Correspondent's take

Rail reliability, reliance and the riding culture

Even as he expects overall MRT reliability to improve dramatically this year, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan warns that a project to replace the older lines' signalling system could result in a spike in major disruptions.

In his Committee of Supply address yesterday, Mr Khaw said the distance between breakdowns is targeted to rise to 200,000 train-km, from 133,000 train-km last year - a 50 per cent improvement. But going by statistics, improvement in this metric does not necessarily translate to a reduction in major breakdowns - the kind that is most disruptive to commuters.

Last year's 133,000 train-km figure was 129 per cent better than 2011's figure.

And yet, there were 14 major breakdowns - 56 per cent more than 2011's nine.

  • Transport upgrades

  • • Distance between MRT breakdowns to increase to 200,000 train-km this year.
    • Shorter MRT operating hours on the cards to allow for more maintenance.
    • Singapore Rail Academy to be set up in second half of this year to deepen our rail engineering capabilities.
    • Motorised bicycles to be registered 
    • More street-level pedestrian crossings near MRT stations.
    • Parking charges to rise, and supply of parking spaces to be crimped.

Yesterday, he said "expanding capacity can impact reliability". For example, the North-South, East-West lines' signalling system - which determines the interval between trains - will be replaced this year and next.

The minister said similar projects in Taipei and London had resulted in "many delays and disruptions".

In the case of London, the network took two years to settle down.

This echoes a prophetic observation about reliability from his first blog entry as Transport Minister last September.

"Things may even get worse before they get better," he wrote.

The other thing that Singaporeans may have to brace themselves for is a possible spike in accidents on pedestrian paths.

The Government yesterday accepted the recommendations of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel headed by MP Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC).

Among the panel's chief recommendations is legalising cycling on pedestrian walkways.

As much as the majority of Singaporeans see the need to ensure the safety of cyclists or even the need to promote cycling as a mode of commuting, they must also realise that having more bikes on pedestrian paths will lead to more accidents.

That is just the law of probability.

You can have enforcement and education, something the Traffic Police do tirelessly for our roads, but accidents will still happen.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo noted that the panel had made "very difficult trade-offs" to arrive at its recommendations.

One wonders if the tradeoffs included a foreseeable rise in a still undisclosed number of accidents involving pedestrians.

Mrs Teo rightly pointed out that in Japan, an acute sense of civic-mindedness allows cyclists and pedestrians to share space harmoniously.

She said with time, Singapore will be like that.

In the meantime, pedestrians - especially the very young and old - should excercise more caution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'Rail reliability, reliance and the riding culture Correspondent's take'. Subscribe