Opinion

SMRT Breaks ME Down: 4 Reasons Why Fare Refunds Aren’t Enough!

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Ryan Ong

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These days, the only foresight SMRT seems to have is not stocking fire axes in their train stations. Last night there was another disruption on the North-South line, which comes after a Circle line disruption just the day before. Along with the recent fare hike in their taxis, SMRT’s popularity is now comparable to a fart on a crowded train. And the most painful thing about the disruption? It’s costing the average Singaporeans money. Here’s how:

The costs of the train disruption go beyond simple inconvenience. There were dollars and cents involved, and if you’re using the train instead of driving, odds are you’re not super-rich. The unexpected costs were painful, and these were the top four:

  • Taxi Costs
  • Disruption to Business
  • Emergency Services Costs
  • Last Minute Costs

 

1. Taxi Costs

With fares so high, most of us would rather catch something besides a taxi. Like a flu. But the train disruption didn’t leave us with much choice, and turned  our $1.40 train rides into $18 taxi fares. Yeah, some of us paid the equivalent of a restaurant dinner just to get home.

And SMRT is barely sorry about it. Check out this message they sent to their taxis:

 

Taxi message reads: "Income opportunity" about failed trains
Epic trolling

(Photo by Loh Boon Teo)

 

Seriously, income opportunity?

That’s like going to the hospital with a broken leg, and having the A &  E crew high-five each other and yell “bonus income!” in your face. Bear in mind, this message appeared on the LCD screens in taxis. Right in front of passengers who, moments ago, were violently angry and stuck at a train station somewhere.

But what about the bus? We could have used the buses right?

No offence, but that’s kind of a dumb question. Obviously, the buses were everyone’s first alternative. The end result was everyone cramming into bus stops like some perverse form of human Tetris. The bus drivers probably had to calculate raw volume of biomass, instead of how many separate human beings were trying to get on.

 

People lining up at bus stop
Not pictured: The weapons being readied for the next boarding attempt

 

Fitting disabled people or children onto those buses would have been a human rights violation. So no, the buses weren’t too valid an alternative. Anyone who needed to get home, to look after their children or cook dinner, was pretty much forced into a taxi.

 

2. Disruption to Business

This cost matters to almost all Singaporeans, even the ones who don’t use the MRT.

The North – South line goes to Orchard, which is Singapore’s main shopping district. All the major malls, with their artery bursting rental rates, are located there. And we are 10 days from Christmas.

Our economy is about as buoyant as the Titanic right now, and retailers and restaurants are counting on those Christmas sales. Whenever the trains experience a disruption, people change their plans. I, for one, cancelled my reservations at TWG. And that taxi I took? That could have gone to a tourist.

On a grand scale, sure, the money eventually gets recirculated. But tell that to retailers and restaurants in town, who have rent to pay this month. If there’s no easy access to them, they lose customers. And the only upside to their high rent is supposed to be their location.

 

People lying down in a row along Orchard Road
“Yeah the line makes a VIP carpet from the station to here. Our measures to cover rent are a bit enthusiastic.”

 

3. Emergency Services Costs

The disruption stranded passengers on the train, and deprived them of a commodity more valuable than money: it’s called air. Remember, this was a peak hour crowd. Even with ventilation, breathing through my overweight cousin’s gym socks would be preferable. At least one woman fainted on the trains, and the picture of the broken train window is pretty famous by now.

 

Broken MRT window with fire extingguisher
“In case of emergency, break glass. Uh, did I do it right?”

 

Outside the trains, we weren’t exactly smiling and pooping rainbows. Angry crowds create the potential for fights and stampedes. That translates to ambulances, emergency crews, and police on standby. And none of that happens to be free. Your taxpayer dollars are at work there, through no fault of yours.

And for anyone who did faint or end up in the back of an ambulance, that’s an unexpected $80 – $150 for a ride and a hospital consultation.

 

4. Last Minute Costs

You know what happens when parents end up going home hours late? Or what about someone with an elderly parent who needs looking after?

Last night saw a lot of last minute phone calls to baby-sitters and family friends. One of my neighbours had to pay $50 for a (trusted) baby sitter to take her children to dinner. And another $15 the for the sitter’s taxi ride afterward. A lot of parents also had no choice but to buy food, because it was too late to cook anything.

 

Line at hawker centre
“First line up for train, then line up for bus, then line up for cab, now come here and…!@#$”

 

None of these are desirable or necessary costs. They may seem trivial to the better off, but the filthy rich aren’t the people who rely on the trains. And it hurts more when the costs come from SMRT, a company whose fare hikes we have always approved.

 

Conclusion

As this article points out, SMRT’s CEO, Saw Phaik Hwa, drew a paycheck of $1.67 million in 2009. Maybe it’s about time she started earning it. SMRT seems to think refunding the train fare is sufficient; that the cost of that train ride is the only thing they’ve cost us. It’s high time they developed a more holistic view.

If you’ve incurred additional costs from the disruption, don’t keep quiet about it. Let them know, and comment about it!

 

Image Credits:
neajjean
Loh Boon Teo
The Online Citizen
Flying Cloud
Singapore News Alternative
Avlxyz
GrahamHills


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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.