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.