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Buskers, themed cabins for a better MRT experience: LTA

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will pilot these initiatives at some MRT stations over the next few months to assess public receptiveness. 

SINGAPORE: Buskers performing at train platforms, elaborately-decorated themed carriages and staff clutching stuffed toy flowers and giving out tissues to welcome commuters — these are among the “social experiments” the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is embarking on over the next few months to make commuters’ train journeys a little less harried.

Efforts are already under way to upgrade ageing train infrastructure and improve service quality, but these projects will take years to bear fruit. For example, new trains will only arrive from this year, while the sleeper replacement project will be completed by 2016.

In the meantime, the LTA hopes these social initiatives can make commuters’ journeys more palatable and encourage people to smile.

LTA Director of Corporate Transformation and Futures Agnes Kwek said the authority is seeking to improve the train experience in every possible way. “But, in addition, public transport is very much a shared social space and our interactions with other commuters affect our train experience,” she said. “We’re launching a series of trials to foster a positive commuter culture — be it behaviour, interaction or atmosphere.”

The initiatives will be piloted at selected SMRT train stations on a small-scale basis, so the LTA can monitor commuters’ receptiveness before assessing whether to implement them at other stations.

Kicking off the initiatives is a football-themed cabin on the North-South Line. It comes decked with 3-D turf grass and soccer ball toys, as well as stickers of a football pitch and prints of cleats directing commuters to the middle of the cabin.

The 3-D features, which is a collaboration with Singapore Polytechnic's students from the Interior Design and Business Innovation and Design course, will only run until Tuesday (July 1), but the stickers will be present until the end of the World Cup.

The LTA is also planning to have buskers perform at station platforms or concourses, in a tie-up with the National Arts Council (NAC). This will not only add vibrancy to the stations and make the public transport experience more interesting, but will also provide an additional platform for local performers to showcase their talents, the LTA said. Currently, busking on station premises and trains is not allowed.

A spokesman said it has identified suitable locations and types of performances with the NAC and SMRT. “We want to ensure commuter flow will not be impeded during the trial. We will monitor commuters’ response to our busking trial and consider allowing performances in trains going forward.”

In London, where busking in stations is common, space for buskers is clearly defined by a semi-circular floor graphic and a sign on the wall. The LTA hopes to create something similar.

The pilot will start from July for three months at five MRT stations — Jurong East, City Hall, Raffles Place, Eunos and Bukit Batok. Buskers will be endorsed under the NAC’s Busking Scheme and will perform during the morning and evening peak hours. They can also collect donations.

A test run was conducted at Jurong East, City Hall and Raffles Place MRT stations in May and commuters’ response was positive, said the LTA. Buskers who have performed told TODAY they were encouraged by the reception.

Ms Chen Qing Ying, 38, who played the guzheng at Raffles Place and City Hall MRT stations for about two hours, said: “Sometimes, when people are waiting for the train, they are probably feeling anxious ... If there is music, they can listen while they wait and time can pass a little faster.”

Ms Leticia Habon Caya, 60, the vocalist of husband-wife duo D’Highlights, said her 20-minute performance at Jurong East MRT Station had “felt exclusive because it was within the platform”.

Singer-songwriter Marcel Lee Pereira, 33, said stations are packed with commuters and give buskers good exposure. In December 2011, his band The Glad Stones hopped on and off trains for a few hours and serenaded commuters with their guitars. “People were pleasantly surprised and one or two even had song requests,” he said.

Neither Mr Pereira nor Ms Caya was perturbed that they would only be allowed to perform at designated spots. “It’s okay as long as I can provide music to commuters,” said Ms Caya, noting that equipment for her performances also keeps her in one place.

Mr Pereira added: “Busking itself is very interactive... You will always see new faces. It’s also easier if you have a location and you don’t have to move your gear.”

Commuter Daryll James, 24, was sceptical of the LTA’s efforts. The civil servant, who takes the train three or four days a week, said: “The issue is not about a boring wait, but whether my journey is more effective and actually pleasant. This means having trains that are not crowded and having proper air-conditioning, and having them arrive on time.”

Freelance writer Lilian Ang, 28, on the other hand, found the initiatives refreshing and hopes they continue on a larger scale. “It wouldn’t hurt to have some live music while I am waiting for the train in a crowded station.”

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