Saturday, April 19, 2014

The ruse to cope with 6.9 million people




They are not coping with our current population size of 5.4 million. And you don’t have to gaze into the crystal ball to predict that they will not do so either with a 6.9 million population. 

Our healthcare, transport and housing are still struggling to this day. And it is only the infrastructure that they have been trying hard to address. Having quality life goes beyond just the infrastructure. 

Devastating to know that our healthcare has advanced to the stage of war-torn countries where patients could be housed in tents. For transport, it has also advanced to the dismal state of even more frequent train disruptions since 2011. Issues of over-crowdedness, insufficient air-conditioning for the crowd size on trains and long waits for buses remain unresolved. Housing pressure seems to have eased after KBW whined about his sleepless nights. COVs may have come down but did the prices for new BTOs do so? They are still growing upwards unfortunately. Already seriously priced beyond the affordability of our median income and with the persistent upward climb of the public housing prices, it will soon be priced at the median income of our ministers when the time for our younger generations come.


Creating band-aid solutions to tide over to the next GE

There has been a lot of drumming on their actions of corrective measures on these three areas. More housing units, more hospitals, more trains and buses targeting are coming along our way to allay the current crunch. SMRT and LTA are seen spending more efforts in putting up conspicuous posters in blue and yellow trumpeting about the future harmony as a result of their effects than effecting genuine improvements on our trains’ unreliability and overcrowded issues. 

This is the same with our healthcare and housing too. 

Because the intention of magnifying all their efforts is to create the perception that they are addressing the problems, to build up the anticipation on the future which neither the PAP nor us can secure.  Luring voters to bet their faith on the future that is yet to materialize. Btw, they didn’t know that they will have to upsize their original target of having 4 million population by 2010 to 5 million and by 2010, we found ourselves to be swarmed by additional 1, 000, 000 people on this tiny little red dot. That was not the future which we were being promised. 

People need to be convinced that the discomfort that we are enduring right now is only short-term….although it has been a decade-long discomfort but the future will be bright. However, the future is full of changes. Even LKY did not imagine that he will get to see the day when two casinos were introduced. The grandeur of plans may turn out to be expensive cosmetic procedures that address merely skin deep issues. And by the way, whose future are they referring to? Ours or theirs? Having a line up of the most modern hardware doesn’t warrant efficiency at all as proven by the overturned/burnt police cars in Little India or the barriers at the Customs. We need the software which is precisely what is seriously lacking.

Many band-aid measures and schemes were introduced but only scratch the surface of the issues. The band-aid adhesive bandages prove futile to a cancerous tumor and therefore not surprising that our transport, healthcare and housing are still moving backwards three years after GE 2011. Even in the most positive note, these are attempts, only attempts mind you and not solutions, which are long overdue, that should have addressed the consequence of last decade’s mindless population expansion and therefore, should not be even considered as a form of preparation for our future population target. And still, they fail to assuage the yester-years’ problems at our current population size.

-Transport
New trains/buses or wooden sleepers themselves can’t perform the necessary magic to put a stop to the train disruptions or unpredictable bus arrivals. Most importantly, unable to absorb the growing crowds which is the main culprit for overcrowding. Even new trains at Circle line can stall or a bus captain on a new bus can lose his way in the traffic or forced to inch through congested roads. Hardware alone does not ensure an efficient public transport system automatically. 

How would these new purchases and sleepers manage the 50 000 additional people (20K new citizens and 30K PRs) imported stubbornly each year who will further strain our public transport and roads? And for Pete’s sake, that costly intelligent Bus management system may be intelligent but it cannot reduce the waiting-time for buses which is the main grouse about buses. The additional new train lines will bring about increased ridership which will serve to further complicate the current system and will those involved be competent enough to manage? Especially when it is a downright profit-oriented public transport system.  

- Healthcare
What next after building 10 community hospitals? How are they going to account for the shortage of healthcare workers? Are they planning to import planeloads of healthcare workers on top of the 50 000 new citizens and PRs to nurse the expanded population? Are we then to plan for additional transport and housing needs for these healthcare workers on top of the original human import target? Where will this madness of instant human imports lead our country to? 

- Housing
Public housing debt eats into retirement funds. The pricing of our public housing is a killer. But KBW is sleeping well again.  

While clearly still struggling to contain the infrastructure shortage and creating the false impression that they have the situation under control, this is at best, only clearing the backlog of our old problems, they still have not yet, or with no intention at all to address the future issues that arise from a population expansion. On the other hand, they remain dead right on the target of importing 20 000 new citizens and 30 000 PRs annually as cited in their Population White Paper to attain their sacred target of 6.9 million. 


Beyond the infrastructure 

Naïve to assume that having more residential units, expanded train lines and more hospitals will automatically quantify for quality living. That is the myth that they are trying to sell to the voters. We can have more of every of these and yet could be hard-hit by high inflation, sardine-packed condition even on off-peak trains at a higher fare, even longer wait for even costlier medical attention, recurring outbreak of TB or measles or SARS, more social conflicts and crime activities, compromised hygiene level, continual influx of cheaper labour across all industries (except the political domain) and mid-income levels …. 

What I am trying to say here is that to build a proper country, not just building a city, requires more than housing, healthcare and transport. 

The level of security is no longer the same as it was ten years ago. The growing population and the range of nationalities imported into the country have created a whole new range of crime on top of our local “traditional” crime. No doubt the crime rate has statistically gone down, despite a bigger population, the actual crime rate on the ground do not. Some forms of “crime” have been re-defined and no longer be considered a criminal case. And you do not need any confirmation from the SPF to know that there is a shortage of law enforcers on the ground. 

The increasing population density will also subject the population to infectious diseases. There is no surprise at all to see a recurrence of TB and measles or some other new forms of contagious diseases. More will come.

Higher population density will also increase the challenges of containing an outbreak. We experienced SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. Dedicated medical staff at the frontline made sacrifices to save lives. That was the time when our medical staff was predominantly local. If SARS was to occur now, it would be on a greater scale given the bigger population and at a point when local medical staff is the minority. Would our software competent enough to contain the outbreak? Recall the recent poor handling of haze and how the authorities fumbled on a simple and crucial matter of N95 masks distribution. Does that instill confidence? Do you seriously think they will be able to manage SARS the second time round?

Will they lack the 20/20 hindsight again when tackling matters that concern human lives, I mean our lives

Will they be interested to deal with the issues beyond healthcare, transport and housing?

Last but not least, the sense of belonging matters to a nation. But when citizenship could be monetized and exchanged cheaply for their personal GDP growth, it does not come as a surprise to witness the same people who blatantly make the citizens of this country the minority. 

To round it up, if they aren’t interested in tackling the REAL problems at a 5.4 million population, they won’t be interested to deal with the accompanying problems of a 6.9 population size. Even when political stake is involved, they are merely making a pretentious effort of being interested. The honest fact is, whether 6.9 or 9.6 million are of little importance to them because they are anyway insulated against the detriments since they are the biggest benefiter of a bigger population. 

We used to be an island with no resources and limited land we were being repeatedly told. The imminent 6.9 population plan has miraculously unleashed the abundance of resources and our land space for the newcomers.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Circle Line will not cope with a 6.9 million population



Even if the population figure remains constant for the next decade, likewise for the ridership, Circle Line is just coping with the current ridership.

Operational system 
 Circle Line trains operate at an off peak intervals of 7 min and peak hour interval at 4 min. Yes, exactly a FOUR MINUTE WAIT during peak hours. You might think that there is hardly anyone taking this line during peak hour, don't you? But SMRT wardens are being deployed at certain Circle Line stations during peak hours and that betrays the size of the peak hour crowd. Circle Line trains are operating with only 3 cabin capacity, half of that of NS and EW trains, yet with a frequency of 4 min for peak period and covering 4 interchanges along its route. 

And any regular train commuter can tell you about the extent of a 4 min peak hour crowd and how fast the commuters would form on the platform for every second of the 4 minute duration as demonstrated by AMK station. Of course, Circle Line is not as bad as the NS or EW line and definitely none of its current stations that are not interchange can be as bad as AMK station yet. But it could be considered bad as long as there runs the possibility of having to wait for subsequent trains before passengers get to board the train on the Circle Line. And that does happen on Circle Line at current population size.

And our Circle Line is currently operating for a 5.4 million population only.

The much hyped 77 new trains ad dreamed about commuters getting home sooner baffles me. The 77 figure alone will not achieve the desired outcome if it fails to translate into higher train frequency, higher travel speed, near zero train disruptions and a CONSTANT ridership (which means that ridership will not go up, well, of course that will be a dream) simultaneously. It is the combination of all these factors to achieve the desired outcome of  “get us home sooner”. And to be honest, I wouldn’t care if LTA was to bring in another half a peanut or hundred trains as long as my actual train travel time could be reduced without having to fight with fists and elbows to get on board a peak hour train. It doesn’t help if more trains come into existence when trains were to travel at 2/3 of the pre-2011 train speed; or if train ridership was to be increased by 50% when waiting time has been shortened; or if there were even more train disruptions when more trains were running. We can forget about the dream of getting home sooner if either one of the factors fail to effect.

To expect ridership to remain constant is a dream which LTA conveniently forgets to put it on its ad.

The policy makers are gearing for a 6.9 million or more population target. There is no info on the proportion of "poor" people which they intend to import from overseas who will further strain our current train system and the size of the spill of these “poor” onto Circle Line is also unknown. So when the 77 new trains are channelled into existing or future train lines, the effect of shorter wait time or higher train speed if they had been enforced by then can be completely eroded by the future growth of ridership. The effect might be even worse than now. We have no idea how concretely will that 77 brand new trains will deal with the increasing ridership. This ridership factor may be that single monstrous thing that will eat up whatever attempts that LTA or SMRT do to improve our current transport situations.

That will leave us with only two possibilities for the future: either the status quo train travelling experience or a worsening situation. No, I have absolutely no confidence that our train travel experience will ever see the light of the golden years of our train standard of the 90s under the current batch of policy makers.

Struggling hardware
Current fleet of Circle Line trains are the second newest of the entire train system. Its hardware quality is impressive in the sense that the air conditioning system is already failing to work efficiently even during off peak load. At its best, the flow of cool air is channelled into the cabins consistently which should be the standard we expect; at its worst, there is only cool air supply intermittently. It is tolerable in an enclosed area during off peak but definitely unpleasant during peak period.

To add on to the inconsistent conditioning system, the seats of the new trains will creak under the stress of weight and movements. That is unheard of on the older trains on EW and NS lines. But it has only been two and a half years since Circle Line went into operation.

Its current operation performance and hardware quality extinguish any faint hope that Circle Line will cope adequately for our 6.9 million population plan.

And mind you, this is just the Circle Line that I am talking about. EW and NS lines have been struggling for years to meet half of its service level of the early 2000s. It is an excruciating sight to witness for those who have seen the better standards of our train system.  

EW and NS lines
EW line will extend beyond Joo Koon very soon and will see more commuters adding on to the current peak hour load. 



Little imagination will be required to foresee the chaos at JE interchange when the extension actualizes. Current JE interchange is already devoting two platforms for NS bound trains to alleviate the load stress on NS bound trains during peak hours and yet barely accommodating all the waiting passengers heading towards NS line. If we think that it is coping, think of the time to come when new stations operate on EW line, it definitely will not be just a matter of one or two additional passengers from each of these new EW stations adding to the current load.

AMK station, despite not being an interchange, is handling excessive load. And its peak hour crush extends beyond 8pm where one may still have to wait for the next train to board. Possibility of boarding the train at the next station YCK is very, very slim after accommodating the load at AMK station. 

Train speed on certain segments on NS line is still painfully slow after a revamp of its wooden sleepers. One good example is the segment between YCK station and Khatib station. The distance that spans between these two stations is approximately 6km but train speed is only around 40km/hr even during peak period. Watch the video below on the pathetic peak-hour train heading for Khatib is being overtaken by trucks and vans. Unfortunately, this is a frequent sight on our trains. 

video
 
EW and NS lines are currently serving 5.4 million population only and commuters can vouch how well they are coping. Train disruption frequency shows no signs of abating two years after the removal of its former CEO. Train speed has certainly dropped. Getting home sooner remains an aspiration still. Alternatively, we can lower our expectation to the level where we should be grateful for not having the need to walk all the way home.

6.9 million and high speed rail
Think of the consequences when the population breaches the 6 million mark. Think of the consequences of the high speed rail that is set to connect Singapore and KL. Getting home sooner in the future will definitely be a nice but far-stretched dream.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Farewell again, ancient Chinese civilisation



I bade farewell to the ancient Chinese civilization years ago with a heavy heart. To the aesthetic and sensibility of its literature, to the wisdom of its philosophers and thinkers, to the moral values of its educators. They are all history.

The people who claim lineage to this ancient civilization emulate very little of its greatness and wisdom.

The recent ugly behaviour of the Chinese relatives over the tragedy of the Malaysian airline MH 370 is again a reaffirmation of the fact that the greatness and the wisdom of the once awesome civilization that humbles me, is dead. Killed by the ideal of communism. And executed ruthlessly by its very own official descendents.

The Chinese may continue to capitalize on their ancient civilization for their tourism or immerse in the past glory of their ancestors. But the world has moved on since and there is no succession to the ancient civilization or the intention to bring the greatness to another new height.

And at one point in history, ancient China was once revered as the country of rites and etiquette.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Misery BBC journalism from a Misery City



Another British is in limelight, again, for the right or wrong reason.

A BBC journalist, C. Ashton, who conveniently labelled Singaporeans as a compassion deficit breed [Here] based on her unpleasant train journeys where no one gave up their seats to an expecting mother like her, and where no one took the initiative to attend to her needs on the train.

I do not intend to defend our compassion deficit label over here but I take issue with her simplistic approach of generalizing all Singaporeans based on her concoctions of her train journeys and conversations with Singaporeans that were already framed under the compassion deficit label. I am not even sure if she intends to generalize about the people in Singapore or about Singaporeans.

I wouldn’t think of using my travel experience on the London tube as a means to pinpoint the British nature or to gauge their compassion level but I would ascertain Taiwanese’s warm-heartedness through the observations of Taiwanese commuters on Taipei Metro. I am not a journalist. But London is a metropolitan with under half of its residents being non-British. Furthermore, London is London and it stands as another planet in the British isles and therefore does not and cannot represent all British.

Ashton chose to, whether simplistic or out of convenience sake, use the behaviour of the commuters on our public transport and that alone as a measurement for compassion level, ironically at a juncture when large numbers of economic migrants from both the West and East arrive in droves into Singapore and are making their presence felt strongly on our public transport. Our public transport is already an epitome of Singapore’s fast-changing demography in the last decade where native Singaporeans (excluding the number of new citizens) are already made the minority in our home country. I find my own nationality any time on the train on this island being the minority. If Ashton is bashing Singaporeans, our public transport is definitely not the most ideal channel to portray Singaporeans. On the other hand, Ashton chose to speak to Singaporeans on this compassion deficit theme, so I can only guess that she is indeed bashing Singaporeans and not just the people in Singapore.  

Ashton is entitled to her own observation on our trains. As a regular train commuter, I see a fair share of people giving up seats and people hoarding on the priority seats. Among those who gave up their seats for others, unfortunately for Ashton, I saw proportionately more locals doing that than foreigners. That is my own personal observation too. But still, I would not absolve Singaporeans from our compassion deficit label based on giving up seats on trains alone.

And whether commuters’ behaviour on trains and that alone being used as a means of compassion level measurement is justified and whether graciousness instead of compassion level should be more appropriate for Ashton’s case, we really need good journalism from BBC to investigate.

Beyond the domain of public transport, it is also noticeable, if only Ashton would care to observe, that Singaporeans are generous and over-zealous with their pockets when it comes to donation drives. Whether a cleaner, construction worker or a cabbie who lost their lives in an unfortunate manner, donations pour in to support their bereaved families. That gesture seems to contradict our compassion deficit label does it not? What does that portray about Singaporeans in this aspect?

A diligent journalist would certainly probe further before labelling the people of a nation. After all is said, there really is a difference between ungraciousness and compassion deficit.

Besides lazy journalism demonstrated in Ashton’s article, there is also a sense of snobbery exuberating from her unpleasant encounters on our trains, and that brings to mind Anton Casey, another British economic migrant who jeered at public transport commuters. For Ashton’s case, it was the sense of self-entitlement of help from the public because she is an expecting mother, 10 weeks into pregnancy and she expects all commuters on board to pay attention to her tummy and to be also on the stand-by to attend to her needs at all times without her having to ask for it. When help was not granted, Ashton finds Singaporeans a let down and thus we earned the rightful label of compassion deficit from Ashton her majesty. Singaporeans are not compassion deficit simply because we did not give up seats to elderly or physically challenged people, but that we DID NOT GIVE UP OUR seats for Charlotte Ashton. Therefore, Singaporeans had let her down. That “letdown” phrase betrays the “me” mentality of hers. Singapore has to be Ashton-oriented in order not to let her down. But who does she think she is really?? I am curious to know.

At this point, I suddenly wonder if it would be more appropriate to discuss the kind of person Ashton represents, rather than compassion deficit Singaporeans. For a woman who is 10 months into her pregnancy and a foreigner, expects her host country to cuddle her everywhere she treads portrays either a super-pampered woman or a snob. And whether that snobbery stems from her 10 weeks pregnancy (because Singaporeans cannot procreate sufficiently?) or her gender or someone who hails from BBC or London (but what does that mean really? Superiority? ). Anton Casey mocked at those who are less wealthy than him whilst Ashton reprimanded a nation who didn’t help her.

I received far worse treatment during my time in Europe than not being given seats on the trains. I really should then generalize each and every of those nations but I really couldn’t find them a let down nor did I feel being let down. They were at most, unpleasant encounters. There must be expectations in the first place to constitute a let down. And do these countries owe me anything in the first place?

I had a fall while cycling in Punggol Park once. I didn’t expect any help from anyone. It was just a fall. But a cyclist stopped and helped me to pick up my fallen bike and park it by the wall before he cycled away. Another one amazingly had plasters with him, saw my plight, pedalled to my side before insisting to give me a plaster to stop the bleeding and to sterilize the wounds. These people made my day despite my fall and I really didn’t expect any help or see any need of help from anyone from the start. Was it because I have zero expectation from a nation of compassion deficit? Or was it the result of self-reliant mentality? I have no answers to myself.  

Coming back to our topic of compassion deficit, I am not sure if that trait of ours has intensified in the last decade when the already-stiff competition for limited resources and space is further exacerbated by the increasing presence of non-Singaporeans on our shores and especially when we have to put up with the likes of Caseys and Ashtons, and more of them to come in the near future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

一去不返的时光,所以让人抽痛



高中老师曾在80年代留学英伦。留学时,最怀念的竟然不是南洋美食,而是狮城的办事效率。当年,她带着80年代的狮城效率记忆远赴英国。

90年代那个时期,有同学因狮城破天荒的地铁故障而导致上学迟到,却遭讲师误以为是借口,被讲师讥讽一番。那只能说明当时狮城地铁的效率。当时,地铁故障是天方夜谭的事。

高中老师负笈英国毕竟是久远的事了。当我带着那样的狮城效率记忆赴英国时,已经是21世纪初的事了。在那之前,也曾背包过英国和其他欧洲国家,对狮城欧洲两地的生活差异,有多少的认识。

英国因地广人稀,一些服务频率自然无法比美人口密集的城市国家。的确不方便,却必须谅解。

所以小镇公交班次有限。试过赶不上巴士而在冷天中等上一个小时的下班车。试过在小镇国际银行开设户口、存钱和申请提款卡耗上三周才能完成。兑换外币也必须预约安排才能去领钱。周末紧急需要牙医时,也同样必须预约。启动住家电话线等上几周才能办妥。我病人等待国营医院排期动手术或其他治疗可以等上半年数载,毕竟是免费医药福利。能够体谅。

试过大学学府即将开课时仍无法发出上课表以致延后开学日期。也碰过第一天上课,所属部门无法发出我应得的表格而还害我跑了三个不同部门,看他们如何打太极。这样的效率,是可以避免的。

高中老师当年的经验,延续到二十一世纪初的英国。

然而,当福利制度被莫名暴涨的外来人口拖累,当已强制缴付了医药保健税的英国人跑到西班牙掏腰包就医;当英国人负担不起牙医费而动用强力胶来解决牙齿问题;当设在人口密集的伦敦的地下铁故障频繁、维修电动扶梯或地铁站可耗上一年、列车穿行速度缓慢,还敢每年涨价……这些不合理、无效率让我目瞪口呆。而英国还是个先进国。

回返狮城后,期待重返狮城效率时,却也同样令我目瞪口呆。原来,短短的四年之间,狮城的子民已悄悄将父母送去马国终老了,并且得到当时卫生部长许文远的鼓励;等待就医的病人因床位短缺而必须躺在走廊,甚至是发展到驻扎在帐篷里这等如同非洲难民营的景象也出现了;在一个自费的医疗系统下,病人竟然如同英国福利制度那般,需要等上一年半载的排期;曾几何时让子民肃然起敬的警察竟然显得如此窝囊、白痴;而那代表公正、效率的才高八斗的公务员,原来把才干发挥在贪污上;而我们的地铁更是落得了以没有发生故障为罕……狮城的效率,原来,已经能比美英国那种我所不以为然的水准了。

不过是短短的四年,真的有恍若隔世之感。狮城二十一世纪初以前的效率,原来,已经走进了历史。原来,那个时期的效率,是我记忆中最美好的一段时期。也因为那样的美好,在面对当今的现实时,更令人抽痛。