Last Friday, a couple of us went to the Kimmel Center to sit in on a panel discussion which featured a 'diverse' set of planners and builders. George and I probably weren't the only ones laughing at the ridiculous claim of diversity... 5 White Men, really... Before the panel discussion on affordable housing and the challenge of keeping manufacturing jobs in NYC, Susan Fainstein opened as keynote speaker. She's currently a fellow at the LKY School of Public Policy so she made a number of references to Singapore in her speech. While I have long admired her work on The Just City, she spoke about a number of things I couldn't agree with. In particular, how she ridiculed Singaporeans and their public transport problems.
From my observation, she had spoken as though our recent complaints of overcrowding had been out of line and somewhat overindulgent. So my questions to her during a very hypothetical conversation are:
1) Have you ridden the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system during peak hours yourself?
2) Surely, there must be a relative deterioration to the system if its users are raising concerns? Or are their thousands of claims unfounded?
I'm no avid user of the MRT but I take it nonetheless because it really is the most convenient way of getting to most destinations. (And that is probably the greatest merit of our public transport system; its direct links to clusters of economic activity, residential estates and cultural hubs). If not for the MRT, I would be stuck in my own car or taxi on the Pan-Island Expressway most of the time. I've had to take the MRT to get around the island since the age of 13 when I started going to school in the City. Back then, I remember the morning trains would be quiet and peaceful and there would a handful of empty seats even with the horde of students like me, who lived an hour away from our private institutions, on board. Even when I left for college in the UK back in 2011, trains during peak hours were bearable. We might have had to wait at maximum, 8 minutes for a train at City Hall Interchange. And even that was a rare occurrence because SMRT was quick to adapt its services by allocating more trains at popular stations to shorten train intervals.
During the summer of 2012, I began noticing an increase in commuters, not just during peak hours, but throughout the day. I had simply dismissed the thought because, what do I know? I haven't been in the country for months so I was probably just imagining this. Upon speaking with a number of friends who were living in Singapore then, I found my observation to be absolutely justified. They were all complaining about the great numbers of construction workers using the MRT to get to their work sites from dormitories, or wherever the hell they're being housed (that's another urban issue altogether).
2012: Average waiting time for trains at City Hall during peak hours had worsened, but not enough to demand the attention of policymakers
2013: This summer I returned and it got visibly worse. And then some very unfortunate circumstances occurred right before my return. Probably sometime in May, train breakdowns (A RARITY IN OUR PERFECT NATION-STATE!) started emerging and that was basically the catalyst for all the complaints and nudging that ensued.
Now, at the risk of sounding extremely Singaporean, I'm arguing that there has indeed been overcrowding on the public transportation simply because of the influx of migrants who are putting pressure on this service. I mean, obviously, it's not our historically high birth rates that are contributing to this sudden surge in users. If supply cannot meet the rapidly increasing demand, then yeah, we're fucked. It's not a myth that our trains are completely packed at certain hours. Many of us are waiting for 2, 3 or even 4 trains to fill up before we get to the front of the line. That's right, we queue to get on our trains, it's not just fucking Hello Kitty MCDonald toys that we're queuing up for these days. For Susan to have ridiculed our complaints is completely baseless, especially so with a snide remark that we're apparently complaining because we're not getting seats on the trains.... Try again.
Something else she mentioned snidely: we have air-conditioning in almost all of our stations. Sure we do. The system was built in the 70s or early 80s? Of course we were going to have the technology ready. And when was the subway/ london underground opened...? Surely you must be kidding when you're comparing these infrastructure. I'm not even going to mention our climate versus that of New York and London..... because then I'd definitely sound like a Singaporean.
This just got really angry, I'm going to stop.