Simple tweaks that could make MRT more efficient

Recently, transport correspondent Christopher Tan rightly pointed out that despite all the investments in rail and bus infrastructures, the percentage of bus and train journeys under 20km completed within 60 minutes has hardly changed from the 79 per cent a decade ago (Time to tackle travelling time; Sept 1).

I recall seeing SMRT billboards saying that its upgrading works will result in commuters reaching home earlier to enjoy more personal time.

The reality is that there is a disconnect between the billboard's exhortation and the reality on the ground.

Every day, anyone walking across the MRT platforms at the City Hall and Raffles Place interchanges to switch over from the East-West Line to the North-South Line or vice versa will say that often, the doors of the departing train at the opposite platform will close right in their face before they reach it.

Multiply that by the hundreds who miss the would-be smooth connection and the number of times this occurs throughout the day and one can imagine the vast amount of human hours wasted just because SMRT does not synchronise the connections.

While investing in infrastructure is obviously important in improving the network, too often, people responsible for the service fail to realise that there is nothing more fundamental than to attune their mindset towards what serves the end users the best in the end.

In the case highlighted, commuting times can be easily improved without much cost - just by synchronising trains.

This can be done if SMRT sets itself a higher operating standard of running trains on actual clock time.

A case in point can be seen at any of the terminal stations.

At the point of tapping in at the fare gate, I often see the next train departing in two minutes.

Even assuming that this is at the end of the two-minute period and there is a full minute left, when I hurry up on the escalator, the train doors are usually already closing.

In short, too much is now left to the discretion of the drivers.

A higher standard of adhering to actual clock time will make synchronisation easier and the whole system more reliable as well.

We like to emulate the best in the world, so what is preventing us from emulating the likes of Switzerland and Japan when it comes to trains strictly adhering to timings?

Peh Chwee Hoe

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline 'Simple tweaks that could make MRT more efficient'. Print Edition | Subscribe