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Commuter graciousness: Getting more schools on board

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) hopes to partner more schools in its graciousness campaign over the next few months.

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) hopes to partner more schools in its graciousness campaign over the next few months.

On Friday (Aug 8), 240 students from Dunman High School were out and about at 12 MRT stations and bus interchanges to spread the message of graciousness on public transport. They sang, they danced, and even took selfies - all in the name of a more pleasant commuting experience.

Grooving to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe", the students got commuters to pledge and bring out the thoughtfulness in them as they commute on buses and trains.

Dunman High School student Koh Zhe Wei said: "We want to engage the commuters and let them know...giving up seats to the elderly, pregnant and needy...giving a smile...such simple steps can actually help to promote graciousness. It's a small little step but it's still a step forward."

The students came up with the idea as part of their Values In Action project, a programme which encourages them to make a difference to the community. The partnership is a perfect fit for LTA, which is hoping to cultivate gracious behaviour in young commuters. And it is looking to get more schools on board.

LTA began its graciousness campaigns in 2009. While the first two campaigns were celebrity-led - as you may remember, by Phua Chu Kang and the Dim Sum Dollies - there has been a shift after that to focus on the everyday commuter.

Its post-campaign surveys show greater awareness among commuters, who said they remembered to give way or give up their seats. Last year, nearly eight in 10 polled said they were conscious about being gracious, up from six in 10 in 2012.

Some commuters said they see signs of positive change. "Last time, it's like...people were rushing in, (making it difficult for commuters to alight)," said student Valentina Teo.

Sharlene Lee, a nurse, agreed: "Last time, it's like everybody just dashed in and nobody wanted to give way. Now, it's slightly better... everybody goes in, one by one slowly."

Experts said the softer message that the authorities are adopting has been effective. Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, Vice-Dean (Special Duties and International Relations) at National University of Singapore, said: "The tone is a lot more towards persuasive arguments rather than highlighting punishments, and I think this works better, particularly for a more educated population who appreciates being talked with, rather than talked down to."

But Prof Straughan said such campaigns should also be accompanied by infrastructure support. She added that it is easier for people to behave graciously when the trains are not always crowded, and when there are clear spaces on the platforms for people to queue up.

Prof Straughan said: "Living in a very densely populated city state like Singapore, I think that being in a very crowded space takes a lot of patience. So unless there is conscientious efforts towards easing that crowd, it'll be harder and harder for Singaporeans to maintain a level of graciousness if they themselves constantly live in situations that put them under severe strain. So I think looking at the root cause of discontentment is very important."

She added her belief that there is now greater understanding among commuters that more is being done to improve the transport crunch.