Monday, 19 December 2011

Free Public Transport For All When The Trains Break Down


As a compensation for the loss of money and time, users of public transport should entitle for a free ride whenever the MRT trains or the metro system break down.

More importantly, we must look beyond the financial figures.  When the emergency comes and passengers have to run for their lives, if the SMRT keeps the mindset of ‘pay first before your leave the stations’, then we are expecting more disasters to happen.

It is an issue of life against money, time against money. Not only SMRT did not maintain its metro system well, it also did not evacuate the passengers well in the recent incidents.   These are just breakdowns, what will happen if there is a terror attack, fire, flood or other emergency.   Can we trust SMRT to do a good job and put life as first priority?

So, it is important to be prepared in face of the emergencies as what Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean mentioned on Sunday.  He said it's important to be prepared in the face of emergencies, as there are always unusual aspects within every scenario.  (CNA, 19 Dec 2011).  Not only the SMRT, the government, the people and all users of public service must be prepared.

Preparation of financial loss

These preparations should go beyond physical and emphasize on the mental preparation of financial loss. Since SMRT is a public listed company and of course, it has its financial performance to look after. At the end of the day, the financial reports will decide the bonuses and dividends that the company is going to pay out.

What worry us is if the management is blinded by the money and fail to see the importance of life and the emergencies of getting people out of the trains, the stations and the affected metro system as soon as possible.   If the SMRT management has this ‘money-minded’ mindset as a profit making company; and forget their role of providing safe public transport to the people, then we may have to re-think the Singapore model of public operations.  

We are very proud of our public transport system, giving them the monopoly status, so that we can claim that we are one of the few countries in the world that do not subsidise our public transport system.  What can it be proud of if people’s life is not the first consideration?

We should also think further of the ‘monopoly’ and priority of operating routes to only one single mode of transport, i.e. train only no bus service.  If we have the parallel running of bus services to the train services, then at least, we can have a better and more effective alternative solution if the trains break down.

The soon to be set up Committee of Inquiry should not only look at the causes of the breakdowns.  Its terms of reference should go beyond technical and should include the operating mindset, attitude towards chaotic and panic, willingness to sacrifice financial returns etc - the soft side of operating a metro system.     

Rewarding ministers with public service performance

The fact is it should go beyond the issue of the resignation of CEO of SMRT.  With her departure, will SMRT still maintain ‘profit first, service second’ attitude? And in time of emergency will they put life above money?

Besides economic growth, efficiency of public transport, measures to control floods, happiness, and others should be made as a performance indicator to reward our ministers.  Strange enough, in Singapore, it seems achieving growth rate is easier than preventing MRT train breakdowns and floods.

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