Friday, December 16, 2011

Thoughts on the MRT Breakdowns

The MRT system suffered two breakdowns in as many days. This has sparked a significant negative outcry from the public, and not entirely unwarranted. 

My first thought is on the nature of the criticisms of SMRT. It is indeed true that SMRT should be censured, but not for the breakdowns. Unless given evidence that the breakdowns were caused by SMRT, whether through neglect or incompetence, it is unfair to fault SMRT for what is essentially beyond their control. Accidents and failures happen even given the best of engineering and maintenance. It makes no more sense to punish them on this basis than to fine an employee for falling sick. 

What SMRT is culpable for is a flagrant and utter failure in crisis management. Few steps were taken to inform or redirect commuters from stations after the lines were down, and even that response was sluggish; stations should have refused passengers if no trains were to come. On the stuck trains, passengers were forced to smash windows for ventilation, which suggests that staff were unable to either calm or tend to passengers on the stopped trains. Furthermore, it highlights the lack of emergency supplies, be it torchlights or simple rations, on the train. The poor crisis response is damning as a whole on SMRT. It is not sufficient for any transport operator to only be concerned with its daily operations. I contrast SMRT's performance with my experiences on the London Underground. In terms of sheer number of breakdowns and scheduled line closures for maintenance, the Tube far far outnumbers the MRT. There, it's not unusual for some line to be down or closed. Yet the line information is always clearly displayed, whether on electronic or marker boards, at prominent points of entry and on the station platforms. Status updates of each line (whether a line is delayed, or whether service is good) are displayed by default. We should learn from this, especially since our lines and rolling stock is aging, and breakdowns are only going to get more frequent.

Apart from the breakdown itself, there was also some outrage over the perhaps insensitive wording of a taxi operator, who sent a message advising cabbies to seize the opportunity to ferry stranded passengers. Myself, I find there to be little reason for such a reaction. Those who are claiming that this is exploitation or profiteering are making an absurd statement. They're not demanding extra fares or anything, merely optimizing their chances of picking-up passengers. What's wrong with rerouting taxis to points where there is high demand? Surely, the situation is superior to one where all the cabbies are roaming around the island with empty cabs and stranded commuters are left waiting? The sole fault is a poor wording "Income Opportunity", which though possibly callous in a deontological sense, does not really strike me as being particularly offensive.

As of Saturday the MRT has broken down yet once more. Thrice in a week hints at systemic problems in maintenance. It will be difficult to put this down as a series of random occurrences.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can inform the taxi drivers that there is train breakdown so that they can route to those areas. The 'income opportunity' is really insensitive to many though not to you. Such words are really not necessary. The worst is later press conference, SMRT said they have put up a wrong message template. Do you know what is message template? It is pre-prepared for such incident so this is not real mistake. This is simple the Singaporean culture that dares not to accept mistake but tries to find an excuse to explain failure. Bad.