Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cars, taxis, buses, and the MRT: Singapore's transport system

Singapore's transport system is truly world-class. Just look at our Mass Rapid Transit system, especially the new 'North-East line': the stations are so safe, posh and artistically designed, and the trains are so fast and comfortable. The buses are impressive too, especially the newer ones installed with MobileTV sets. Who can complain that the transport system is not world-class?

Taxi companies are also becoming more professional and IT-oriented. Bookings can be done over the phone and the taxi that you need will arrive in about 5-10 minutes. "Convenient!" At least that's what the rich 'tai-tai's' would say. Cars are said to be 'cheap' too, since the prices of the COE have fallen....My mother happily parted with $80,000 cash and bought a Honda Civic, and was telling me that 'it's so cheap!' In the area where I live, there are numerous Mercedes-Benz's (especially the 200 series), BMWs (especially the 300 series), Toyotas (esp. Altis), Hondas (esp. Civic), and so on. It just looks as though everybody is so rich nowadays! Gosh, I'm really under-achieving!

Anyway, it appears that there is really nothing for one to complain about, regardless of one's preferred mode of commuting. But still, my everyday experiences of commuting leave me frustrated and tired. Pardon me but I really cannot afford to maintain a car (even though I can probably afford to buy one with a loan). Anyway, for car owners, the highways are always packed with cars that move like turtles. And even if they were not, I cannot afford a car because all my money is spent paying off the numerous bills that come to me in scary white envelopes every month - the service and conservancy charges, the electrical bills, the handphone bills, Internet connection bills, and other miscellaneous bills.

Unfortunately, my alternative modes of transport disappoint me. The public buses take ages to come, especially the feeder buses. Taxis are always taken, and I usually have no choice but to book one over the phone. The booking fee for 'peak hours' is $4, which sounds fair enough since those are supposed to be 'peak hours'. But hey, 'peak hours' is defined to be the period from 6pm to 11pm! That's when I need to get home from work! So you can imagine 'getting home from work' to be a most excruciatingly painful experience for me. I can either pay $17 to get home by taxi, or spend 1 hour and 45 minutes commuting in packed buses....

So this is the world-class transport system that impresses everyone but makes a poor commuter like me suffer daily. The strength of a chain is determined by its weakest link. I consider the buses to be the weakest link of our otherwise excellent transport system. From 6pm-10pm, buses are always packed like sardines. Sometimes they remain packed even until 11pm or later. The reason is that the frequency of the buses is too low, resulting in overly packed buses and in people having to wait for 20mins or even more sometimes at the bus-stops. The bus companies can at least provide printed time-tables at the bus-stops, like what they do in UK, so that when I wait at the bus-stop, I can at least read a book rather than constantly look at the oncoming buses to see if my bus has arrived. Bear in mind that I'll have to rush in order to get onto the bus when it comes, thanks to all the equally kiasu commuters!

Actually, I could understand why they're rushing too - for nobody wants to wait for another 25 mins for another packed bus, since even when the next bus comes, you STILL have to 'compete' with people, especially the middle-aged aunties in order to board it! I'm not being biased here but in my experience, it is always the 'aunties' who are the rudest, the most 'pushy', and 'kiasu'! They simply have no respect for young professionals like myself and literally dash past us like elephants even if we're obediently queuing up in front of them! This is what I call uncivilized behaviour at its extreme (very common in Singapore)!

Anyway, I've digressed. Regarding the world-class transport system, feeder buses are the worst culprit that undermines the efficiency of the system. The feeder bus that serves my area takes at least 20 minutes or even half an hour to come. It has been like that since I was 12 years old, and it is STILL like that. Zero improvement over nearly two decades, which is absolutely pathetic. The bus companies have either underestimated the importance of feeder buses, or they simply don't care about the quality of the 'service' they're providing. It's bad, by international standards, to put it bluntly.

Having presented my personal experience of commuting in Singapore, I have to say that my views are not representative. They do not in anyway represent the views of all social groups in Singapore, especially those who have immense financial resources and do not mind paying the $4 taxi-booking fee when the buses take too long to arrive, or those who do not find it tedious to own a car in Singapore. I do find it tedious to own a car and to commute daily, but I guess that must be because I am a comparatively unsuccessful man by the standards of my beloved country.


Blogger MQube said...

sigh...our public bus system is deplorable...even when i catch the first bus out @ 6:25am, the highways are packed....jammed no less because of all those precious children who need to be chauffeured to school....and don't get me started on the noise pollution!

me very incensed this morning!

Mon Jan 16, 08:13:00 AM 2006  
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Mon Jan 16, 04:13:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, after reading your entry I'm convinced that spoiled by an efficient and clean, safe system, Singaporeans have become the world's hardest-to-please consumers.

Mon Jan 16, 08:54:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi MQube: Haha, hope you're feeling better now, my dear :]

Hi Anonymous: Duck-hunting? I prefer Chicken-slaying, actually...

Hi 2nd Anonymous: So you actually think the service standards are high? Then I'm convinced that you are the easiest consumer to please. Either that or your bus comes at much shorter intervals than mine. Or your journey does not take very long in total so waiting for 20 mins is fine for you. Or you do not have to rush home to look after toddlers. Lucky you, then.

Mon Jan 16, 10:31:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

While eating my fried carrot cake (dinner), I realized that Anonymous #2 above might have misinterpreted my essay, and perhaps I should have written it in a way that stresses my key points more clearly. My key points are these:

(1) The strength of a chain is determined by its weakest link. And because feeder buses are slow, the SYSTEM as a whole is slowed down.

(2) I'm not insisting that buses must come at 5mins interval. I think a 10-12 mins wait is reasonable. If they can't avoid letting us wait for 25 mins, then at least provide time-tables, which is not too difficult isn't it?

(3) I'm also trying to say that all those things like Mobile TV, air-con, nice seats, etc, are secondary to me. Anonymous #2 interpreted my essay to be saying that 'despite so many posh features, there is still no appreciation so customers are hard to please'. What I am REALLY saying is this instead: those posh features AREN'T important; just make the waiting times more reasonable. (And make the taxi-booking fee cheaper too)

(4) I do admit that I have high standards and I do wish to reach home faster everyday. That is not because I am spoilt in any way (as I said, I don't care about all those advanced features on the buses). The need to reach home faster every day is for very real, pragmatic reasons (reasons that a single man/woman without kids may not empathize with). And I cannot possibly take taxis all the time. Sorry but $4 booking fee is expensive for me. If I were spoilt enough, I would certainly go for taxis without complaints.

I therefore disagree with Anonymous #2's assumption that when people want to go back home faster (at a more reasonable price) then they are necessarily being 'spoilt'. Everyone has different 'after-office-hours obligations (family or otherwise)'. Sometimes it is not because we LOVE reaching home earlier but because we HAVE to.

Mon Jan 16, 11:36:00 PM 2006  
Blogger jeffyen said...

I think (2) is very true. There were times when I was in Perth that I thought their buses were better than Singapore's even though each bus came like 30 minutes interval.

I later realise this is related to the issue of 'expectations'. In Perth, because of the way the buses actually stop and wait at various stops along the way, they are able to adhere to printed timetables +- a few minutes. So, if the timetable says the bus will be at my stop at 5.00 and 5.40, and it's now 5.05; I don't mind waiting for 40 minutes for the next bus because I know that if I wait at the stop at 5.35, I'd surely catch the bus. Then again, it's just me. ;)

Tue Jan 17, 10:00:00 AM 2006  
Blogger The Void Deck said...

Yeah! One vast improvement our bus services badly and urgently need is to have a realistic time-table (more buses during peak hours) that commuters are aware of, and of course the buses should stick to it so that the time-table is meaningful.

With a time-table, the commuter can expect to wait how long, guess how crowded the bus will be if it is a popular line and it comes infrequently (which is dumb in the first place - popular buses should never come infrequently) and can plan their journey accordingly to the time-table (e.g. leave school by certain time, take certain buses and not others at certain times). If other cities can implement it, why can't modern Spore do it too.

Tue Jan 17, 10:40:00 AM 2006  
Blogger jeffyen said...

I don't see how singapore can implement the same thing simply because there isn't just enough space for buses to wait at the side of the road. It's also quite bad for buses to go slowly just to adhere to the schedule. Usually, buses are very punctual when they first leave the interchange. It's just that prevailing road conditions can affect the variances by quite a bit.

There is just one way to actually decrease commuting time, in terms of absolute numbers of minutes spent travelling: release more buses and trains into service. All other measures are mere 'spin'.

Technology can be used to improve things to a certain extent, let's say the scheme to display waiting times at each busstop. Personally, I just think it's a waste of money because the info isn't practically meaningful (even though it certainly is psychologically).

Alternatively, another arrangement is to brainwash people, I try this on myself, and it works for me. I always tell myself that one hour of commute is very reasonable given the fact that this country has one of the highest population densities in the world. All things considered,

Tue Jan 17, 11:02:00 PM 2006  
Blogger The Void Deck said...

Hi Jeffyen

Traffic conditions in Spore, a city and especially in the CDB areas, can probably muck up time tables a bit. No disagreement here. The bus co in Spore tried to implement a satellite tracking thingy years back but that didn't work out.

But there should be some bus lines that can surely work with a time table e.g. feeder service buses in the new housing estates at the very least. When people get off the MRT, assuming that time is a concern, they sometimes have this dilemma of either taking a 15 min walk home or hope to catch a 5 min bus ride, wishing that the bus will come within 10 min and not 30 min later.

If there is a meaningful time-table, at least the commuter can make the choice of hanging at the bus stop smoking (oops, can't do it anymore, which is a good call) or checking out babes who don't want to walk home in their high heels.

Wed Jan 18, 10:47:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Jolly Jester said...

To mqube: I think in this case it is not the public bus system's fault if the highways/roads are jammed due to parents chauffering children. Its due to parents pampering the child when the child can easily take public transport/private school buses. Just imagine the improvement to traffic conditions when you fit like 40 cars(40 students) into the space of a single private school bus on the roads.
If more students takes buses, clearly there would be a much higher social benefit.

I would consider TV mobile a big minus. Makes the bus so noisy(I can't sleep), it catches your attention if its in your line of sight(and I get giddy if I look at it), and the programmes are just crap anyway.
As for comfortable seats I think its more important, especially for longer journeys(ok though it might not help for those standing in the jammed packed bus).
As for air-con, actually i very much prefered non-air con buses, but they are very much a thing of the past, but I can see why females would prefer aircon buses(As the wind will mess up their hair/makeup etc).

Actually I see the feeder services/shortening of routes as a deplorable way for bus companies to increase revenues. Instead of taking a direct trunk service that you can take within your nearby bus stop directly to your destination, they change reroute/shorten the trunk service, and tell you to take their wonderful feeder service and then transfer to train/other trunk service at the 'hub bus stops'.
Result: You pay much higher fares(yes, the 25cents transfer rebate is so generous), double/triple the waiting time, have a longer travelling distance to boot, and may have to walk from bus stop to another bus stop/MRT station just to transfer.
How's that for rationalisation of routes to reduce duplication of bus/train services??? To reduce operating costs to pass savings to the consumer? Go figure.

Thu Jan 19, 10:32:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi folks! I would agree with Jeff that an actual increase in the number of buses is the best way to solve the problem. I also agree with The Void Deck's point about at least having more frequent feeder bus services. The time-tables can be for the feeder buses only.

Hi Jolly Jester, I do have mixed feelings about the Mobile TV too. On one hand it's quite cool to have TVs on buses. On the other hand the programmes that are shown are usually trash anyway (especially those Japanese cartoons with military themes).

Fri Jan 20, 10:53:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous failed goat said...

great ideas, great comments. unfortunately, none of this is going to change anything. the waiting will still take a long time, the buses will still be packed.

its no use complaining. change won't come from them. maybe if we pray hard enough, the heavens will hear us and send someone down to change all this?

"...there can be miracles, when you believeee..."

Sun Feb 19, 06:20:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous failed goat said...

if it doesn't change anything, whats the point?

i have given up.

Sun Feb 19, 06:22:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

If you can't change something, you gotta keep quiet? What kind of logic is that?

So if I can't change the weather, I can't even complain about the weather? Why, because a certain blog reader says so?

Sat Apr 15, 11:06:00 PM 2006  
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Blogger ybother said...


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Sun Aug 26, 11:53:00 PM 2007  
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