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?