The facts are simple: countries all over the world are struggling with the prevalent problem of overcrowded rail and train systems – especially during peak hours – because the increase in the number of commuters and passenger trips is rising disproportionately to the rise in capacity and frequency of our train system. While it is true that Singapore does not struggle acutely with extreme rush-hour overcrowding as compared to other metropolises and cities, most Singaporeans with regular first-hand experience of the daily squeeze would concur that more can, and should be done.
Many have pointed to the potential security threats developing from the fertile ground of congested carriages and crowded train stations; and the degree of vulnerability that we would be exposed to. More immediately, we should not overlook the safety aspects of the status quo. It is obvious that individuals with disabilities and the elderly would find it almost-impossible to get onto trains between certain timings, and might potentially endanger themselves from a plethora of situations. Also, are we prepared to deal with emergency occurrences when the time comes, especially if passengers are packed like sardines and have little space to manoeuvre?
An overwhelming majority of the strategies adopted by the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) has not yielded the benefits in terms of reducing overcapacity and heightening levels of convenience. Even with the introduction of more train trips, the irregular arrival of the trains – with the uneven frequency – renders certain trains to be overly-crowded and others with considerably less passengers. Additional tracks are being laid for the North-South Line, and more lines are undergoing construction to dramatically increase the network of train services; however, they do not address the day-to-day situations of thousands of Singaporeans converging into the central areas. The proposals are short-sighted, and are inflexible in providing more flexibility for long-term intentions.
Enough of all the short-term deviations that do not relieve overcrowding on our trains; move beyond this rigidity. Has SMRT considered increasing train speeds and shortening the time taken between stations? How about making train arrivals more frequent and regular? What about the seat-less carriages: if it has been well-received and effective, could it be implemented on a bigger scale for rush-hour traffic? Can the queue system be slightly configured to give priority to individuals who arrive earlier? In terms of long-term infrastructure, should stations with greater human-volume be designed such that two trains along the same line can stop for embarkation simultaneously?
To make it more convenient for the elderly and the disabled, SMRT should consider reserving a carriage or section of the train near the lifts and escalators. Such an arrangement would also be beneficial for individuals using pacemakers; health devices that might be affected by the use of electronic gadgets. As subtle it may seem, the execution would make for a more pleasant and safe journey for the aforementioned. To sit on its laurels, SMRT would only be increasing the frustrations and perspectives of incompetency from the Singaporean public.