Next Stop: Buskers and Stickers

Buskers performing at train platforms, elaborately-decorated themed carriages and staff clutching stuffed toy flowers and giving out tissues to welcome commuters — these are among the “social experiments” the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is embarking on over the next few months to make commuters’ train journeys a little less harried... [source]

When I first left Singapore nearly 3 years ago, I would feel really pissed off reading about such things. Today, I could only let out a sigh as a cloud of sadness engulfed me. Regardless what the others think, my passport is red and I'm still as Singaporean as before I left. Perhaps having the privilege of living in a different country has allowed me to watch the proceedings in Singapore from afar, giving me broader perspective. I'm grateful for that but at the same time this can be such a painful experience.

I have wrote several times about LTA's tendency to splurge on meaningless items such as premium covered linkwaysdesigner MRT lift shelters and their obsession with demolishing perfectly usable bus stops. So it isn't surprising for me that LTA is preparing to spend millions of taxpayers' money again on their newest initiative. 

Like every "blue collared" trade, it is well respected in Australia and many parts of the world. In Singapore, these professions are regarded as something the cat drags in. Many buskers in Singapore are cleverly disguised licensed beggars in a bid to keep Singapore streets 'beggar-free' because somebody famous once challenged the press to show him where are the beggars in Singapore. Poor beggars in Singapore have to quickly equip themselves props and instruments and with their most convenient skills, actually talented or not, pay for a license to erm.. busk. I believe the man who coined the lovely terms such as "Cheaper, better, fastest" and "Upturn the downturn" will be able to come out with a delightful tagline to describe this amazing beggar-busker conversion magic.

I really have to attend the next SMRT AGM for investors and ask the management if they are charging these buskers any rental to perform on train platforms since they may end up having to build a special pedestal so that they have the space to carry out their stuff in a jam packed platform. You can trust SMRT to recoup that building cost. If so, you can expect less vigor from the fire-spitter or juggler playing with your balls instead of his own since Singaporeans tend to cut corners once operating expenses start to build up. That happened to my Nasi Lemak rice during my last visit. The egg was so wafer thin that I had to admire that piece of art for a minute.

Elaborately-decorated themed carriages to improve
commuting atmosphere
Needless to say, decorations in MRT train carriages served no purpose because you don't see no shit as sardines in a can. What's that patch of stuff that looks like dyed pubic hair? How does this improve commuting experience? I hope LTA is not expecting commuters to tee off or have a game of 5-a-side futsal in the carriage. A lack of common sense can only be that apparent but you can always count on the LTA to beat their personal best.

Could these costs be implemented something more meaningful to the commuters such as maintaining a cool 25 degree Celsius temperature in the trains at any carriage volume? Sure. Did LTA consider that as a priority over balls-juggling funnymen and farty carriage designs? No.

LTA Director of Corporate Transformation and Futures Agnes Kwek said the authority is seeking to improve the train experience in every possible way. “But, in addition, public transport is very much a shared social space and our interactions with other commuters affect our train experience,” she said. “We’re launching a series of trials to foster a positive commuter culture — be it behaviour, interaction or atmosphere.”

I like the romantic manner the LTA director painted public transport experience. Other than occasionally beo-ing a rare chiobu that doesn't get sent to work in a car, there is nothing social about the space barely adequate for standing inside a train. Football patches and stickers are not going to prevent me from getting elbowed from behind by a commuter who refused to wait for the next train. I should be grateful if no one does a Luis Suarez on me. Unlike his victims, I don't even have the space to dive dramatically to the floor in an MRT train.

I believe the first rule of service is getting the basics right. A chef can serve the most expensive ingredient in the world but that means little if it turns out under cooked. The LTA's good intention to serve the public is there for all to see but when initiatives are very poorly thought out, sometimes it's better to leave things as it is. 

1 comment:

  1. There is a classic rumour that the public works is the best funded department in the SG government since everywhere in SG they seemed to be very happy to dig up a whole stretch of road for minor installation and then reseal the entire road. The allegation is that the department has a big allocated budget left over from the nation building years but if they dont use the money, then they get a smaller budget allocation next year and nobody wants that.

    Maybe that is what is happening to SMRT, budget for social services lan lan must be spent but instead of giving special rebates or free rides to needy people, which nobody can see SMRT doing that, they chose to spend it on visible (but mostly useless) decoration on their train (and it is visible only when there is very few people in the carriage, when is the last time you see that between 6 am to 10 pm weekdays)