Monday 5 March 2018

In (half-hearted) defence of 'tip-up seats' in new MRT trains: It's not up to passengers

You know how last week, it was reported that a guest at a Singapore hotel asked for a photo of US actor Jeff Goldblum next to the bed and got it?

The guest from Australia said he made the special request “for a laugh”, but the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza hotel took his request to a Goldblumesque extreme by placing pictures of Geena Davis’ ex-husband in different parts of the room including the toilet.

But what if the guest didn’t ask for it?

Imagine walking into a hotel room and being startled by photos of the bug-eyed star of The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Thor: Ragnarok and the immortal Earth Girls Are Easy at every turn?

I’d be wondering: “What is this? Who is this for? Why would anyone want this? Is this a joke?”

And that, my friends, appears to be the online reaction to the announcement by Land Transport Authority (LTA) last week that some of the new MRT trains will have “tip-up seats” to create more standing room.

What is this? Who is this for? Why would anyone want this? Is this a joke?

A headline declared: “New MRT trains have ‘tip-up’ seats but S’poreans are having none of it.”

Business Insider blared: “Social media users are going absolutely savage at LTA’s announcement of ‘tip-up’ seats for MRT trains.”

One such savage social media user’s comment: “Solve the MRT breakdown first. Not come up with stupid idea like this.”

Another savage comment: “Why not put carpet instead, everyone can sit on the floor.”

To many, it seems that the idea of tip-up seats is akin to folding up the deck chairs on the Titanic but even less practical.

As someone posted on LTA’s Facebook page: “Come on guys, get your priorities right first before deciding to spend taxpayers money… reliability of train over seats… what’s the point having nice trains but always delayed due to ‘signalling fault’.”

I guess that makes “signalling fault” the iceberg.

Another social media user savagely observed: “People don’t even move into middle of the train. U r expecting 10 people to give up their seats n push the seats up to accommodate more?”

This is allegedly a democracy, right?

Perhaps the seated passengers could call for a mini by-election to vote for whether they should sacrifice their seats for the greater good.

The incumbent pro-sitting party would try to preserve the status quo and take the anti-standing stand while the opposition party would argue for everyone to stand and suffer equally.

After a bitter campaign where the mainstream media is accused of under-reporting the crowd size at the opposition party rally, the incumbent party wins because people really don’t want to give up their electoral seat.

Except that’s not how it works.

According to news reports, passengers are not supposed to fold up the seats. Only the train driver can do that.

Well, good luck then to the driver trying to get people to surrender their seats on a crowded train. The seated passengers might just vote to throw the driver off the train.

But that scenario also appears unlikely.

LTA has yet to explain what the procedure actually is, but I suspect the seats would be folded up at a terminal station at a scheduled time before the anticipated rush hour and not what as many assume, in the middle of a journey when the train is deemed crowded enough.

So there should be no mutiny against the driver by the seated passengers and forcing him to walk the plank (one hopes).

That, of course, still doesn’t make the tip-up seats any more welcomed.

Especially in the same week where the Downtown Line was plagued by delays due to another iceberg. It was unfortunate timing.

Like a hidden camera found in a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) toilet days before the NTU Open House over the weekend.

Or announcing a goods and services tax hike right after one of the largest Budget surpluses in Singapore’s history.

Or the Grab app not working during the Downtown Line disruption.

Commuters just can’t catch a break.

The least LTA can do is give us somewhere to sit.

And not a picture of Jeff Goldblum.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 March 2018