Sunday 22 May 2016

Daydreaming? How a drive to get people to drive less is backfiring on LTA

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) just can’t seem to catch a break.

Last month, The Straits Times published this headline: “Rise in major breakdowns but MRT gets more reliable.

Minds were blown.

It was like saying there were a rise in bedbug bites at the Esplanade, but there were no bedbugs at the Esplanade.

When I first read the headline, I thought I had been zapped to an alternate universe where words have similar but slightly different meaning.

As someone pointed out online, the headline is an “oxymoron to anybody who can understand simple English”.

And “oxymoron” doesn’t mean an imbecile with too much pimple cream on his face.

Taken literally, the headline could just mean we can now rely on MRT more than ever to provide us with major breakdowns.

But that would be a rather odd, though self-aware, thing for LTA to announce.

So what was LTA really trying to say?

According to a PDF titled “Performance of Rail Service Reliability” on its website , what LTA wants you to know is that, yes, the number of service delays lasting more than 30 minutes for the overall MRT network has increased from nine in 2011 to 14 last year.

That’s the “rise in major breakdowns” part of the headline.

But the mean distance travelled between delays lasting more than five minutes has increased from 58,000km in 2011 to 133,000km last year.

I guess that’s the “more reliable” part that LTA wanted to brag about.

A month later, as if to show LTA up, lightning struck somewhere between Yio Chu Kang and Khatib MRT stations causing a delay on the North-South Line. The affected train was reportedly pushed by another train to a station.

Someone commented online: “Now even the Lightning God is telling SMRT to wake up their idea.”

Another blamed the Government, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Singaporeans who voted for it:
“You vote PAP means you vote lightning party. See logo for reference. You voted for the lightning to strike the train. Blame the Government. Blame PAP.”
If the train were struck by a giant hammer, then could we blame the Workers’ Party?

But even before the MRT was struck by the PAP logo, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said that in terms of rail reliability, we are “way below” the much-acclaimed Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR).

Yah, but has the MTR ever been struck by lightning?

Oh, it has? In 2014? And we’re still losing to them? How can?

“We want to catch up with Hong Kong, and we will,” said Mr Khaw. Yah, as long as we don’t get hit by any more lightning.

As if the task isn’t hard enough, LTA is promoting a “car-lite” society and wants more commuters to switch to our already overburdened public transport system.

“Hmmm, the MRT is breaking down more often than before. What should we do? Get more people to take the MRT!”

And even that LTA can’t seem to do right.

As part of its Walk Cycle Ride campaign, LTA has put up a series of banners with illustrations of a woman not driving a car with taglines such as “The only rubber I’m burning is on my shoes”.

One banner showing a woman riding a bicycle with the tagline “Freedom to come and go” has been likened to a sanitary pad ad.

Another showing a woman on a bus with the tagline “Someone else is driving, I can daydream” has been criticised by no less a personage than poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at, who co-wrote Hotel, which won Best Original Script and Production of the Year at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards last month.

He posted on Facebook last week:
“LTA, why you Fail. So. Hard. Intended meaning: ‘Because someone else is driving, it frees me up to do other things’. Frustrated-by-cost-of-living Singaporeans will read: ‘Some other rich folks are driving their cars, I can only daydream of owning one’.”
The woman is probably daydreaming about placing a $1 Toto QuickPick bet and winning $8 million so that she can afford a car — like all of us.

And this is how LTA’s innocent attempt to encourage more people to use public transport turns into class warfare.

The sanitary pad ad doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

LTA needn’t have bothered.

On Thursday, Traffic Police announced new speed laser cameras to catch speeding drivers from even farther distances in 44 locations around Singapore day and night.

That should scare off more people from driving than any sanitary pad ad.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 May 2016