Sunday, May 12, 2013

Overhead bridge lifts are here and overdue

A lift at an overhead bridge in Khatib.

I felt it was illogical when I first sighted a lift installed at an overhead bridge at the entrance of Botanic Garden. I have seen escalators at overhead bridges in our neighbourhoods but a lift is certainly my first encounter and a luxury for our prudent-always public amenities. Certainly will be a very practical installation for our increasing number of seniors and also for those less mobile living in a mature estate but the issue is the location chosen. At Botanic Garden. Who do you think the intended users are? 

The first neighbourhood overhead bridge lift finally came a few years later to Khatib MRT last month. In a neighbourhood with growing number of seniors and those who require assistance to tackle stairs living in the neighbourhood, and at a high human traffic location whether weekdays or weekends, indicates a more dire need of a lift installation to Khatib overhead bridge than Botanic Garden. Not implying over here that the lift at the Botanic Garden is a white elephant but taking issue with the basis of priority where genuine needs were not respected and attended to. Botanic Garden does have its own crowds to serve and a lift would provide convenience for families with prams and seniors but honestly, the lift will not benefit the users on a daily basis as it is for the residents in Khatib.

Finally, we can see efforts taken to address the decade-old issue of an ageing population on a logistic perspective in small steps. First with wider fare-gates at the MRT, wheelchair-accessible MRT carriages and lifts and then wheelchair-friendly buses and now overhead bridge lifts which all in my opinion are long overdue. 

It would certainly be appreciated if the same efficiency in handling challengers to our political realm such as suing bloggers or arresting cartoonist, to be practised in responding to the genuine needs of our own citizens.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Remembering Taipei MRT

I had the opportunity to travel on Taipei MRT as early as 2003. 

Taipei Mass Rapid Transport system first started its operation in 1996 with only a total of 12 stations to spare. 

At my first encounter with Taipei MRT, I couldn't resist the temptation of comparing the newly-constructed Taiwanese MRT system with ours so as to ascertain the world-class-transport-system proclaim of SMRT.....and well, to polish up the vanity of our achievement too. 

I had a suspicion that it was precisely of such proclaim that has helped me to appreciate Taipei MRT which brought about a new interpretation of the definition of a world class transport system, at least for me. Unfortunately for our SMRT, it was not and it is still not just about hardware provisions but the heartware that lies in the core of any system that enables a system to rise to the world class level. Without the heartware, the hardware would simply be reduced to an ornamental function.  

Taipei MRT’s provisions in the early 2000s: Catering to the needs of commuters and the society

1) Multi-languages station announcement
Taiwan does not publicize itself as a multi-racial society but its mass rapid transport system recognizes the diversity of its people by providing station names and announcements in four languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English. Three Chinese dialects and one international language. Compare that gesture with our SMRT. Ironically, we have terrorism to thank before SMRT grudgingly employs our ethnic languages for terrorist alert announcement. However, the usefulness of such “announcements” on daily MRT journeys is virtually non-existent as they do not enhance our MRT trips.

2) Facilities for the disabled
Taipei MRT has already addressed to the needs of the disabled even back then. User-friendly public transport for the disabled enhances their physical mobility and that plays a significant role in re-connecting them with the society. Ramps, public phone booths and toilets for the disabled can be found at all stations although lifts meant for the disabled were only available at certain stations at that point of time.

3) Night-time wait zone for ladies
A night-time wait zone monitored by CCTV dedicated to female passengers travelling at night to ensure their safety. Whether that measure reflects the extent of risk for lone women travelling at night in Taipei, I have no idea, but this is one gesture that again exemplifies the awareness of the existence of different needs among commuters and the willingness to address them. 

4) Free umbrellas
For those who habitually leave their umbrellas at home, Taipei MRT caters to that group of people too with free provisions of umbrella for a rainy days. Yes, it is FREE and don’t ask me where Taipei MRT forks out that kind of money please. 

5) Recycling bins available

Recycling bins and standard bins can be found at all Taipei MRT stations. By the way, Taipei MRT does ban food and drinks from trains but that hasn’t stopped the management from realizing that food and drinks are not the only two sources for litter. In the same year (2003), free distribution of lightweight plastic bags was banned in Taiwan. The Taiwanese put into practice their concerns of the environment that they and the rest of the world live in. And that concern goes as far as their MRT system.  

6) Queue markers
There are marked spaces for queues on the platform to create an unobstructed space for alighting passengers. Order and safety for both alighting and waiting passengers comes under the radar of the management of a newly operated MRT system. 

Taipei MRT moves with time

Taipei MRT did not just stop in the year of 2003. A decade later, it has already moved into providing: 

1)    Free mobile charging points

There are free charging points dedicated to mobile phone users at the stations, as well as free wi fi. This is in response to the digital and internet era

2)    Multi-language reminders on social etiquette

Even in the digital era, it should not encroach public space and cause discomfort to other members of the public. Therefore, users of electronic devices are reminded to be mindful of the volume of their gadgets when they are in the cabins. Again, this message is disseminated to the passengers in four languages. Taipei MRT’s philosophy has definitely served beyond a public transport provider and goes as far as shaping their society in reinforcing the importance of social etiquette. They have in mind the kind of society that they desire.  

3)    Breastfeeding rooms

Taipei MRT is meticulous in identifying different groups of people existing in their society. Yes, there are breastfeeding rooms located at 21 MRT stations in support of mothers.  

4)    Platform screens

For improved reliability and safety, platform screens were installed by 2006 at two high-capacity interchanges.

5)    Gondola service

The gondola service is an extension of the existing MRT routes in Taipei that spans across approximately 4km in distance and rises to a height of approximately 300m. Ticket pricing for both standard cabins and crystal cabins with transparent glass floor share the same pricing that ranges between NT$30 (S$1.25) and $50 (S$2.09).


By the way, the cost for the use of Taipei MRT Easycard (similar to our EzLink card) is kept low at NT$20 (S$0.87) while the cost of our EzLink card is S$5.


Unfortunately again for SMRT, being people-oriented is not a mere rhetoric meant only for the ears. It has to be actualized to benefit the people as claimed, and it is demonstrated by the Taipei MRT through its services and facilities by highlighting different groups of users such as the senior citizens, the IT savvy, the overseas visitors, the handicapped, lone women and mothers. The consequence is an astounding difference in terms of service quality between a truly people-oriented public transport provider and a profit-driven one. 

Taipei MRT recognizes the existence of the people to whom it owes its existence to. The same philosophy spurs the public transport provider to understand the various travelling needs among its clients, the social etiquette that defines a civic-minded society and the relation between people and the environment. There is pride in their service for the masses. The people are truly at the center of its service.

Even back in 2003, Taipei MRT has already distinguished itself from the level of SMRT. To an organization that is focused on immediate economic benefits, the people whom they are supposedly serving will be dehumanized for the purpose of profits. The interpretation of what it meant to be “people-oriented” in a profit-driven context is, placing the people at the core to be milked. 

Taipei MRT provided me a chance of feeling my own existence as an individual, an entity of a society which stems from the collectivity of individuals. However, more often than not, we are so used to being blanketed by the concept of society and unconsciously assume the uniformity of all individuals within the society. We rarely, or cultivated not to, think of the groups of individuals beyond that single blanket of society. 

If Taipei MRT is a loose representation of the kind of society Taipei is, then what kind of society is being reflected through our SMRT?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013