What started as an innovative idea by Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) to move thousands of students and staff members has drawn criticisms (ST, Aug. 26), but at the same time could, and perhaps should, set a precedent for other schools to follow suit. While some accusations – that SMRT CEO Mr. Desmond Kuek is an alumnus, and the slippery slope that wealthy individuals could charter trains for personal amusement in the future for instance – might be frivolous, the issue of parity on a public transportation system is worth contemplating.
In other words if chartering trains is indeed cost-efficient, will SMRT – and the Land Transport Authority, which “is looking into taking action against [the train operator]” (TODAY, Aug. 27) – encourage or allow other schools to do the same for sporting events at the new National Stadium, beyond the National Education shows during National Day Parade rehearsals?
Whether chartering trains is more cost-efficient is not so clear. If ST’s estimates are anything to go by, the school’s parent support group would have paid $6,000 for 3,000 students and staff members. Assuming a 40-seater bus which charges between $60 and $100 per journey, the sum for 75 buses would be between $4,500 and $7,500. The suggestion that these 75 buses would have worsened road traffic conditions during non-peak hours is a stretch. Logistically it would just mean that a fleet of 20-odd buses would ferry the school in batches.
Revealing the actual cost would address this, and help other schools make informed choices too. SMRT has already affirmed its support for “local education and national initiatives”.
The media has nevertheless made the best of this incident. “See how a chartered train of ACS (I) students looks like”, the ST tweeted a video earlier this morning. It also described the supporters as “travelling in style” yesterday. Much has been made of the ostentatious displays of school pride, but schools sending students to these sporting finals is not new. Back in Chinese High buses were provided for secondary one students to support the track and field team at the old National Stadium. In some ways these activities do strengthen an attachment to the school, yet at the same time such privilege is not accorded to all students and all schools in Singapore.
I feel for the ACS (I) students, who are routinely stereotyped as rich, spoilt, and out-of-touch. And while the chartering of the trains highlights disparities across schools – since not all can afford to mobilise supporters in this manner – it might provide an opportunity to narrow these disparities in the future.