SINGAPORE: Two new bus pick-up points in Little India, built after a fatal accident sparked a riot in 2013, have improved conditions for foreign workers and the community.
Some have said it could be time to extend operating hours for buses, which were reduced following the incident.
The new passenger point at Tekka Lane was completed in December last year, and the one at Hampshire Road, in April. Some foreign workers told Channel NewsAsia they can now board the private buses to their dormitories more easily and comfortably. The facilities were built after a riot erupted in the area in December 2013. A private bus ran over and killed a foreign worker, causing a mob to form.
During a hearing into the riot last year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the new facilities and other moves to prevent crowds from gathering. Residents, too, have benefited.
“In the past, I wouldn't come home after 8 o'clock,” said Ms Jasmine Han, who has lived in Little India for 30 years. “I would either come back very early, like in the afternoon, or come back very late, because they would rushing across the road. Negotiating through the streets was kind of terrible. The roads are definitely better now, traffic is also better."
"In the past was very crowded, very difficult to move around, now that these big changes came up, very, quite easy to move around,” added Mr Murugaian Vertraju, also a Little India resident. "In the past, we hardly went downstairs, but now currently, we go down four times a day (to shop or buy food).”
CALLS FOR LONGER OPERATING HOURS
With the new facilities, some shopkeepers have also seen fewer instances of unruly behaviour. But they hope operating hours for bus services, which were reduced to run from 2pm to 9pm, instead of 11pm, can be extended, to improve business.
"At 8 o'clock, you will see these people scampering everywhere and rushing off to get the bus… all the business has dropped by 50 to 60 per cent here,” said Mr Rajagopal, vice chairman of Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association.
He also feels the bus shelters can take on various purposes.
“On a rainy day, for example, these people (workers) don't have anywhere to go for shelter, they run under the shops, go under the flats, then the police will come and chase them,” Mr Rajagopal said. “To overcome all these, the bus bays… these must be multi-purpose use, so in heavy rain or any incident, they (foreign workers) can take shelter.”
Workers themselves said longer operating hours for buses would be helpful. Mr Motiur Rahman, a land surveyor, told Channel NewsAsia that they would work till about 5pm on Sundays sometimes, and would not have enough time to shop for necessities if they wanted to catch the buses.
However, operators of workers' dormitories believe extending bus services may not be a positive move. They cited concerns that those heading back late might disturb others who are trying to rest.
"It depends on the intent and purposes. If they come back late, they may not turn up on time for work the next day. If they return in a large group late at night, they may also disturb other workers in the dormitory," said Charanjeet Singh, General Manager of TS Group.
Mr M Arasu, Dormitory Manager of Westlite Dormitory (Toh Guan), said: "Many foreign workers have no need to go back to Little India. There are a lot of Indian banks in Jurong and Boon Lay where workers can remit money home. They can also meet up with their friends at recreation centres at the dormitory."
Some residents in Little India are fine with an extension to 10pm.
"For me, it doesn't make much of a difference because there isn't any disturbance, or noise, or violence, fighting compared to last time,” said Murugaian.
"I guess they also need time to rest and relax, and to spend more time with their friends,” said Ms Han. “I think (10pm) still reasonable. We also hang out until 10 o'clock right?"
But they hope the situation can be monitored, to ensure the area remains clean and orderly.