So the trains broke down. Big time. Multiple stoppages across various lines over quite a few days. The general reaction? Anger! Fury! Burn the witch at the stake! Heads must roll! How dare they! Our usually oh so reliable trains that almost never break down have suddenly ceased to work! It must be the fault of somebody who works at SMRT! You know? The very same people that have been ensuring the trains run smoothly over the past years… Yup let’s fire those people!!!
Yes I know, as a recent The Online Citizen article pointed out, there have been a ton of train stoppages within the last 2 years, but all of them have been relatively minor break downs compared to this incident. No mechanical system is perfect and in my opinion such minor stoppages are acceptable.
But there’s absolutely no doubt that the break downs over the past week or so have been pretty damn bad. Stoppages lasting almost the entire day, trains getting stuck in the middle of a tunnel with passengers on board, etc. Even I was affected. However, just to put it into perspective, I’ve been taking the MRT religiously for the past 7 years or so, almost every single weekday, and of course pretty frequently on weekends as well. This is the first time in all my life that I’ve actually been affected by a train breakdown.
Yet, suddenly the entire Singapore has been engulfed in a burning desire to see SMRT burn at the stake. This (brilliantly titled might I add) TOC article has been making the rounds on Facebook with many applauding it’s superb writing and its persuasive and well explained arguments. No, it’s not that great an article. It does have a couple good points, no doubt. For example the notion that SMRT should release its maintenance records (w.r.t industry standards) to prove to commuters that they do spend sufficient funding on ensuring the safety of commuters. Also, it raises a good question of whether or not fare increases are linked to Quality of Services standards, as they rightfully should be.
But the remaining demands made in the article are downright preposterous. It calls for the resignation of SMRT’s CEO, as are many other Singaporeans. Because “somebody” has to take responsibility for these failures, why not it be the person holding the highest level of management! It doesn’t matter that this is a mechanical fault that’s so close to the ground and so many layers below her that she has absolutely no control over it! Get rid of her! Who cares that she’s been running the whole system just fine for years and years and years! WE JUST WANT TO SEE HEADS ROLL BECAUSE IT MAKES US FEEL BETTER!
(Though over here I must admit I’m perplexed as to why a Malaysian is running the biggest public transport company in Singapore)
Then the article goes on to ask SMRT to provide free rides for everyone “affected” by their disruptions for a month. Seriously now, are we at the wet market bargaining or something? Or at an IT show asking for free gifts? But never mind that. Who do we count as “affected”? People who got stuck in trains for an hour? Maybe. But technically I was affected as well! I wanted to go out but couldn’t take the train, along with hundreds of thousands of other Singaporeans. So we should all get free rides for a month? Really? Come on… That’s just looking at a situation which you realise you stand to benefit from and squeezing it as hard as possible to get as much out of it for yourself as you can.
That’s just selfish.
The general Singaporean attitude towards this whole fiasco is honestly quite disgusting. Tay Ping Hui even tweeted out that SMRT should provide a “FREE TRAVEL DAY” for EVERYONE IN SINGAPORE! Is he mad? Then when everyone takes the trains on that day they’ll complain that “they’re too crowded” because obviously EVERYONE will take trains. Even those that didn’t really need to go out will just go take the trains for the sake of taking them because “free mah, why not? Free leh!” Someone actually pointed this problem out to Mr Tay on twitter. His response? “Then it is up to SMRT to have more trains in higher frequency.”
WTF he think trains appear by magic ah? Oh then if the trains get overworked and break down again then scold SMRT again loh…
This is the first large scale breakdown in our train system in more than its 20 years in existence. That’s pretty damn good. And all the trains did was break down. Did they collide or something? Nope. Did they derail? Nope. Did they explode? Nope. Did anyone get injured? Nope. They just broke down. When buses break down (a relatively frequent occurrence) do we blame SBS? No, we accept that buses break down. But for some reason when gigantic trains that go at many times the speed carrying many more times the number of commuters break down it comes as a huge shock to us. People treat it as a fault with the people instead of a fault with the machines. It’s just that the people behind the scenes have been running these machines so optimally that you think it’s the machines doing the good work and the people screwing them up, when in fact it’s always been the other way around.
If anyone at SMRT should be fired, it’s their PR department. For example they released a statement that commuters shouldn’t break windows because a backup ventilation system will come online. This despite the fact that it was explicitly clear that no such system came online in that particular scenario, yet they went ahead and released such a prepared statement. To make matters worse, they had the guts to assure people that they wouldn’t be charging the man who broke the window for ventilation. This statement shouldn’t even have been put out and goes to show what a horrible PR department SMRT has that doesn’t know how to properly address complaints.
In terms of responding to such emergencies however, SMRT have done a fairly good job. Communication about the status of trains was very efficient and clear, especially through their twitter account. Shuttle buses were deployed (albeit queues were ridiculously long but they only have that much capacity). Of course, these are systemic responses that were obviously well drawn out contingency plans. Any on-the-ground and on-the-fly decision making is still very lacking, as seen from drivers being told to not open the doors at any cost even though there was no ventilation.
Such an attitude of over-reliance on systems and contingency plans, and more importantly the absolute refusal to deviate from them under any circumstances has to change. But to be honest many big co-operations are guilty of such problems as well. Still, we will be able to tell from the next crisis whether SMRT learns anything based on the way they interact with the public. For now, I just wish that Singaporeans were more rational and be more interested in seeing the problem fixed rather than pointing fingers and trying to decide who should be blamed for the problem.Read More