Enjoying Public Transport


I am still driving my socialist car as though it were a Porsche or at least like a BMW or Mercedes Benz. There is no harm in that because almost all cars on the road behave in the same way in a traffic-clogged city, irrespective of the specifications of the car – whether high-end sports car or mid-range socialist car, right?

In Singapore, most cars behave in a specific manner, due to very tough law enforcement mechanism and severe punishments meted out in a consistent way. So it does not matter what car you drive.

Of late, I have started using public transport systems which are of high quality in Singapore, as most of you know. Whenever there seems to be high parking charges imposed (especially in the CBD, or Central Business District area), I tend to reconsider my options, weighing convenience against cost effectiveness. Most times, convenience wins hands down, but there are days and occasions when using public transport makes eminent sense. For example, I use public bus to reach my gym on weekdays as the parking is expensive and bus costs less than one-third of the parking cost, whereas during weekends, driving is a better option as the parking cost is similar to the bus cost, and the car allows me to buy a few things and bring back to home. Driving into CBD during weekdays is definitely not a good idea as apart from the exorbitant parking rates, there is an ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) charge to enter the CBD which varies depending on the time of the day.

Recently, I used a combination of bus and MRT subway system, which facilitated reaching the heart of the CBD in less than 40 min at a low cost. Then I started wondering – why do people still want to stick to their cars instead of enjoying the air-conditioned travel comfort in public transport. Apart from the comfort and timeliness, the other thing is the lack of traffic congestion on the MRT except, of course, of the commuters themselves who clog the stations in big numbers right through the day, more so during the peak hours.

One thing that I really enjoyed is watching the commuters and their behaviour without being obtrusive. 90% of the folks were totally fixated on their smartphones, many watching TV serials or videos, others reading news, etc., There was hardly any conversations going on, except amongst school going children and teenagers who mostly giggled about something. I expected at least some love birds, but I hardly saw anyone. This experience told me that Singaporean public transport commuters do not use the “public” opportunity to seek out potential new partners or business associates. They appear to be living a solo life in their own respective glass bubble, with hardly any interaction with other strangers. In fact, I noticed some couples did not even engage in any talk, but once they settled in, almost immediately whipped out their respective smartphones and started doing their own thing.

I noticed that government education on public orderliness has percolated and embedded itself in the psyche of people so much, that they always form a neat queue on either side of the opening doors of the MRT coaches, and try not to get pushed in as happens in Hong Kong or Mumbai.

Well, what I can say is that you save enough money in a five day week to have more than couple of meals if you use public transport as compared to driving and parking your own car. Though I sometimes wish to give up my car for good, the convenience factor nags me – I have to walk only 5 minutes to the bus stop right outside my condo, but have to walk some 12 minutes to the nearest MRT station. I have to wait for the bus, or use the several bus apps to plan the departure from my home to sync with specific bus arrival. And so on, and so forth. I was thinking today that such precise timings and definitions would have hardly mattered in India, for example, but in a developed country, our sensitivity goes up! We become extremely time conscious and want to plan our journey to the very last minute!!

However, in a nutshell, I have started enjoying at least the little bit of public transport that I am using. I wish the bus driver when I board the bus, and mostly the drivers respond with a big smile, as it is very apparent that no commuter bothers about the driver. Drivers of public transport in Singapore are not used to greetings coming from passengers, it appears! Everytime I get into a taxi, I greet the driver with his name as the app shows his name, and almost everytime I get warmth back. For me it is not unusual way of operating, but for the driver it is an unusual experience, a pleasant one to be greeted from out of the blue. Many a time, a suitably warmed up driver is a better alternative as he or she engages in small talk afterward which is a good experience.

So, here I go – for my next ride using public transport, which for me involves a fair bit of sociology reading as well, apart from getting to my destination on time!

Cheers, and have a great week ahead folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th February 2019

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