At the risk of sounding like a broken old record, I’m going to point out once again that the PAP government failed in the last 10 years to adequately plan our infrastructure for the huge influx of immigrants and foreign workers that we saw between 2005 and 2010. One bugbear for many Singaporeans (mostly from the middle to lower classes, who take public transport), is the overcrowding on buses and MRT trains.
The government’s grand solution to all this was to build more MRT lines. Hence the huge investment of over $10 billion to build the Circle Line (up from a budgeted $6.7 billion) and another $1.4 billion to build the Downtown Line. While I don’t begrudge this necessary investment in a public good, the benefits from this investment are playing a game of catch up with our ever-growing population.
What we needed were interim solutions to solve the immediate problem of “crush loads” on our bus and train networks. This could not be achieved by building more lines, as they take years to complete. Hence, Singaporeans have been forced to squeeze on unbearably crowded trains with fellow commuters for the past few years while construction of the new lines was going on. We were repeatedly told by the government, “Don’t worry, relief is coming soon. We’re building more lines.”
One interim solution that could have been carried out much faster (and at much lower cost) than building new lines was to increase train frequency, within the limits of the ageing signalling system.
I had raised this proposal during my maiden speech in Parliament last month. I had said:
This was not the first time I had suggested this. Back in February 2008, I had written a long paper titled “Improving Singapore’s Public Transport System – A Commuter’s Perspective”, where I suggested lengthening the peak period timings.
I had also written privately to SMRT to make this suggestion, to no avail. I was told that trains cannot operate too close together for safety reasons. But if trains can already run at two-minute intervals for short periods during the morning and evening rush hours, why can’t they do so for a longer period to clear the commuters on the train platforms faster?
I’m glad to note that SMRT has finally announced that it is looking into extending the peak period:
…SMRT is looking into extending the peak period, when its MRT trains arrive every two minutes.
The move is intended to bring relief to commuters on morning rush-hour services that have become increasingly packed.
At the moment, trains run at two-minute intervals for about an hour during what is known as the ‘peak-of-the-peak’ period.
‘We are looking into extending it further, subject to the number of trains we have,’ SMRT’s strategic rail planning director Lui Weng Chee told The Sunday Times.
— Source: Sunday Times, 13 November 2011
(Note: From personal experience, I don’t think the current ‘peak-of-the-peak’ period of two-minute intervals lasts one hour. It’s more like half an hour in the mornings. Maybe they are referring to the sum of the morning and evening rush hour ‘peak-of-the-peak’ periods.)
Why did it take so long for SMRT to finally “look into” this solution? Perhaps it’s because the “crush loads” don’t exactly hurt profits, but buying new trains and hiring more train drivers will. So it took a bit of political pressure to get things moving.
Whatever the reason, I hope they extend this ‘peak-of-the-peak’ period soon, for the benefit of the 1.7 million commuters who depend on public transport every day.