“In the old days” arguments don’t fly any more

With all due respect to our veteran politician, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, I think his story about waiting for more than an hour for a bus to go home every night when he was a young civil servant would provide cold comfort to those who nowadays have to struggle with the masses to get onto an MRT train during peak hours.

This is because whatever happened “in the old days” isn’t relevant or persuasive any more.

Yup, MRT trains are arriving every two minutes — at peak hours — and one needs wait perhaps up to a maximum of 8 minutes to squeeze into a less packed train.

But then, life today is a lot more intense and competitive than when SM Goh was young. There are so many things to occupy one’s time than there were 40, 45 years ago.

So everyone is doing his or her best to pack them into the 24 hours we have, and hanging around 8 minutes in a sardine-like station ain’t the best way to fritter away precious time.

Frankly, I’m not sure that making the frequency of trains go from 180 seconds down to 120 seconds at a cost of $1 billion will provide the full or perfect solution to the overcrowding of trains, especially when it won’t happen overnight, but several years down the line.

To me, what’s preventing me from adopting BMW in Singapore is the paucity, if not total lack, of good connectivity between B and M and reducing to negligible the W in the equation.

I love telling this story and have told it often. So I will tell it again.

Years ago, I was staying with a friend in Hongkong, whose flat was somewhere in Tai Koo Shing. It isn’t near an MTR station but it’s served by a series of mini buses right at the bottom of her block that took passengers at one flat fare to the MTR.

In all the time I stayed there, at whatever hour of day I went out, I always found a mini bus about to go off, or if I missed one, another appeared on the horizon even before the first was out of sight. It was the same for the journey from the MTR station to the flat.

And needless to say, it was the same with the MTR trains. I never had to beat my breast when I missed one, because another one would arrive on the platform almost immediately.

Hence, once, while in Central and not liking the lady’s loos in a departmental store, I actually went back to Tai Koo Shing to refresh myself and was back again in Central all in slightly over an hour.

Singapore’s public toilets are of a higher standard. So I never have need to rush from the heart of our shopping belt using public transport to get to the toilet at home.

But on the few occasions I turned out of choice (not need such as having no car for the day) to public transport in a burst of optimism about our trains and buses, usually brought on by positive write-ups or ads about our transport system, I’ve been sadly let down.

Such times, I found taking the MRT to Orchard or Newton and then a bus to get home a nightmare journey. Especially when I was foolish enough to be carrying highly perishable shopping like uncooked fish!

While there was nothing to complain about the trains, it was waiting for the connecting bus that reinforced every argument to have one’s own wheels.

I’ve waited anything from 20 minutes to half an hour, so that one journey that would take mayb 15 minutes to complete by car, could end up four times that, after factoring in walks to and out of stations.

Sure, in the old days, when I was a child, I had walked all the way from my school in Victoria Street to my home in Rangoon Road. More than once.

Why couldn’t I have walked just 3 bus stops from Newton or even six bus stops from Orchard? Instead of waiting for the bus?

The answer is this: we aren’t in the old days any more. The old is in me, dude! 😀

14 thoughts on ““In the old days” arguments don’t fly any more

  1. You are so right. Try talking to youngsters today about the old days and risk getting punched in the face. In the old days, we used snail mail, now even emails are considered slow.

  2. Blur, every generation hates to hear how bad or good things were “in the old days”. But a classic example must be wot happened to an old aunt of mine, ages ago. She loved to tell stall holders at wet markets abt how low prices were “in the old days”. Till a fish-monger cldn’t stand it any more and retorted: “In the old days, you were a child; today, u are an old popo!”

  3. This kind of “olden day” topic suits me (us). Expectations have indeed changed. We have progressed and as such the cost of meeting these expectations rises across time. We of course have fond memories of what used to be but since time moved on us, the newer generation or even some of us can’t imagine a non-air con bus. It’s all comparative. What we call as Traffic Jams are nothing in other countries. People do lots of things during waiting time nowadays, from surfing the web from the phone to playing hand held computer games and more usefull, carrying a paperback to improve our standard of English. There is no end to satisfying our expectation for what we are doing is to raise the bar yet again and make that the bar. I agree with you that we shouldn’t improve any further. What’s worth revisiting is to consider making public transport public again, move it from being private with a profit margin target to one that is pure public with marginal profit margins to sustain the operations. So how crowded is crowded in a train ? Have we reached the stage like in Japan where they have female only cabins or have men pushing people into the cabin to compress them ? That to me is crowded 🙂

  4. I’m quite radical abt our transport system. Make it one country two systems: one where pple have to pay and another one which is free. No need to build more systems. Make it free to travel during off-peak hours, say 4am and 6am and 12 midnite and 2am. If the trains r crowded then, don’t complain, it’s free. For the rest of the time, charge like a Duke; factor in the fact that Govt has to pay for the 4 hrs of free ridership. That way, commuters who want a free ride can have the choice of doing so.

    As for me, all I want is good connectivity at low/fixed cost between homes and MRT stations and malls/offices and MRT stations. Is that too much to expect? Y can’t we be like HK? Instead we have eg Plaza Singapura completely unconnected to Dhoby Ghaut MRT (abt which I’ve already written in another post).

    As for Japan, come on lah: having personnel to push and squeeze more passengers into trains was already the practice when I first visited tt country in 1973. So wot’s new? Why shld we take the worst of another country to give us comfort?

  5. Whilst I generally am quite supportive of our government, I tend to think that it tends to latch on to corporate fads. I remember a time when privatisation of public services was a big thing in USA… and how it was touted to increase efficiency. So… ok… we did that. Then there was a big thing about shareholder value and how it increases accountability and for a time, we also went there… or at least the top govt corporate honcho at Temasek Holdings did. Then there was this move towards health insurance.

    The point is that whilst these fads may have their some vaunted advantages… i.e., privatisation => greater efficiencies; shareholder value => better corporate accountability… they also have downsides. Privatisation means a focus on profits and a lesser focus on social justice. Shareholder value can lead to short-term strategic thinking (especially when shareholders are impatient for profit). I have no clue why health insurance is good except that it passes the buck to insurance companies who may end up denying people health care in order to fund their payrolls. They seem to be a very costly middleman.

    The older generation were independent thinkers. They fought for freedom and weren’t about to get easily enamoured of fads from the West. The new generation seems not to possess such independent thinking, creativity and discernment. There have been fewer made in Singapore govt solutions to local problems in the past 2 decades, and a lot more let’s do what works elsewhere.

  6. Hi Pet! TQ for this thought provoking comment. Like u, I support the govt 70-80% of the time and based on tt wld consider myself a PAP voter, if I ever get the chance to vote again! Since Lew Sin Pau who executed his promise to build an overhead bridge outside our condo — which he made when he met my mother one election to ask fr her vote (long story fr another occasion) — we’ve been having walk-overs!!!

    Your point re privatisation: if I remember correctly, it was to make “government” smaller, by pushing stat boards n other govt wholly owned businesses into private hands. It started with corporatisation, then privatisation. But in many cases, de exercise stopped at corporatisation eg hospitals.

    Privatisation like DBS (to raise capital and appease local banks), NOL (not sure y, perhaps to boost exhcange’s market capitalisation n raise capital) and Singtel (to enable S’poreans to own a part of national assets) was by and large to increase the breadth and depth of our capital market.

    I don’t criticise privatisation per se but feel tt we seem fixated with stuff like missions and visions, western marketing hype (it makes me sick every time to hear on 93.8 “positive business minutes” by some has-been western gurus giving dinosaur pep talks!) and being taken for rides too often by those who fly in to give $10K a day seminars!

  7. Health insurance helps pool a large sum of money to fund a portion of those who are unlucky to be using the benefits. Insurance itself like many is a waste of money except that it gives some peace of mind. And playing on the KIASI mentality, Singaporeans has been sold to this concept.

    As for western management philosophies, I do think they still have their impact. Otherwise how do you account for the Harvards and LSE of the world and why would PSC rate overseas scholars higher than local scholars 🙂 Every organisation has some form of Mission and Vision. The true test is to ask the lowest person in that food chain and see if they understand what it means to their work.

    We like to emulate the best around the world and strive for excellence. However, Singapore is too small to have leaders of companies (non-GLC) in the same league the likes of Walmart, IBM or Microsoft. We need to realise that we will never be able to create a company of an equivalent size not because we are not capable or ambitious but simply because we have a limitation of resources and demand. Striving for excellence is not a bad aim in life. But excellence is a journey which comes at a cost and no one keeping watch dare to stop. Much like a 100 m race, to aim to cut down 1 second when we are at 10 second is much much harder than cutting down 5 seconds when we are at 16 seconds.

    Have an enjoyable holiday weekend.

  8. Uncle Keng: hope u r enjoying d last days of summer arnd the Gt Lakes! Anyway nice of u to enlighten u re health insurance, something which poor Obama is still going on abt! I believe in free health care at very basic levels (ie 10 or 20 to an open, non aircon ward, served by interns n housemen and charity specialists etc) for all and let those who want more pay fm their own pockets or via expensive insurance. That way, no one will keep on at the Govt!

    Sorry, ah, PSC and a lot of our talent assessment folks seem to be rather dinosaur in their approach. They take the Times and other rankings like gospel when other pple including Westerners have looked East a long time ago, including John Needham.

    As for Walmart, IBM and MS: where do u think they are now and have been for at least a decade or two? Anyway, I disagree tt Singapore can’t dream big. Keppel and Sembawang have shown the world tt we are great rig builders and converters. U didn’t hear wot PM Lee say, meh?

  9. Pet, I’m not a huge fan of French food except for its pate, hard chewy bread and some pastries… o, yes and Veuve Clicquot. Hic!

  10. Pingback: Lim Biow Chuan’s non-Eureka moment | FOOD fuels me to talk…

  11. Ah HK – when we were in HK staying with my sis-in-law, everytime when we want to go out, she would call the cab company to arrange a taxi for us and negotiate for a discount, usually about 20% off the metered fare! She would tell us that it’s much cheaper than flagging down a taxi by the road, and that you are assured of a taxi by calling, and the taxi driver is assured of a ride. It seems everybody does that! But over here, you have to pay more to call for a cab – and we are guaranteeing them a ride!

  12. Ashton, I didn’t know that. I seldom use taxis when I’m in HK as it’s so much more convenient to hop between mini buses and MTR stations. On the few occasions when I took taxis, I didn’t have to wait for more than a couple of minutes. Whatever the time and location, taxis seemed to be everywhere in HK — unlike in Sg when I can spend up to 45 minutes on the main Bt Timah Rd and not get one!

  13. Pingback: I truly <3 Hongkong's transport system | FOOD fuels me to talk…

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