Sunday 12 April 2009

Only 17 bus services in Singapore are overcrowded? Really?

So I was sitting in SMRT feeder bus service 302, accompanying my daughter home from her primary school one evening last week.

Except the bus wasn’t moving.

The bus captain was waiting for the last action hero who boarded the sardine tin on wheels to squeeze in just enough to allow the bus door to be shut before he could drive off.

The bus jerked into motion. Our hero made it. We were finally on our way.

Perfect time to read my newspaper.

That was when I learnt that the Public Transport Council (PTC) had fined the bus companies for their overcrowded buses.

It was about time, I thought, as a fellow passenger standing next to me turned to alight and unknowingly whacked my head with her Billabong backpack. That hurt. My daughter laughed.

Served me right for reading the newspaper in an overcrowded bus.

Some critics had pointed out that the $4,500 and $100 fines for SBS Transit and SMRT respectively were pittance compared to the companies’ profits – not to mention the stress and indignity suffered by thousands, if not millions, of commuters on a daily basis.

But what flabbergasted me wasn’t the Mickey Mouse-ness of the fines, but what the fines were for.

According to the PTC, the following bus services were found to be “more than 95 per cent full during daily weekday peak hours”: SBS Transit services 7, 8, 10, 16, 21, 28, 58, 59, 90, 97, 145, 196, 198, 246, 254, 255, and SMRT service 925.

That was it? Only 17 bus services?

Hands up anyone who has taken other bus services and experienced the squeeze.

Does the PTC seriously expect us to believe that, of the over 250 bus services run by SBS Transit and SMRT, only 17 of them are overcrowded during rush hour?

What alternate universe does the PTC live in? I want to live in that universe.

Apparently, the PTC had reviewed the bus operators' performance from 1 June to 30 November last year. Was this review conducted in chauffered limousines?

All you have to do is go to any bus interchange in Singapore at 7 o’clock in the morning or evening, on any working day, and witness the madness.

I was witnessing the madness right there on bus service 302, as more desperados attempted to get onto the vehicle even though it was clearly already more than 95 per cent full – and then some. Maybe they had also read the PTC report and since 302 wasn't on the list of overcrowded bus services, they thought the bus couldn't possibly be full.

When we eventually reached our stop, my daugher and I managed to squeeze our way through an obstacle course of bodies out of the bus only to see – you guessed it – two other 302 buses right behind ours.

Shouldn’t SMRT be fined for that too?

- Published in The New Paper, 12 April 2009