Friday, December 16, 2011

The SMRT Debacle

The name SMRT has become synonymous with chaos and confusion as evidenced by its worst breakdown in its 24-year operating history in train stations across Singapore last night. Thousands of commuters riding home during the evening rush hour were plunged into total darkness as trains on the North-South Line suddenly lost power and ground to a halt. The chaos and confusion that followed were so unprecedentedly atrocious that it was incredible that they could happen only under the inept management of SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa. No words could describe the dire sufferings of the commuters in the stifling heat of windowless carriages where the air-conditioning had also failed. It was indeed a nightmarish and traumatic experience for the commuters.

Happening so soon after the Circle Line debacle, does it not occur to the fertile mind of the Transport Minister, or the PAP Government for that matter, that something is radically wrong with the management of the SMRT helmed by its CEO Saw Phaik Hwa. She was nowhere to be seen and it was up to the Transport Minister to make an appeasing statement from Cambodia where he is attending the 17th Asean Transport Minister Meeting. Under Saw Phaik Hwa's watch, not only were Singaporeans provided with comical spectacles of vandalism of SMRT carriages in their depots on two occasions. In addition there had been frequent disruptions of train services to the utter inconvenience of commuters culminating in the debacle last night. She was quite flippant in her attitude towards all these happenings and the question uppermost in Singaporeans' mind is whether she has not outlived her tenure in her million-dollar job.

The SMRT provides an essential service to the commuting public in moving large number of people from place to place in an efficient manner. The frequency in the number of breakdowns in services does not convey confidence in the commuting public nor does it reflect well on the efficiency or the lack of it in the management. One or two breakdowns should have forewarned the management of possible flaws in the system and that efforts should have been made to detect these defects and rectify them. Complacency seems to be the order of the day and nothing seems to have changed the frequency of disruptions. Let's see if the Transport Minister will be able whip up some urgency to act in the complacent management, especially its sluggish CEO to make a really credible improvement to the SMRT system.

The press conference given by CEO Saw Phaik Hwa today can best be described as an exercise in futility. No amount of press conference will be able to compensate the commuters for their nightmarish and traumatic experience in the latest SMRT debacle.