SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek says talk of resignation 'purely speculative'

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SINGAPORE - SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek on Thursday (Jan 25) dismissed talk that he will be stepping down, saying reports of his impending departure were "purely speculative".

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event to launch a programme aimed at further assisting the elderly and those with special mobility needs.

The Straits Times reported last week that SMRT's vice-president of corporate communications Patrick Nathan had quit.

The move came amid other appointments in the company which has been hit by a string of issues including massive breakdowns, serious safety breaches and questionable work culture.

Mr Kuek had also sent an e-mail to SMRT staff last Friday addressing the speculation about his future.

He said the talk had generated ground concern that must be addressed.

He wrote: "I would like to assure you that when I do, one day as we all must for leadership renewal, you will hear about it from me first. It will not be through some speculative piece in the newspapers."

From next month, Mr Seah Moon Ming, who replaced Mr Koh Yong Guan as SMRT chairman last July, will become an "active" chairman with a more hands-on role.

Mr Seah has appointed corporate communications veteran Elaine Koh, 43, as chief commuter engagement officer.

Mr Kuek on Thursday also commented on the results of a survey by the Public Transport Council showing that commuter confidence in public transport operators had dipped following two incidents last year - flooding of an MRT tunnel and a train collision.

The SMRT CEO said: "Trust and confidence in our network is (something) we continue to need to work on."

He added however that he took heart with the survey's findings that commuters were "by and large satisfied" with SMRT's service.

"I'm very confident that we will in time rebuild that trust and confidence in commuters."

As part of its efforts to improve service and rebuild commuter trust, SMRT aims to have 1,400 of its frontline staff trained to better help elderly commuters as well as those with special needs.

Since its inception in October last year, the transport operator's Inclusive Service Delivery programme has trained 350 staff to better attend to the needs of commuters with a variety of disabilities, as well as the elderly and those with dementia.

For example, the programme teaches SMRT staff how to best help passengers on wheelchairs board and alight from buses, trains and taxis, as well as the appropriate way of guiding visually impaired commuters.

"Sometimes when our clients take the train, staff are not able to give them proper instructions on where to go," said Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) operations manager, Mr Francis Tay.

Commonwealth station manager Nicolas Kang said he had previously received training on catering for those with special needs but the new programme had given him "more insight" on how best to approach them.

"It's given me a lot more depth on how to identify someone who might have dementia," said the 51-year-old, who has been working with SMRT for two years.

The one-day programme - developed in partnership with NTUC Learning Hub, the Lien Foundation and Jurong Health - involves classroom sessions as well as hands-on training at a facility at the Jurong Community Hospital, where mock-ups of a wheelchair accessible bus and a life-sized MRT train are used for training.

Ms Kurinjich Chelvi, who has assisted many commuters over her 29 years of working with SMRT, felt that the practical aspects of the course had helped her in better assisting commuters with special needs.

Said the 51-year-old senior assistant station manager: "(The commuters) rely on us, so by helping them we can give them the confidence to go on their journeys safely."

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