seriously, like in the movies. The cab had to stop in the middle of the road because the ang moh driver succeeding in overtaking us and blocked the way. John Lennon reached below his seat for a metal pole then turned to me and said: “Miss, you be my witness ah!’’.

This beefy ang moh in a sleeveless tee-shirt (surfer dude, I thought) came to the driver’s side and let forth a string of four letter words with plenty of finger wagging as John Lennon clutched his pole with both hands. Then he went back to his car and drove off. If I wasn’t so young, I would have taken more notes. But I was so terrified that I wanted to leave the cab – except it was along the highway. It was a very shaken John Lennon who got me to the university, in the shakiest cab ride of my life.

Future adventures were less exciting, involving drivers who were going to nod off at the wheel (Uncle! Wake up!), a couple of tipsy cabbies who swerved like crazy (again along highways where there’s no chance to hop off) and one who actually wanted to see what my apartment looked like. I told him my (non-existent) husband doesn’t like me bringing strangers home.

On a general note, though, I think our cabbies are a wonderful lot. They don’t try to cheat you; they are polite and give you a pleasant ride, especially Comfort cabbies, and they keep their cabs clean. The limousine drivers are the best of the lot, concerned about you like the radio music and whether the air con is just right. They know how to make just enough small talk to make you comfortable. One day, I stepped into this wonderful Merc with a very, very young man at the wheel. Much too young to be driving a taxi. Definitely below 30. He prevaricated when I asked his age and it seemed he was driving his father’s cab. No, I didn’t report him. He was very nice.

Taxi “uncles’’ and a few “aunties’’ I have encountered include:

a. The die-die want to talk to you cabby

You know him immediately because he starts quizzing you not just on where you want to go and “how you want to go’’ but goes on to list the various ways of getting there nevertheless. Then he moves on to whether you’re working, shopping or why you are so late, early. If you are attentive, he launches into a tirade about road users before going on to lament his lot under this “garment’’. I don’t mind these garrulous cabbies; they are well up on the news. I think it comes from listening to the radio and having their pee or tea breaks with the newspaper in hand. But I’ve had to stop some of them from going on and on when all I want is a rest in air-con. That’s when I say: “Uncle, I am very tired. Wake me up when we are near there’’. Works like a charm.

b. The die-die must talk on the phone cabby

That’s the one who picks up his calls, yes, hands-free these days, and proceeds to gab on with whoever is on the other line. Usually, they think I don’t understand dialect and I’ve heard wonderful tales about mother-in-laws, buying Toto, arrangements for the kids, assignations for dinner ecetera. Of course, I sometimes hear about myself: a chabor going to Bedok. I really hate being with drivers with divided attention, hands-free or not. So I wriggled in my seat and make hrrrmppph noises and even let out a “Uncle, please be careful on the road’’. The last line works.

c.The “grunting’’ Uncle

You don’t know if he really heard you when you give your destination. You hoped that he heard your “turn left please’’ or “go straight’’. He points to the meter when you ask about the fare and when you say thank you, he grunts.  This sort of cabby stresses me out by his silence: I feel I must keep alert in case he took the wrong way.

d. The old familiars

I have come across ex-colleagues driving taxis, even an old university mate, ex-neighbours and neighbourhood fruit stall seller in the driving seat. They usually take no money from me, that is, I get a free ride. Of course, the question which pops into my head is “how come you driving a taxi now?’’ I don’t quite know how to phrase the question because I am not sure if it will cause embarrassment (on either side). The ex-fruit seller tells me plainly though that he earns much more now than he did before. Then there are those who have driven me before (I don’t know how they can recollect faces…) and actually tell me my destination before I do…

I think cabbies are cool. If you can get into a cab, that is. I call taxis often and many times, taxi drivers have asked why I was designated a VIP. I said I didn’t know. But when I left my last job, that VIP tag was taken off too, although I take taxis twice as often. I realised then what it meant to be VIP. You always, always get a cab, come rain or shine or isolated destination. Once, an operator kept in constant touch with me for 45 minutes trying to get a cab for me in heavy rain. When she finally got one for me, she told me the driver had been told to waive the booking fee. How nice! It’s different now. More often than not, I get a disembodied voice telling me that no taxi is available and to try again in 10 minutes. Or a text message. I think to myself: How the mighty are fallen. I am now trying taxi apps.

I think there are plenty of people who have horrible experiences with taxi drivers, just as they do with passengers. The interior of a cab is to me a most precious place. It represents a private contract between driver and passenger, one of security (the driver isn’t going to crash with you on board), of privacy (there’s just the two of us ) and society (we talk the same lingo). It’s the one of the places I feel at home, even with a stranger, as parts of Singapore fly past. It is also a reason I hope the industry is closed to foreigners.

That is why I will wait for a cab I have called; I am never a “no show’’ despite empty cabs plying past. And even though there are occasions when I feel like bludgeoning a garrulous or cranky driver, I don’t. You might as well say, try the bus or the train and you might feel the same. Much cheaper too. Maybe.  What to do? I have been spoilt by taxi Uncles.


Shaddup and sit down

In Society, Writing on July 5, 2014 at 3:05 am

Been thinking about the way people argue offline and online….

How to silence critics
a. Do you have a better idea? A solution? No? Then shaddup and sit down!
b. Do you agree that we should help the poor? Yes. So good, we agree. Now can you please shaddup and sit down?
c. What right have you to talk about poor people when you live in a bungalow in Bukit Timah?
d. You not a doctor, lawyer, teacher are you? So don’t tell me what you think about the medical profession, the law or the education system.
e. You are gay right? Enuff said!
f. How many people did you talk to when you say you represent what people think? 1,000? 100,000? No?
g. You are a member of a vocal minority. Shaddup and sit down.
h. You think cleverer than all the experts we have? No? Shaddup and sit down.
i. You don’t understand anything because you don’t have the full facts. And I’m not giving you the facts because you won’t understand them anyway. So shaddup and sit down.
j. I don’t talk to people who have agendas, even if I not sure what the agenda is.
k. You have a position on the issue? Or are you just wasting my time nit-picking?
l. You usually drive right? Please don’t talk to me about bus fares and stalled trains. No locus standi.
m. You don’t take public transport all the time right? How frequent a user are you to talk about bus fares and stalled trains? No locus standi.
n. You are a property investor and developer right? That’s why you want cooling measures to stop? Vested interests!
o. You haven’t lived through war and riots right? Don’t talk to me about public order
p. You are too young to have accumulated any life experience, and therefore too young to have any views worth hearing.
q. You agree with the G? No wonder you support whatever they say. No place here for you. You’re predictable.
r You don’t agree with the G? No wonder you attack whatever they say. No place here for you. You’re predictable.
s. You shouldn’t just talk, must take action also. In fact, just DO. Don’t talk. So shaddup and sit down.
t. You are going off-topic. Stick to business at hand or shaddup and sit down.
u. You can’t see the big picture, that’s why you are so small-minded.
v. You don’t think long-term, that’s why you are so short-sighted.

FINALLY, with overwhelming force, say: SHADDUP AND SIT DOWN.

Words of mass destruction – a Singaporean lexicon

In Society, Writing on May 26, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Last night, I wrote on my Facebook wall that MSM will be full of constructive politics today so I started thinking about destructive politics. I came up with a list of what destructive people say. Some wags thought it instructive enough to add more to the construction. Therefore, here are the words of mass destruction – a term coined by another wag. Please take this constructively.
I am not xenophobic; I just don’t like foreigners
The Filipinos should not hold their independence day here, because it does not coincide with Singapore’s independence day
You can’t call yourself a Singapore unless you, your father and your grandfather were born here.
My son did badly in school because he is not in a good school
My son did badly in school because the exams were too tough
My son behaves badly because his teachers did not discipline him
Teachers cannot discipline my son because he happens to be MY son
If you are pro-family, you must be anti-gay
If you are gay, you can’t be pro-family
The nursing home should not be in my backyard because I can think of so many other places you can put it
Foreign workers should not be seen nor heard
If you praise a Government policy, you must be a PAP lackey
If you criticise a Government policy, you must be an oppie
If you stand in the middle, you must be Workers’ Party
Everything bad that happens to me is because of the Government, even that cut on my big toe
Everything good that happens to me is because of… me
Prices are high because ministers pay themselves high salaries
I pay so much to own and drive a car, so why should I subsidise public transport?
I am not eligible for an HDB flat, so why do I have to pay property tax?
Men should not do National Service, because the women don’t have to
Men of military age and women of child-bearing age should get the same perks in the name of equality
I don’t have great expectations, only rising aspirations
I want work-life balance because I studied so hard in school
I am all for free speech – when I like what I’m hearing
Vandalism is a manifestation of freedom of expression – when I like what I’m seeing
I must be reading the right stuff because I’m reading The Straits Times
I must be saying something right because the Government is suing me
I must be saying something right because the trolls are flaming me

Go ahead, make a scene

In News Reports on May 9, 2014 at 1:06 am

I read TNPS’ articles on molest cases on public transport that go un-reported and thought to myself: 30 years on, and nothing has changed. I refer especially to the interview with the 18 year old who said she had been molested at age 15 – and had kept mum. I too was molested on a public bus at age 15, a teenager in her school uniform on her way to school in the morning. I had kept mum then too, and for a long time after that as well, save for a fleeting reference in a published column some years ago.

Like her, I was petrified. And like her, I can recollect the scene like it happened yesterday. I was on bus No. 14 and had the aisle seat. As usual, the bus was packed with uniformed students and those on their work to work. As usual, I was daydreaming until I felt something rubbing against my upper arm. An elderly man was leaning in towards me. I thought nothing of it and shifted myself, until he persisted. And persisted. He hid his evil deed by clutching onto a green bag. Soon I felt his hand moving too.

I froze in place,  and tried to make eye contact with the passenger next to me, a man who was unfortunately nodding off against the window pane. In the end I endured the journey until I reached my stop. I got up and realised that most of the passengers behind me had realised what was happening. Their eyes bore into me. I was suffused in shame.

On jelly legs and with frozen face, I made it into my classroom and told a classmate about what happened. She was mortified. She too had no idea what I should do.  Over the next few weeks, I watched out for the man. But I am not sure I would have known what to do if I saw him. I would probably avoid him, get off the bus – and take the next bus. But I never saw him again.

Here’s a description of the man: An elderly man, in his 60s, in a grey, striped collared tee-shirt. I think he should be dead by now.

Now more than 30 years later, I am trying to analyse why I did nothing then. Tell the bus driver to drive to the next police station? Scream for help and hope my fellow passengers will respond? Elbow him in the groin? I could have told my father who would have probably throttled the man with his bare hands if he caught sight of him. I didn’t.

I guess it was because I led a sheltered life where warnings about strange men were limited to “don’t go out with them’’.  I’m not sure it was because I did not want to “make a scene’’ – I just did not know what to do. Mind went blank. Brain shut down. Perhaps, for those who noticed what was happening, it was a case of “since she’s not making a scene, we shouldn’t either.’’ So everybody kept mum, and the molester had his way.

I know there are women who “cry wolf’’ and men who are upset that they have to defend themselves against the words of a woman who might have misconstrued their actions or are just plain out to “get’’ them. It seems terribly unfair to them to have the Women’s Charter weighted so heavily on the woman’s side. But I ask that they recognise the impact such actions have on women, especially young girls.  If such an “outrage of modesty’’ had left such an indelible imprint on me, what more a case of rape?  To have to re-play the scene in the mind is simply not funny.

I wonder what young girls are being told today about defending themselves against predators. Crowded public transport is such a good cover for perverts. And it looks like it still is.

On a separate note, I wish the Association of Women for Action and Research would delve deeper into our molest and rape laws. It is doing good work in speaking for victims of sexual harassment and abuse, but it might want to study  the State’s record of conviction of molesters and rapists. Anecdotal evidence suggests that too many are repeat offenders.

As for young girls today, I say “go ahead and make a scene’’. The shame is not on you, but on him.


Even more bus fuss

In News Reports on March 12, 2014 at 4:11 am

I’ve said it before that I think Mr Lui Tuck Yew is pretty luckless to be landed the transport portfolio. Now I’m beginning to think he’s trying to turn his luck around by running the transport system.

To hear him talk about what the train operators should do about morning rush hours and when they should repair trains or withdraw them, you’d think he was speaking like their CEO. In fact, he’s done them the favour of telling them what to do metinks.

A hands-on minister is pretty good. We all want to see them at work but now I’m wondering if the fussing over bussing is, to use that over-used phrase, a step in the right direction – or a bridge too far.

So that $1.1billion bus enhancement programme is going to be enhanced. From 450 buses, we will now have 1,000. Bus routes will double too. That $1.1 billion to be spread out over 10 years is not going to be enough. Mr Lui didn’t say how much more but some people have pegged it at more than $2b. That seems to be the case since the original $1.1 billion was intended to run – and maintain – the original 550 buses for 10 years.

Sheesh. As if no one choked over the $1.1b announced two years ago…

Now Mr Lui keeps stressing that fares will not go up because of this as the money is coming from the G. Actually, he should have said the money is coming from taxpayers, that is, people like you and me. He also stressed that this wasn’t a subsidy for the transport companies, which weren’t making money from the bus business, but a subsidy for commuters. In fact, revenue from using these buses goes straight back to that $1.1 billion fund. According to ST, these extra state-funded buses have brought in $7million since they went on the road in September 2012. This figure will grow – so maybe we won’t have to spend $2 billion?

Seems to me that if the G/taxpayers have to pump in so much money to buy and maintain buses and expand the number of routes, then the transport operators are pretty useless. But I suppose we need their bus bays and mechanics and they have to recruit drivers. So they take care of the HR and infrastructure side of the bus business. Which means that really, why don’t the G just take over and contract them in some way to run the system, like in London.

Now, ST’s Christopher Tan said in his column today that “Yesterday, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew gave the strongest commitment yet that the Government will move towards competitive bus tendering. Good news indeed.’’

Trouble is, I can’t find any such “commitment’’ in any thing I have read so far. MPs were reported asking questions such as whether enough drivers will be trained or whether these extra buses will lead to congestion. Shouldn’t the more critical question be whether the entire loss-making bus service system needs an overhaul?        

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?


A fare-y tale

In Money, News Reports, Society on December 14, 2012 at 2:34 am

With Palmergate going on, I guess Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew must be getting some respite from those who have been haranguing him about his comments that bus fares must go up so that bus drivers’ salaries can. Frankly, it was a crazy thing to say. Nobody is going to take that sort of comment sitting down, especially about an essential service like public transport, ran by profit-making private operators who’ve just been handed $1.1b worth of new buses paid by taxpayers.

Mr Lui tried to clarify his position according to media reports today. Note I use the word “tried’’. Now he says it wasn’t to increase bus operators’ profits in the short-term but he just wanted to make clear that the money for salaries must come from somewhere, not just from operators or government subsidies. And of course, he meant that service levels must go up…you ninny.

He added: “What received less notice was my statement that when the fare review committee submits its report next year, we would be better able to see the relationship between any fare adjustment, wage increases, and what government support needs to be given to the groups most affected by the increase’’.

He might as well have said that he should have said nothing at all and wait for the Richard Magnus report early next year. If Mr Lui was flying a kite with his first comments, the kite’s been shot down. In any case, an increase in bus fares is poison for the G in any election…or by-election.

Driving me round the bend

In Money, News Reports on December 8, 2012 at 4:02 am

I don’t know why anyone would bother to ask about how you feel about raising bus fares. Of course, the answer is no. No to higher fares, charges, taxes, fees and the price of kopi-o.

You want us to pay more? Better deliver more. That would be the layman’s answer. So Lui Tuck Yew’s very tentative kite-flying proposal on having to raise fares so operators can pay their bus drivers more has been universally derided. Far more productive is experts had been canvassed for their views on whether this is the only way to get a man to don a uniform and get behind the wheel.

Here’s a look at some facets of the “should we increase bus fare’’ question:

  1. The Government already subsidises the transport infrastructure, even giving away buses for free. That is, with taxpayers’ money. And these are being given practically on a plate to transport operators.
  2. The bus operators aren’t just bus operators. They operate a whole transport system and while the bus services might not be making money, other parts of the business are. And they are making money.
  3. Which raises the question of why revenue from one part of the business can’t be shifted to another, unless there is some accounting barrier that can’t be crossed.
  4. If the problem is paying bus drivers enough, then operators should look at their pay structure across the ranks, from top down and see what sort of re-calibration should be done to get more people to drive buses. They are “essential’’ manpower after all. And what about looking at private transport operators elsewhere which manage to ensure their drivers make a decent living?
  5. A committee is looking at the fare formula which doesn’t seem to be working because it’s pegged too late to inflation. Also, seems costs have gone up what? 30? 40 per cent? Compared to small revenue rises. What’s this cost increase all about? Is there no way the bus companies could have trimmed that down? We don’t know yet what the new fare formula will look like but there seems to be a hint that a fuel or energy component will be included.
  6. The G is tendering out routes to private bus companies, a sign which ST’s Chris Tan said today, of the G dipping its toes into a new way of structuring public transport. In other places, operators tender to run a service, and the G collects the fare. Problem is, operators tend to get tardy in such a scenario and not cost-efficient. Which brings us back to point e. Are the bus companies operating efficiently in the first place?

Finally, are we looking at this all wrong? So a COI was convened to look at MRT disruptions, SMRT is chided for bad HR practices, unions want in on the transport sector, LTA doesn’t seem to be strong enough regulator, a new committee looks at fare formula, bus drivers should be paid more, questions are raised on whether it is prudent for foreign labour to man essential services.

Is it time to take a more (I hate this word) holistic look at Singapore’s transport system than recommend piecemeal changes?


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!