31 October 2008

Bus commuters caught in terminology jam

The Straits Times reported that commuters disputed the Public Transport Council's finding that "buses were late on only 25 occasions and too crowded only 28 times" during a six-month period. Indeed it is too good to be true. Full essay.


KiWeTO said...


perhaps if the data was collected by a morally acceptable 3rd party, funded equally by a passengers society and the various transport companies.

But since we don't have a passengers' society that actively lobbies on behalf of the travelling stiffs, nothing will really change.

I do however find it rather surprising that nobody really thinks about challenging their figures. If we take 1600 for each train divided by 6 carriages, that would give us about 265+ passengers per train. Now, the next step is to try to visualise exactly how 265 people are going to fit into 1 carriage without feeling 'squashed'. (even canned sardines have more space?)

life. When one or two parties in the triangular relationship have too much power, the powerless are just that, powerless.

A move to start an independent passengers' society might just be the cure. If, someone cares enough.


Chee Wai Lee said...

Thanks for the article, Alex. You highlight one of my pet peeves about MSM articles - too often, their news articles say little to nothing about the topic at hand and fail to provide the details necessary for a reader to understand the impact of an issue or government announcement. Now, it looks like they do not even do the necessary homework to interpret the facts, verify they make sense and clarifying with the necessary authorities if they do not.

As for public transportation, I agree with you. Detailed data should now be available given the GPS technology employed. Detailed crowding information is also available because of our electronic payment systems on each bus (even accounting for those paying by cash). The data should be per-trip, with data points at each GPS-enabled bus stop.

I feel the data published by the PTC is summarized to the point of being almost useless. If it is statistics they are going after, it should be the proportion of all trips made by each bus line. With such a breakdown of such data, one can then figure out if some routes have more trouble than others and proceed to solve the problems associated with those routes.

I get the feeling the PTC does not seem interested in solving the problems (if there are problems, and I believe there are) associated with our public transportation ... this ST article simply shows they are only interested to "show" that everything is ok.

Chee Wai Lee said...

Sigh, it looks like I may have misunderstood the aims of the PTC. If I have, I apologize. Judging from the link you provided to the PTC report, it does seem the document is meant to show how they enforced compliance on the transport companies (which I do not agree with) by fining them for non-compliance.

In that context, what they reported are, to me, appropriate. The QoS "standards" listed were appropriately loose (else they would be fining the bus company like crazy). For the purposes of this report, it now makes perfect sense to me. Pity the ST reporter mis-represented it (imho).

Anyway, I think we should try to get the PTC to issue a second report with the necessary details (maybe with the help of the Statistics Department) to help us understand in detail how well our public transportation system is doing.

Anonymous said...

After years of wrangling, commuters and the PTC seems still worlds apart in perception with regards to the transport situation in Singapore. Another decade down the road and I guess it will still be the same, the reality experienced by commuters and the make believe world of the PTC.

What is the point of having on-line data showing estimated bus arrivals if its purpose is to tell you that your next bus will only arrive in 23 minutes. Commuters are only interested in a shorter waiting time for buses, nothing more. I guess that is a very difficult thing to understand for the PTC.

If there is anything to learn from all this, it is not to place too much hope on our watchdogs putting commuters' interest first. More often than not it is the other way round.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex,

The only way to let the public know the actual situation is using video - more than words can say.

I hope and urge the public to upload to Youtube (personally I don't prefer to use Stomp! for personal reasons ) for the world to see how 'congestionless' and on-time the bus is and the frequency of service.

just my 1 cent.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex,

Do you agree that Transparency should mean Full Transparency ?

I believe many companies cannot provide Transparency for their own reasons.

A piece of glass when is said to be transparent means people can see through it. If one cannot see clearly through it, the term Translucency is more appropriate to describe.

So, my point is about the appropriate use of word to describe corporate disclosure. I also believe that its inappropriate to say a company will be 'more transparent'. How to measure this? How much is 'more'? So, to me there is either FULL TRANSPARENCY or no Transparency. Anything less should be described with the word TRANSLUCENCY.

I hope to hear your comments about my idea.

Thanks Alex! Keep on writing for us, please.

Anonymous said...

Excellent suggestion on how to track buses on: one-quarter point, mid point, and three-quarter point of the route.

Anonymous said...

"Generally, commuters have no great grievance about trains arriving late, but they regularly complain about buses arriving late. Yet, it is the former that is being measured and the operators fined."

The reason is universally plain simple, trains run on deidcated tracks and schedulling is fully under operator's control, whereas buses compete with cars and subject to the vagaries of congested road traffic enroute, to keep to the schedules. Can operators be held accountable for something that is beyond bus operators' control? Just look the inevitable stop-go-stop-go delays whenever we are on buses.

My point is defining measurement,setting limits and enforcing compliance are complex. Trains are a lot simpler than buses for sure.

That said, I think regulators can do more, but please do not be overly prescriptive and go into micro-managing the operators.

To be fair to PTC, they didnt have these for years. Now they have some proxies to work on. I hope when LTA takes over central planning of bus service from next year, things will get even better.

Anonymous said...

I would like to suggest that the members of the Public Transport Council ride buses and trains only for one month, and then write their report.

Its pointless to use (or mis-use) statistics to demonstrate the efficiency of public transport, when passengers experience buses and trains first-hand everyday. Passengers will know public transport is working well when their daily commute works well for them.

Desmond Lim said...

Seriously, when has the PTC ever been for the commuters? It has always been on the side of the transport companies. Whenever there is a criticism of the transport operators by the public, they would pick up their guns and go to the defense of these operators. Never has the PTC ever challenged the transport operators to answer to the public. In their minds, we have a "world class" transport system, and according to them, the best in the world (read: cheap and efficient). If course if you compare ours with places like Australia and USA, we have the best. But aren't we suppose to compare with places like Japan, Germany and Hong Kong? Which have transport systems far superior than ours.

Why is it when it comes to the airport, our ports, schools, we compare them with the best in the world and when it comes to public transport we don't?

majulah said...

Looks like we pay high salaries so that we can be astounded by the brains behind the presentation of such stats! We'd bet better served if that brain power were applied to serving consumers' needs.