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'Face time' barrier to free rides

NOT ENTICED: Since a scheme offering free train rides was introduced in June, only about 7 per cent of commuters have opted to travel between 7am and 8am, instead of between 8am and 9am. This fell short of the target of 10 to 20 per cent


    May 12, 2014

    'Face time' barrier to free rides

    FIRST in, but very rarely, first out of the office.

    Many workers have reasoned that if they have to slog at the office till late in the evening anyway, then why bother showing up early?

    This stops them from taking up flexi-work options to enjoy free or cheaper train rides to avoid the morning rush hour.

    Many said that, even as the Government extends an experiment to get commuters to shift their travel patterns to the pre-peak period, there still remains a culture of office "face time" which frowns on leaving the workplace early.

    Long days, often the norm in certain industries, do not help either.

    Since the pilot scheme was introduced in June, only about 7 per cent of commuters have opted to travel between 7am and 8am, instead of the peak hour between 8am and 9am. This fell short of the target of 10 to 20 per cent that the Land Transport Authority was hoping for.

    Under the scheme, commuters who exit any of the 18 designated MRT stations in the city area before 7.45am ride for free. Between 7.45am and 8am, they stand to enjoy a discount of up to 50 cents.

    Professionals whom My Paper spoke to said that while their firms offered a flexible-work option, taking it up was another issue.

    Said one public relations executive, 26, who works near Orchard Road: "Walking out at 5pm when everyone else is still working... People may think I'm not much of a team player. It's about being visible."

    Mark Hall, vice-president and country manager of Kelly Services, said many employees are concerned about how senior management may perceive their time out of the office.

    "A competitive working environment can also mean that people are very conscious of protecting their jobs and often take on extra work to try and demonstrate their value," Mr Hall added.

    In the accounting and legal services, where clocking 10- to 12-hour days is the norm, many executives said they did not see the point of coming to work early.

    "Getting the extra sleep is important. Plus, many firms have a policy of allowing employees to claim for taxi rides if they stay past a certain time," noted a 24-year-old auditor.

    Said one lawyer, 26: "Late nights are the norm... Punctuality is an indicator used in the assessment of our end-year bonus, but I'm not sure a lot of weightage is placed on this."

    For most, the financial savings from a free or discounted train ride were not a huge enough incentive for them to change their routine.

    Nanyang Technological University adjunct associate professor Gopinath Menon said: "People don't just look at money. Their time is important too. If I come to work early, no point hanging around for an hour doing nothing.

    "The scheme must be accompanied by the cooperation of companies to have flexi-work arrangements."

    Currently, more than 40 public agencies located near the city allow their staff to report for work as early as 7am, while 12 companies are participating in a Travel Smart pilot programme.

    At Ernst and Young, where an estimated 15 per cent of staff have taken up the early pre-peak travel programme, a free breakfast awaits some of the early birds.

    Max Loh, Asean and Singapore managing partner, Ernst and Young, acknowledged the concerns some staff may have of pulling in longer hours if they come in early.

    "Yes, I think it's a valid concern. Because at the end of the day we are a professional services organisation, and people could work from 7am and still work till 8pm, 9pm at night, but that really depends on project requirements.

    "We are not saying that if you turn up at 7am you can go home at 3pm every day. But on the days you can do it, it gives you that flexibility and then people should take advantage of that," said Mr Loh.