Tags: bus services


Public Transport: SBS's FAQ

Since the mr brown saga hasn’t really made any new turns (other than Mr. Miyagi’s resignation from Today), Molly shall blog about other things such as public transport since people are saying that bus fare hikes are quite likely to take place.

Fare hikes certainly improve the service. For instance, instead of waiting half an hour for a cab when she refuses to book one, yesterday Molly waited only about 15 minutes for a cab. Isn’t that great?

And, as Molly once commented to a reader, it’s also interesting that the taxi companies can lengthen peak hours. In school, Molly learned that peak hours are the hours during which there are most commuters traveling. Alas! That wasn’t too accurate. Peak hours are actually hours transport companies decide to call peak hours so that they can collect more fares. So, theoretically, 6.00 a.m. could well be within the peak hours in future. So can 11.30 a.m. or 2.30 p.m. As far as I can see, this is as good as making the fare for entering a cab $4.50 for many people. And to think those ungrateful cabbies bear a grudge against the kind taxi companies trying to help them earn their living.

What is equally amazing is that there can be multiple sets of peak hours. A particular taxi company redefines “peak hour.” Its sister, the bus company, in the same conglomerate doesn’t have to feel obliged to also similarly extend its peak hour frequencies.

That reminds me of another confusing time distortion. (Yes, don’t think only mr brown is capable of distortions.) In school, Molly learns that “a.m.” is for 12 midnight to before 12 noon whereas “p.m.” is for 12 noon to before 12 midnight. But when Molly looks at the cute and neat bus frequency tables in bus stops, she realizes that the frequencies are divided 4 periods: a.m. peak, a.m. off-peak, p.m. peak and p.m. off peak.

Then I read more carefully and realized that a.m. is said to end some time about 4.20 p.m.

This is so confusing. Miss Tan didn’t teach us this. :(

Anyway, today Molly shall try to be constructive and help her beloved bus companies out. Molly sees more and more crowds in buses, so the bus companies are probably very busy adjusting schedules. To help the overworked souls out, Molly decides to give some constructive suggestions regarding SBS’s FAQ page which, as far as Molly can see, is modeled after the templates their customer relations people use when they reply to your complaints. What a treasure. *Rubs hands*

“Sometimes, two buses of the same service arrive at the same time with one bus being overcrowded and the other almost empty. Why?

The reason for this is largely due to adverse traffic conditions on the road and other conditions such as road closure, diversions, weather, accidents etc. Indeed, more than 70% of our delays or bunching are due to these reasons.”

Yes, but what about the other 30% or so? Scheduled bus bunching? This is what people are concerned about. To prevent troublesome people from bothering you, you should address this issue in your FAQ section.

“It is easier for me to alight from the bus if I stand near the exit door, why should I move to the rear of the bus?

The capacity of a bus is a combination of its seating and standing capacity. When passengers fail to move to the rear and prefer to stand near the exit door, the flow of passengers becomes restricted within the bus. This will cause delay as the Bus Captain would have to appeal to passengers to move in to make space for others to board.”

Yes, yes, yes. But the maximum capacity of a bus isn’t the compulsory load it must take for every trip. So you dearies of SBS, what people really want to know is why your buses must be so crowded that people have to squeeze themselves to the rear in the first place. And after passengers ‘move’ to the rear, why do people have to be clinging on to some pole (or no pole) desperately while standing on the steps of the buses?

And speaking of delays, when people try to squeeze their way out from the rear, they delay the bus too. It seems like a die-die situation.

No point pointing fingers at fastidious passengers, accusing them of lacking bus etiquette. Not everyone loves crowds like Molly does.

“Why does the Bus Captain drive so slowly?

. . . When traffic conditions are especially clear, our Bus Captains are required to regulate speed if they notice that they are ahead of schedule. This ensures that the Bus Captains keep the arrival times at the bus stops as close to the planned schedule as possible to avoid any disruption like bus bunching.”

This sounds very reasonable. But, again, what people want to know is whether you ever deliberately schedule buses so that drivers are compelled to drive slowly in order to be on schedule (so that one bus can pick up more passengers and be more crowded so that you make more profits). This is what complainers out there want to know! Molly isn’t one of them, but your FAQ page should cater to their irresponsible, partisan questions.

“Can SBS Transit deploy more air-conditioned buses?

Previously, the authority put a limit to the number of air-conditioned buses we can own so as to give commuters a choice between taking air-conditioned or non air-conditioned buses. Hence, we ended up buying more non air-conditioned buses than air-conditioned buses. The limitation on the number of air-conditioned buses has since been lifted and SBS Transit has committed to having a fully air-conditioned bus fleet.

But as we have purchased more non air-conditioned buses in the past due to the limitation, we must be prudent in the pace we replace the non air-conditioned buses to air-conditioned ones as to keep cost low and fares affordable. To achieve that, the replacement of the non-air-conditioned buses has to be done progressively. All non air-conditioned buses that are in good serviceable condition will continue to be deployed and will be replaced when they reach their statutory lives.”

Muhahahaha!!!!! Even Molly can’t help you this time. The what authority put a limit to the number of aircon buses????

Molly remembers (but she might have remembered wrongly) that, just a few years ago, a particular bus company was looking so pitiful when asking for fare hikes because the operating costs had increased and even air-conditioning has become a criteria of service standards set by the PTC.

And, as far as Molly knows, the PTC had set a minimum 80% air-con fleet for many years already. I don’t know what authority there is to blame. After all, SMRT Bus has a fully aircon fleet.

And what’s the best thing here? You don’t even want to tell us when the “newest” non-aircon bus is going to survive till. For another 15 years?

And you haven't explained why non-aircon buses are deployed only for certain services going to certain areas and not evenly spread across all services.

“Some of the air-conditioned buses are either too cold or too warm. Why cant [sic.] the Bus Captain adjust the temperature?

The Bus Captains are not able to adjust the temperature. The temperature is automatically adjusted using climatic control. It is a fact that generally, you will feel colder in the morning and not as cold in the afternoon in the air-conditioned bus due to the external ambient temperature although the settings of the air-condition remained unchanged.”

Cham lah. Molly cannot help you again. The question is “Why can’t the Bus Captain adjust the temperature.” And the answer is that the bus captains cannot adjust the temperature! And so how is the temperature adjusted? Via climatic control! What climatic control? You control the climate?? Or the climate controls the air-con? (If so, what’s the point of having air-conditioning?)

And darlings, don’t take Molly for a fool lah. Molly is a bimbo, not a fool. Do you expect Molly to believe your logic when she takes three buses within the same hour (thanks to your clever planning of routes) and one of them is hot, another stuffy and yet another cold? If the air-con isn’t spoilt, then the “climatic control” system must be faulty. But the last time Molly told you about a bus with bad air-conditioning (she transferred from one with proper air-con), you insisted that there wasn’t a single problem with the aircon.

Maybe Singapore’s weather is so eccentric that it changes each time I take a bus.

Try harder next time.

“The bus advertisements pasted on the bus windows get in our way. Can the advertisements be removed?

. . . [W]hen we first introduced wholly painted buses, we adopted on our own accord, a guideline of covering less than one third of the window space on our buses. In addition, for the covered areas we made sure that the material used is highly perforated to allow passengers to see through the windows in the day and night. . . .”

Oh, covering one third of the total window area is fair enough. Just don’t complain when people refuse to sit at the particular pane that is fully covered.

And Molly admits to having poor eyesight. Somehow she just can’t see through the ads. But that’s really Molly’s fault, Molly’s business.

“The programmes on TV Mobile are either in English or Mandarin. How about Malay or Tamil progammes? Also, the sound is too loud. Why cant we have a peaceful bus ride?

. . . According to the latest ACNielsen survey, . . . 76% of the commuters surveyed agree that TV Mobile make their bus journeys more pleasant. 72% feel that the volume is just right.”

Apparently the people surveyed and the people I know are two mutually exclusive groups.

Volume is just right. Heh.

Somehow, in Singapore, there is no democracy except when appeals to democracy works against the people.

“Why does SBS Transit seem to be looking only at fare increase to improve their profits?

We would like to clarify that it is insufficient for us to depend on fare increases to maintain our profits. Our fare increase in 2005 was 1.8% after the introduction of a $3.45 million package to help mitigate the impact of the fare increase on certain group of passengers like the senior citzens. The package included a contribution of $1.15million to the Public Transport Fund for the needy. Against this, the fuel price increase was almost 50%. As such, we do look at other ways like cost saving measures and improvement of our productivity to improve our profits.

Indeed, our fares are very affordable, over the last 18 years, wages have gone up by an average of 182% but fares for our buses have gone up by only 17%.”

Dearies, you are inviting trouble. Since you say that it’s insufficient to depend on fare hikes to MAINTAIN your PROFITS and you make the fare hikes sound so meager, people are just going to tell you to forget about the fare hikes altogether instead of asking for them every year.

And yes, if wages go up by 182 and every single consumer good has to follow suit, we would still be part of the Third World and our beloved MM Lee would not have been able to write at least one of his books. Don’t be a partisan player in politics!

Actually, you shouldn't say that your fares are affordable. It's cheap but not affordable because a lot of people are so poor that even have a so-called 182% wage increase, they cannot afford it. If you say this, people will at least know it's not SBS's fault but it's a social problem to which, er, we have to find a solution and not just complain like mr brown.

Quote Molly if you are Truly Non-partisan: Issue 8

The issue of public transport has made it to the news once again, this time in a Straits Times article, "Top Panel to look at SBS service standards" (The Straits Times, 16 December 2005). Yes, look. Molly heard there is a sort of power in looking. If I don't remember wrongly, it is usually called Eye Power.

As a footnote, do you know what do inefficient people do? No action, talk only. What about the really efficient ones? No action, no talk, Just see.

For once As usual, the ST is probably right when it says that, in response to the findings of a recent commuter satisfaction survey, ComfortDelgro group chairman Mr. Lim Jit Poh "sought the understanding of commuters but did not mince his words about what he thought were some unrealistic expectations." Molly thinks the "I seek your understanding" phrase is the best cliché tried-and-tested customer service punch line from our transport companies. As Molly is really, really meek, she is always mincing her words. Thus, today Molly invites an old friend/enemy Saft Raining to pen the eighth issue of the weekly simulated letters to the ST. Please be forewarned that Saft the brutish dog also does not mince him words regarding what he thought were unreasonable accusations against commuters.

Saft's views are, admittedly, totally balderdash. But Molly doesn't want to keep on praising local public transport lest she loses 90% of her readers to more candid and honest bloggers like Xiaxue. Here's Saft's simulated letter. As per other letters in this series, the ST is welcome to quote Saft's letter in its entirety.

Hey ST editors and readers!

Molly has invited me to pen a letter on her behalf, probably because she is too bimbotic to do it herself.

You reported that SBS Transit is going to establish a "high-level committee, led by its board of directors . . . to look into service standards provided by SBS Transit . . . which made $200 million in net profit last year." Hey, I really love the way you seem to have lost your so-called non-partisan edge! Fancy reporting how much profit SBS Transit earned last year in an article related to its service quality. No wonder Molly the pro-establishment one has decided to keep quiet!

One of the things the board will look at is the "service standards for bus and rail services, communication with external parties and handling of feedback and quieries." Great, man! I have been barking telling my grouses to a customer service department that deserves to win awards such as "Best use of reply templates to handle feedback," "Longest Time taken to use Templates," and "Best Circumvention Award." Gosh, does anyone know how irritating it is when you painstakingly pen your complaints (yes, I shall not call them feedback) only to receive replies that come from templates? And only Divine Beings know how anyone takes such a long time to fill in the blanks in a template!" Yes, "We seek your understanding" is also in one of the various templates, I suspect.

In fact, if you will allow me to voice my suspicions (by which I mean I am not making any claims), maybe the templates are there to prevent the customer relations department from getting out of hand and blurting out stuff that they are not supposed to. And I also suspect that the existence of templates shows that there is an awareness of the problems coupled with either a refusal or an inability to solve them. (How else could you possibly make templates?) Or maybe I'm just paranoid and the templates don't exist. Who knows? I don't own a bus company!

Admittedly, many customer service departments around do not exist to improve service but to deflect complaints so that things can carry on the way some people want them to be carried. I am not too sure if the public transport companies' customer service departments are like that too, but I certainly hope not.

Whatever it is, I hope to address what Mr. Lim says are unrealistic expectations of the commuters. With all due respect to the group chairman is is emphasizing service quality to SBS Transit, I think some of his ideas are unfair to commuters like Saft Raining.

According to the ST report, "Buses, he [Mr. Lim] said, had to compete with thousands of vehicles for space on the roads." The report quotes Mr. Lim: "Lapses, sometimes, are beyond us as we are not the sole monopoly user of the roads."

This, in case you don't know, is the age-old traffic conditions argument. But I have never encountered anyone in my life who demanded that buses have to be able to pass through the thousands of vehicles on the roads. Perhaps Molly Meek the ghost might be able to pass through solid substances as ghosts do in movies, but buses are not ghosts. No one in his right mind thinks that they can pass through solid vehicles. The lapses that people are complaining about are not real "lapses" (which are unintended occurrences) but are what they perceive to be intended, premeditated (or whatever synonym you can think of) actions that result in the lowering of service standards. Such as frequency reductions. Reductions in the number of feeder services are another example. These issues are related to the bus companies' schedules, not to what they cannot change on the roads.

Furthermore, the unpredictability of traffic conditions is overly exaggerated. We know what peak hours are. We know which areas are bound to be congested during peak hours. They are usually more or less the same from day to day unless traffic accidents happen. Unless traffic accidents take place daily, all around the island, and around the clock, "unpredictability" can be rather poor excuse. And what explains off-peak hour over-crowding that I have encountered many a time then? And what explains the crowds in MRT trains (perhaps not the NEL that SBS controls as of now, but SMRT's lines)? Unpredictable traffic conditions on the MRT tracks?

Why is it that, as far as I know, no authority has addressed the issue of frequency. And should I say falling frequencies that result in increased crowding for some buses?

The ST article also reports that (Mr Lim added that) "Bus drivers [aren't they called captains now?] are expected to be "supermen", . . . having to drive safely, ensure fares are paid correctly and show concern for the disabled and the elderly and the young." So that's what supermen do? I don't see how far they have to ensure correct fares are being paid, especially when the EZ Link system has been implemented. And one is tempted to add--implemented in such a way that people have been complaining of wrong fares being deducted. (So what are Supermen doing?) Actually, I do think Supermen bus captains do not have an easy time, but it seems that it is the bus companies that are using them as excuses rather than the public expecting too much of them. The bus captains, as far as I know, follow schedules well most of the time. But what could they do when the schedule stipulates that the frequency of a service is slower?

Speaking of bus captains, I once encountered an SBS bus captain that threatened to stop driving if the passengers do not move to the back. "Ok, you don't move, never mind. I wait here. Wait until the rain come." His rudeness notwithstanding, in my opinion, the bus was already so hellishly crowded that it wouldn't have helped to squeeze people further in. Am I expecting him to be Superman if I expect him to at least (pretend to) be polite and apologetic on behalf of the company he represents when the company is failing to meet the demand?

In the end, I did not even write a complaint letter to SBS because I did not wish to jeopardize his job. Who says that commuters are unreasonable?

The ST also reports that "[Mr. Lim] asked if people have "matured as a society or are we [sic.] just being selfish demanding [sic.] services for ourselves only or have we simply taken things for granted."

What has this got to do with maturity? Is a mature society one that loves to squeeze in overcrowded buses? Perhaps I should retort: "Have the bus companies matured as companies or are they just being selfish, demanding for fare hikes for their profits or have they simply taken commuters for granted (since many do not have a choice but to take public transport)?"

Who's going to answer my question, if it were a reasonable question in the first place?

I am most disappointed by the bit in which Mr. Lim says that commuters should have the "habit of knowing when the buses are expected to arrive." And how are they supposed to know? By daily observations even when they are taking a particular service for the first time? Or who could they ask? The templated customer relations department?I think mrsbudak (I am too lazy to dig out the article) once asked the customer service people for the expected/scheduled time of arrival for buses only to be rejected. I, too, had once asked for the same thing and received nothing. If I don't remember wrongly, mrsbudak was told something like that it is hard to predict the time of arrival. This sounds like appropriate material for Agagooga's journal (in consideration of its title). Note:

(i) I believe, and I don't think I'm wrong that there is a rather detailed schedule of the timing each bus is supposed to arrive at each bus stop. Why does SBS not provide it to commuters. Why not simply offer it online for people to download. After all, for buses with really slow frequencies, this has already been done. No one demands that the buses must arrive on schedule regardless of unforseen circumstances. This, in Mr. Lim's words, is the time the bus is expected to arrive. From Mr. Lim's words, we can infer that such a timing exists.

(ii) Why is the burden then left to the commuter to find out and not on the service provider to tell?

(iii) How does knowing the expected time of arrival help when the bus has poor frequency and is crowded--sometimes so crowded that you have to wait for the next one anyway. Knowing makes it worse--for you know how long you wait.

Why, one also wonders, is SBS reluctant to release the estimated arrival times of buses to the public? Perhaps because frequencies might be adjusted? And the worry is that, when people have the schedules, people might go: "Yucks! I used to only have to wait 9 minutes for this bus. Now i have to wait 12 minutes. And I'm paying more fares than ever" when frequencies are reduced. Well, I am not claiming that this is how SBS works. This is only a hypothesis.

In any case, I think there is a concerted effort to squeeze more and more people into buses and trains instead of reducing crowds. Just look at the designs of some buses and trains. Some seat areas are actually transformed into standing areas in the hope that there is the "advantage" that, within that same space, more passengers can be stored. (I'm using the word "stored" because I can't think of a better word.) The bonus irony is that the spaces seem to me to actually accommodate fewer people than before because people do not want to stand that closely to one another; what we have are more people standing through their journeys.

What seems to Saft Raining to be the current solution to the high demand for buses? Think of ways to put more people into buses instead of having more buses. Stick "No Standing on Steps" stickers up, but make no effort to enforce the rule. (Hands up those who regularly see people standing on those steps on have stood on those steps before.) Are these all unavoidable daily?

One final thing I wish to find out. (Note again that this something I wish to ask, not a claim I am making.) Is there some re-balancing act involved when bus companies attempt to cope with demands? The idea is this "If Service XYZ needs 10 more trips to be made during 5 to 7 p.m., then let's make 10 less trips from 10a.m. to 4p.m.. In the end, if the total number of trips for that service makes per day remain unchanged, we don't increase our operating costs." I ask if such a measure exists because, from my subjective perception, over the years, I seem to be waiting longer for buses during the day.

Goodness! I have written so much. I thank Molly for giving me the chance to pen a simulated letter to the ST. I'm beginning to detest her a little less now!

Yours sincerely,
Saft Raining