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Tea with AK71: Nightmare at Bugis.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I remember people complaining about not being able to get a seat on the MRT trains when I was an undergrad which was when the MRT was still quite a young system in Singapore.  I was also young and didn't mind standing in the trains since most of my rides were to commute between Tiong Bahru (the nearest station to my flat) and Clementi (to take a bus to the Uni) which are only a few stops apart.

Not long after I started working about 15 years ago, I started driving.  Over the years, I observed the increasingly crowded condition of our roads and I complained about it. Driving was beginning to be stressful.

One day, not too long ago, I decided to take the MRT train and give my car a break and do some good for the environment by reducing my carbon footprint etc.  Actually, it was more to give myself a break as I thought that taking the train would be less stressful than driving. I told myself that Tiong Bahru is just a few stations to Bugis, which is true, and I wouldn't have to worry about terrible drivers, red lights and parking.

The waiting time for the train was about 3 minutes.  I must have missed the earlier train just.  That was fine.  When the train came, it was packed!  Wow!  I am now a bit thicker around the middle than I was back in school but I managed to squeeze myself into the train.  I felt like a sardine in a can. The discomfort was made worse by the coming in and going out of passengers at the next few stations.

When the train got to Bugis, I got out in relief only to be greeted by an absolute nightmare.  The station was packed! Wow, wow! There were two escalators where I was standing: one up and one down.  Both escalators were packed to capacity and people were trying to get onto them. When I managed to get on the upgoing escalator, I truly empathised with salmons swimming upstream! In less than an hour, I felt like a sardine and a salmon! A truly Singaporean experience?

The problem? The platform was very narrow (I am referring to the air conditioned space in between the two train tracks) as in there was little space compared to the crowd at the station. It reminded me of a local train station in Kyoto.  If you could imagine putting a small Kyoto train station in Tokyo or Osaka, you would be able to picture the chaos.  There and then, I told myself that I would never take the MRT train to Bugis again.  If there had been some sort of an emergency, many would be trampled to death in a stampede, I do not doubt.

It occurred to me that Bugis station was probably built without anticipating the recent burgeoning population in Singapore. It is also difficult to enlarge the platform since the train tracks would have to be moved outwards. The only way I think the situation could be improved without any major changes is to increase the number of escalators in the station.  This, I believe would improve the current situation tremendously.  This is one for the engineers.


PT Trader said...

I know how it feels like! While it is true that Singapore is starting to resemble Tokyo in terms of the crowd at the train stations, Singaporeans come nowhere near the social grace displayed by the Japanese. I was there to witness it at rush hour, and despite everyone being in a hurry at the escalator landing, everyone gracefully queued and left the right side free for those that needed to run ahead. Yes there were a lot of people, but i did not feel any stress compared to rushing out of city hall station on a sunday. 3 cheers for Singapore.

AK71 said...

Hi PT Trader,

Yup, that is very true about Japan. The people are generally very considerate. They would also pre-sort their trash before bringing them out. They have a very strong sense of togetherness and would take care of the common spaces.

I miss Japan. Want to visit again but the JPY is so expensive now. Will wait. :)

la papillion said...

Hi AK,

If you alight at Bugis, it's better to stand near the two ends of the train. This is because most of the crowd before and after Bugis are in the middle of the train (due to the position of the escalator in the station), if i remember correctly. I never had problems getting in and out of trains, except during peak hours. But peak hour human traffic problems are solved by the more frequent trains, so it's still okay.

Maybe I got used to it already :)

There are a no. of solutions. Basically, the problem is that the rate of pple going out of the station is slower than that going in. I can think of a few:

1. Slow down the train frequency
2. Speed up the escalator going out of the station and slow down the escalator going in to the station
3. Clear the area around the control station, where many people are waiting, as it obstructs pple coming out

This is the best solution to singapore's road problem:

4. Put a ERP gantry for passengers going in and out of Bugis :) Let them exit at City hall or Lavender to ease the traffic at Bugis ;)

AK71 said...

Hi LP,

Wah, an ERP system for train passengers? Mr. Mah Bow Tan must be your idol, right? ;-p

To tell the truth, I have taken the MRT trains on a few other occasions but found that one time to Bugis most nightmarish. The other times, I took the train to Raffles Place and City Hall. The stations were crowded too but not too bad. I guess because they are interchanges and much bigger.

You should forward your solutions to the SMRT. Haha.. I think they have suggestion boxes at the train stations. :)

Anonymous said...

Heh LP must have watched that episode from the Noose on Ch5 for inspiration on ERP gantries for people.

I thought that was hilarious.


AK71 said...

Hi K,

I have seen only one episode of "The Noose". I think they should compile the episodes into DVDs and sell them. I would buy a set. ;)

hydrogenperoxide said...

Woah LP, cannot decrease train frequency la...
Maybe building more stairs or escalator might help..

AK71 said...

Hi Pero,

Somewhat surprised to see a comment for this blog post. I guess this could be a hot topic now with the GE and all. ;-p

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