Commentary: Commuters need to accept MRT closures but can't keep swallowing bitter pills

Commentary: Commuters need to accept MRT closures but can't keep swallowing bitter pills

Joo Koon station collision
SMRT staff crowding near the collision impact area at Joo Koon station. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)  

SINGAPORE: Many train commuters are weary and some are angry. 

A slew of delays and disruptions of the train system in the past few years has resulted in widespread frustrations.

People have reported being late for work and important meetings. Students have reported being late for exams. In many cases, family time and rest have been curtailed due to evening delays.

Aside from delays and disruptions, compatibility issues with the old and new signalling systems on the East-West line resulted in a collision between two trains at Joo Koon MRT station in November.

The MRT tunnel flooding incident along the North-South Line which disrupted train services for about 20 hours on Oct 7 and 8, is also something commuters are not likely to forget any time soon.

One of the solutions to these problems is the implementation of full-day closures of certain MRT stations and shorter service hours on weekends.

This was introduced in December and there are more to come in January.

Parallel shuttle bus services are being offered as an alternative. Private-hire car services have also announced better deals during these periods.

The aim is to provide more engineering hours for rail maintenance and renewal works, and for more checks on the new signalling system.


Analysts agree that these measures are necessary.

Many commuters too may understand the need for more engineering hours, and have taken the latest measures in their stride.

However, some are emotional. On social media, people have expressed frustration at their weekend plans being disrupted because of train station closures or shorter operating hours. Those who work shifts or on weekends, no doubt, have been affected too.

While private-hire car services are providing discounts, their charges are still much higher than MRT fares. So for many, inconvenience during such periods is a given. Businesses near the affected train stations have also been hit due to fewer customers.

Some have said the closures and shorter operating hours should have been implemented after the festive period. 

The problem is there is no “good time” for such measures.


But this is where we are now.

The measures are a trade-off - something we have to accept as a bitter pill in the hopes of a more reliable MRT system in the long-run. 

If this is what it takes to fix the system, shouldn't we be more understanding?

Anger doesn't really achieve anything at this stage.


Having said that, now, more than ever, commuters will want to see results.

The problem is clearly a multi-faceted one.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek even admitted to “deep-seated cultural issues” within the organisation as a contributing factor.

Increasingly, commuters seem to be growing weary of hearing such statements.

They come across as mere excuses for a long-standing problem.

Some have even remarked that they don’t care what the reasons behind the problems are. The important thing is to fix the system.

Calls for accountability are also often peppered with pleas to just fix the system. However, if things don’t improve, calls for heads to roll will, no doubt, continue. 

Accountability, after all, is key to getting organisations and people to deliver.

Even rare apologies from top management have had little positive effect on commuter sentiment.

When SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming bowed at a press conference to apologise for the MRT tunnel flooding incident, some responded with scepticism. Mr Seah recently stepped down from his post as chief executive at Pavilion Energy to dedicate his energies to solve SMRT's problems.

The solutions in themselves are costly. The cost of some of the additional bus services required during MRT station closures and shorter operating hours is partly being borne by the Government, in other words, taxpayers.


Today, commuters are swallowing the bitter pills in the attempt to put our train network on a more stable footing. 

Station closures and shorter operating hours are temporary, but if the problems persist, the negative impact on commuters will be less temporary.   

The acceptance of temporary inconveniences is contingent on long-term results. 

Commuters might be open to more frequent adjustments of operating hours to accommodate more engineering hours if that is what is required for a more reliable transport system. 

Ultimately, there is a limit to the number of bitter pills commuters will swallow.

Source: CNA/ms