Feb 05, 2014

    The MRT's fine; can't say same for crass foreigners

    OH DEAR! Fares up, trains breaking down and smelly people using public transport. The news from Singapore recently has been terrible.

    Latest example of a "breakdown" I've read said that people had to wait a whole three minutes for the next train to arrive. What is the world coming to?

    Writing, as I do, from a First World country, I can only pity you. If our local bus breaks down, the next one comes next week - seriously, we have one bus a week to the local mall.

    Singapore has always had a good public-transport system, speaking as both a former resident and now as a visiting foreigner.

    Knocking it is fair enough to keep it on its toes and to tell the Government to keep it affordable, but do remember that it is better than that in most places.

    I first commuted in Singapore in 1979, taking the bus from Upper Thomson to Raffles Place. The bus was totally reliable and its only drawback was that it had no air-con. This did not worry Singaporeans, but it did affect overfed foreigners like me.

    I stopped sitting down not only because my knees couldn't stand the jarring from the seat in front, but also because the next passenger would ostentatiously whack the seat when I got up. I never knew I was that flatulent.

    I did graduate to a car after a couple of years and, at one point, even owned one that was less than 10 years old.

    In the mid-80s, during a financial downturn, the MRT's construction began. It progressed at an amazing pace.

    Please remember when you knock the MRT that it was started a long time ago and was way ahead of its time - air-con stations with computerised doors? Just because somebody else has a newer system should not make ours anything less than very good.

    When the MRT was opened, I scrapped my car because I could walk to Buona Vista and I worked in Battery Road. The only beef I had was with the air-con, again. In the early morning, it wasn't turned on and being an ugly foreigner, I used to sweat.

    And now? You have air-con buses throughout; the MRT is air-conditioned in the early-morning commute - what else could you possibly want? Only a yellow Ferrari.

    I've been travelling to Singapore several times a year since I left in 1997 and spend a couple of months here at a time on business. I've stayed in various places and they have nearly always had an MRT station or a bus stop nearby, within non-sweat (ang moh) distance.

    This is the rich-poor divide. Public transport is seen to be a "poor" person's way of commuting (thus "smelly"). What total rubbish. Driving means fighting other drivers, whether you are in a Porsche or a Datsun.

    There are too many people in Singapore who are conspicuously wealthy these days. Disregard of public transport is an example, though I wonder how many ministers travel regularly by MRT or bus (none of them in 1997; I know because I checked with a fellow Buona Vista commuter - J.B.J.).

    Part of the current problem, which I must save for a future article, is the influx of very rich but crass foreigners. There have always been very rich, and crass, Singaporeans.

    But, having yellow Ferrari owners from foreign parts drag racing in Orchard Road (and at 1.30am in River Valley Road - thank you, guys, for waking me up) is not on. Don't knock SMRT; get the Government to do something real about foreigners who do not respect our way of life.


    This article first appeared in The Business Times yesterday. The writer, a Price Waterhouse Singapore partner for 18 years, is a business communications consultant in Britain who spends several months a year in Singapore.