Thursday, October 29, 2009

Glassy eyes

Hmmm...took this picture off the internet (read: it is not my work) and found it resonating with what I go through everyday that I take the local subway to and from work. Food for thought.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seeing double

Something interesting happened this morning. And yes, it has to do with Dover Bus Stop (just below the Dover MRT station). I spied a 74 coming down the road and rushed down to the bus stop so that I could catch it. But as I reached the bus' front entrance, the signboard read "147". I was stunned. My eyes cannot be failing me at this time, at my age, and at this early hour in the morning? I walked a few steps to check the bus number displayed panel on its fromt panel. Lo and behold, it read "74"! Thank God my eyes are ok and I am still sane.

Now why did this happen? Did SBS Transit find that it was running out of Service 74 buses and therefore, at the last minute, deployed a 147, but in the haste, forgot to switch one of its display panels to 74? This is probably the best explanation. Does this mean that SBS Transit has taken my rant to heart and shown that it is serious about keeping its promises about not being late? If it is, then credit goes to this transport company for being responsive. I would like to think that it is my rant that improved matters, but whoever and whatever the reason, I am happy with Service 74's service this morning.

Well done, SBS Transit. May all my mornings be like this, minus the bus number confusion.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trashy promises

Well, as expected, SBS Transit has NOT been able to keep to its commitment of its widely reported 10-minute schedule effective August 2009. I had hoped it would be later rather than earlier. Today, I arrived at the bus stop just below the Dover MRT station at 8.15am. As I expected, the Service 74 bus had just arrived and I missed it. That's ok. I remembered what I blog about it yesterday (Fast Commitment) and decided to test out the promise - schedule-wise. This is, after all, the peak hour of the day. So I SMS'd the bus arrival service and was informed that the next Service 74 will arrive in 10 minutes. That was to be also expected. That was the plan. Well and good.

But I ended up waiting 25 minutes for the next Service 74 bus to arrive. This isn't a good start for the public transport company's commitment to better service. Like I said, it is the doing that proves the promise, and sadly, SBS Transit cannot do what it promises, and so soon at that. And this is not the first time either. In fact, it stretches way way back from when I was a student taking the bus to school. I blogged about this before.

One day, my classmate arrived late for lessons in the morning, and upon enquiry, said that the bus was late. The whole class roared! The teacher ticked him off, implying that the bus cannot be late, that the student is. I thought my teacher made sense. If you want to be punctual, be early, even at the expense of doing nothing when you arrive early. But over the years, I think my classmate, who today is a lawyer, was right. Its the bloody bus, stupid. And so I ended up being late for work today. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to walk into my boss' room to announce my arrival, but it does prick the conscience that I owe my employers so many minutes of loss time (multiply that by the same number of people at the bus stop waiting for the same service this morning and you've got major national productivity issue here). But I comfort myself to know that it is not I but the bus that was late.

Well, so much for SBS Transit's promises. You can throw their commitments into the next long-kang you come across. If it is urgent, you can flush it down the toilet bowl the next time you visit the loo.

But of course, SBS Transit will come out saying that it is the traffic jam though they can't blame the weather. It was sunny and clear this morning. Traffic jam? It really won't hold water because the number of stops between the Dover Bus Interchange and the Dover Bus Stop can be counted on the palm of one's hands. They will insist that the jam is the other direction, resulting in shortage of buses. If what they announced over the weekend is true, they'd be slapping themselves on the cheeks. So what went wrong? My guess is - it is the bus captain - the weakest link in the grand scheme of things. And the shocker is that SBS Transit doesn't seem to realise this. They keep buying new buses, tweeking the satellite links, thereby building up excuses for the next fare hike. The window of 10-minutes is very tight, so bus-captains must be ever so sensitive to the passing minutes, if not seconds, when they board their buses, start the engines and leave on their journeys.

Sadly, this is one thing that does not work, and continues not to work, in Singapore. Nevertheless, in this August month,

Majullah Singapore!

We keep on hoping, even after 36 years!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fast commitment

SBS Transit, the local public transport company that runs most of the country's bus services throughout the island nation, and SMRT, which runs a smaller fleet of buses, have committed to get its buses to set out from its interchanges every 10 minutes or less during peak hours. This is an improvement, so it says, on the 13 to 15 minute interval currently in place. Yeah, sure. Show me first before I go ga-ga over the proposed improvements. No use just saying it, doing it is the proof of the pudding, as the saying goes.

Why am I sceptical? Well, I have been taking public transport all my life, and I have always said, even today, that SBS Transit, in particular, has not got its act together schedule and punctuality-wise. No matter what has been done - bus-lanes, satellite tracking, automated ticketing, you name it, has never solved the gripes of most commuters - bus' arrival intervals. Mr Charles Chong, when speaking to some new immigrants in his Pasir-Punggol Constituency in June this year, remarked that they are thankful that buses come in under 30 minutes, unlike (spoilt?) Singaporeans, who complain even about a 15 minute delay. Well, Mr Chong probably doesn't take public transport. Otherwise he would know that a 30 minute interval means that the arriving bus will be so crowded already that few can board it - making the effective waiting time 1 hour - if the bus company has its way.

Yes, a couple of new buses will help, but ultimately, the promise is only as good as the ability of its 'bus captains' to keep to their schedule. A longer than usual toilet break can throw the most finely-tuned schedule into disarray. Has SBS Transit and SMRT scheduled some spare 'bus captains' instead of just increasing the fleet size? Until it realizes that people are the weakest link in the whole scheduling thing will true change for the better come about. And it doesn't need investments in more new buses or satellite links. Why make people pay for things that do not solve the problem?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Merry go round

I took my first ride on the Circle MRT Line on Saturday, 30th May 2009. It had been opened earlier to fare-paying customers on Tuesday, 26th May 2009. In fact, it had been opened a week earlier for a free preview by the public which, predictably, the public showed up in droves. I didn't like crowds, so I passed on the freebee.

It wasn't an awesome experience, though. With just 4 stations and a train half the length of their normal N-S and E-W ones, it felt more like an LRT than an MRT. But this is only stage 1, so it may be premature to pass judgement.

However, it opened up more options for me to get from my workplace home and vice versa. To this, I must pat the back of LRT/SMRT, and probably also the Transport Minister, Mr Raymond Lim, for giving me more reasons not to drive around the island. It didn't reduce my traveling time significantly though, perhaps shaved off 5 - 10 minutes. But that's not the fault of the train system. The constraint still lies with the unreliable Bus services. If something can be done about this.

One of the bonuses of this circle line is that it gives me convenient access via public transport to the Shunfu Mart, which houses several award winning food stalls - the Chao Guo Tiao stall (fried Kway Teow), and the Hakka food stall. Yummy. The problem is I've got to watch my weight ever more vigilantly now. For your info, the Mart is a short walk from the Marymount MRT station.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Taxi dole

Whoever (excepting young kids and very old senile seniors) doesn't know that we are going through a recession must have had his/her head stuck in the proverbial desert sand. Jobs have been lost, people by the thousands are showing at at career and recruitment fairs, hoping to secure that 800 or so jobs on offer, probably in industries or businesses they are unfamiliar with. Choice isn't an operational word anymore, at least for breadwinners who need to feed the family.

So I have heard and the press has reported that taxi drivers are also suffering from reduced businesses. The logic is that more people are taking public transport to save money, even as salaries are cut and job security has become the uppermost concern on their minds. So taxis are finding it harder to get passengers. That's how the argument goes.

Well, pardon me if I disagree. Taxi business hasn't really gone down at all, judging from my experience over the last month or so. You see, I always take a cab on Sundays, and for the last few weeks, I have also had to take taxis at various locations around the island during weekdays, such as Clementi and Sims Avenue (near Geylang) - places, which even if you have lived 6 months in Singapore, you would agree has high human traffic almost the entire day.

In all the instances when I wanted to catch a cab home, I have had to wait for no less than 10 minutes for one. Many whiz past with passengers. In fact the other evening, I got fed-up waiting for a cab that I took a bus home. Yeah, it is that bad.

Are Taxi drivers suffering from poorer business? After all, the Chinese New Year has come and gone. So where are the taxis? Lining up at government offices collecting dole money? I have seen how bad business can be for taxi drivers, particularly back in 2003. This recession doesn't look anything like 2003 - it looks very much like business as usual.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fair revision?

The Great Singapore Transport Fare Sales!
Up to 4.6% Fare Reduction
Hurry, limited time only*
Everywhere must go

Well, the transport fare revision is finally out, and it is going to kick in in April 2009. But it is good only for one year, up till 30April 2010. How typical of the PTC and the public transport companies to set a time cap. This fare revision almost looks like a great transport fare sale. The smart copy writer who came up with the travel ad "The world is on sale, everywhere must go" could have anticipated this Great Singapore Transport Fare Sales.

We are used to Robinson's sales, and Metro (no, not the transport type in this case) sales, etc., but an SBSTransit / SMRT sales is on for a year? So should I rush to take more bus and train rides, just so that I enjoy the sales discounts, no matter that I really don't need to get from point x to point y, just like what many people do when retailers put up sales promotions and people just buy up the discounted products when they really don't need the products on sales?

And please don't tell me the public transport companies are sacrificing $xx million here and there as if they are doing anybody a favour. After more than 30 years in the public transport business, they still haven't really gotten their act together. Otherwise why do you think that people continue to be willing to pay an arm and a leg for private transport?

* promotion ends 30 April 2010

Monday, January 26, 2009

Up and down

What's this I hear? The public transport companies are lowering fares? Well, if this is true, it is indeed good news. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let us wait and see. Not that I doubt it will be done. In Singapore, whenever something is announced (i.e. makes the news without official denial), it will be done. That's the good thing about Singapore. The authorities act like authorities.

And its time they did so too, whether there is a recession or not. This lowering of fares is not about charity or corporate social responsibility. Its economics, stupid. First, the price of oil has tumbled to as low as $40 a barrel. Actually, for us old-timers, $30/barrel was hitting the ceiling many years ago, but I don't want to push this. The age, it shows, you know. Previously they raised fare annually, whatever the price of oil, with the blessings of the PTC. The assumption was that their operational cost will always increase, come what may (read: salary increases, including bonuses). Mercifully, Singapore is too small an island for transport executives to fly in their own jets to meetings. But they don't take public transport either...

Next, commuters are increasingly packed like sardines in the train on their way to work and on their way home, everyday, for all 5 days of the week. Mercifully, the reduction of the work week from 6 to 5 was a godsend. On the other hand, this human congestion does bring us closer as a nation, but I suspect that many citizens would rather that it were in spirit rather than in the flesh. But having said that, I must say that generally, Singaporeans, and even foreigners, don't have problem with body odour. They don't perfume themselves too heavily either, so the packed ride is spared the smell you would normally get in a crowded soccer match. This one thing I can say about Singaporeans, they are a sensible lot, at least on a train or bus. Nevertheless, the public transport companies owe it to the commuters to make the congestion more bearable either by enlarging the trains, or baring this, reducing the fare so our pockets don't keep hurting.

Third, with the money that the public transport companies, i.e. SMRT and SBS Transit, are going to receive from the government in its latest 'giveaway' budget, it will be unconscionable for them to keep it, and worst if they were to give themselves any bonus out of it, like what the insensitive, and might I say greedy Chief Executives in the US are doing even as their ships are sinking. The public transport companies in Singapore have always turned a profit. Their cashflow is quite stable and their de facto monopoly business is probably the best business to be in in recessionary Singapore. They get more business during bad times compared to good times.

The question now is, how much of a reduction will there be?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New ez-link is hard

I spoke too soon. From my use of the new ez-link card these past couple of days, it appears that not every card reader, whether on buses or train stations, are created equal. Some read my card without any problems (of course, I continue to have to use that workaround technique described in my previous blog entry), some have to be 'coaxed' to read it, i.e. the 'last-resort' card sans wallet technique has to be used. The worst performing card readers, it would appear, are in the very busy MRT stations such as Clementi and Sengkang. (Well, I do use these stations quite a fair bit).

I don't understand it. These are contact readers so it shouldn't suffer from wear and tear. The only mechanisms that need periodic cleaning and maintenance are the mechanical gates. Some of them can sometimes be retarded, but that's pardonable.

I hope my rant about the new ez-link card is over. It hasn't been a pleasant experience using it. I am just now getting used to it and I don't want any more unpleasant surprises...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Old is better

Singapore is a place with a reputation for efficiency. So naturally, I took my complaint about the new ez-Link card to the person sitting in the MRT Control Station. I explained the problem and asked, rather rhetorically, if I could have back my old card. He just reached over his desk, retrieve a piece of paper and handed it to me. He said that I should contact the 1800 number on the paper and explain my card problem. That's very efficient indeed, paring away a complaint in less than it take to say, "I have a problem". You also begin to wonder why the Control Station has such a ready stock of these pre-printed slips of paper with instructions to call a 1800 number.

On second thoughts, these people were in charge of ensuring that the trains are running ok, and handle issues related to the train station. Don't ask a cat to produce milk. Hey! you got the wrong guy, right? I took the paper but lo and behold, the listed number to call was for lost or stolen cards. Now, my card is neither stolen nor lost... I gave up with officialese. I had to solve the problem myself. So much for Singapore's reputation for efficiency, and we are thinking big about growing our service economy...

I surmised that the reader might not be able to read my new ez-Link card because it was buried in all my other cards in the wallet. I re-arranged my cards so that the ez-Link card was on its own and nearest the outer back of the wallet. This way, it would be the first card that comes into contact with the signals of the reader. And it worked!

But I have a new irritant. The readers on buses take a longer time to read my card compared to the old one! Previously, it was really 'touch and go'. Now, with this new card, it was 'touch wait hear look hear and then go', taking me at least a second more than I previously took to get out of the bus. Now, you may think that 1 second isn't a long time, so what am I complaining about? But when you consider that when everyone else has to do the same, you are looking at a lot longer to process the queue out of and into the bus. That's not progress.

This new-fangled ez-link card? Well, the LTA can have it back and eat it for breakfast, for all I care. I want my old card back.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Old Card New Card

Since 9 January 2009, Singapore Bus and Train commuters are able to use the new CEPAS-compliant ez-link card on the subway train (MRT/LRT transportation network) and the bus services operated by SMRT and SBSTransit. And since that day, people have been queueing up to get the latest 'gadget' in a one-for-one exchange of their existing ez-link card. The public has up till 30 September to change their existing cards, after which, if I am not wrong, the existing card will no longer be valid.

And in typical Singapore style, long queues have formed to get this latest card. Given that 30 Sep 09 is the deadline, there is really a lot of time to do the changeover, so people really do not have to queue. But I found myself in the queue last week and got mine changed within 10 minutes. Call me kiasu, or whatever, but I have since regretted my haste. This new cards has been an irritant because the fare gates at the MRT stations just refuses to read the card unless I remove it from my wallet. I suspect that the reader might have problems deciphering the various cards in my wallet, as happened with the new NETS Cashcard I bought a couple of months ago. In the case of the Cashcard, I had to put it in my coin and key wallet. I don't shudder to think that I need to carry a third wallet to isolate the new ez-link card.

The odd thing is, the readers on the buses, whether those from SBSTransit or SMRT, have no problems whatsoever with this new card. I continue to successfully 'beep' the card while still lodged in my wallet, as I used to do with the old card. Sheesh. I say again - I now regret changing to the new card. It has no significant added benefit over the old card, at least for now, until some other establishments, such as retail shops, start accepting them from February onwards, as promised. Payment for ERP using this card will have to wait a bit longer as the in-vehicle-units need to upgraded also.

I hope Transitlink and LTA will resolve this problem - err...not by replacing the readers on the buses, mind you. Carrying three wallets will make my pants bulge - I just don't want to be mistaken for being permanently, err, on via***, you know. Right now, this new ez-link card is nothing but a pain in the ass, really.

See also:
SeP - LTA's new generation e-payment system
ez-Link card exchange exercise