The Singaporean way of life: the subway

The small city-state known as Singapore houses millions of people of different Asian ancestry. From the outskirts of the city to the core, the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) connects all these people together as they go from home to work. Singaporeans rely on their sophisticated subways and light rail trains to move around the city, and they treat their MRT with much more respect than Americans treat their public transportation.

In my lifetime in Los Angeles, I remember always travelling by car and rarely by public transportation. The reach of the current rail system of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA, or locally known as Metro) is pitiful compared to that of other cities. So why do I want to particularly focus on Singapore when there are many other Asian cities that also offer a much better public transportation system than Los Angeles? Simply because in Singapore, the MRT is leaps and bounds ahead of that of the other transportation agencies due to its advanced technology, its coordinated planning with the urban growth of the city, and the reverence residents have for it.

I began to love public transportation ever since I began relying on it more in eleventh grade. I had always enjoyed taking the trains, but when I saw how useful and beneficial Metro was, I became interested in its expansion projects that could possibly help Los Angeles let go of the car. By going to Singapore, I would be able to document what makes a state of the art public transportation feasible for a large metropolis.

To document this, I will take photos of the stations, the people, and the subway cars and write down my observations in a notebook as I use the subway. Most importantly, I plan to interview passengers on the train who might be a mother with her children on a day trip, tourists getting to their location, or someone getting out of work. Stepping out of the subway station, I would visit a famous restaurant or other locales and observe the people of different backgrounds in there. My interest focuses on how they interact and whether they took public transportation. The passengers on the subway could give a tale of how they rely on the subway system and the respect they have for it.

I would also place importance on the socioeconomic levels of my interview subjects. To get feedback from working-class citizens, I would board the train early in the morning just as most passengers head off to work. Curious about why they think about their transport system, I would ask how affordable do they consider the MRT, what they like about the system, what they hope to see in the future, and any other preferred methods of transportation. Then I would come to ask higher-income passengers and ask them the same questions. These answers will probably differ than riders of the LACMTA, who are primarily low-income.

Most importantly, I intend to interview MRT officials about the administration of the transit system, the system’s growth over the years, problems, and how they think the system compares to that of other metropolises in the world. Understanding their point of view clarifies how the MRT is operated so well that people like it.

The most notable part of the Singapore MRT is its cleanliness. With sophisticated technology, such as the sliding glass doors that protect riders from stepping onto the tracks at the stations and TV’s, no one really vandalizes the train cars. Everything seems surprisingly clean, unlike the trains of New York and Los Angeles. And all of this is based on the history of the city and how the rail system expanded. Speaking with locals, transportation officials, and government leaders about the history and precedent transportation methods could clarify this phenomenon.

Los Angeles and Singapore are very alike in the sense that people of different tongues and races live in the same metropolitan area. But how did Singapore manage to unify all of these people and their city, unlike the ununited neighborhoods of L.A.? I hope to find this out as I observe the MRT and its people, and perhaps this could give Metro and Angelenos insight on the value of investing in a robust public transportation system. I intend to do this through a written piece with pictures.

3 thoughts on “The Singaporean way of life: the subway

  1. Dude… not sure where you got the impression from.. but Singapore public systems has been breaking down daily basis.. Like you need to visit gents on every other day..

    Well if you are referring to making big bucks from common ppl.. ya smrt is the model to look at.. good luck on your survey..

  2. Hi, a Singaporean here who takes the MRT to work everyday. A couple of things to note regarding your observations.

    On car use VS public transport use:

    Most people in Singapore use the MRT instead of cars, because cars are extremely expensive in Singapore. (USD$59,000 for the cheapest car model in Singapore. Monthly insurance, loan servicing, parking and tax costs for a car can range from USD$1300 to USD$1800 per month.) The average Singaporean commuter in the MRT cabin is usually squeezed, stressed out and frustrated by the noise and the crowd (and the occasional body stench… given Singapore’s hot and humid weather) at peak hours. A great majority of Singaporeans actually aspire to own a car in order to escape the horrendous MRT crush.

    On the relative cleanliness of the MRT cabins:

    SMRT has strict (and almost draconian) no eating and drinking rules in MRT cabins. Not even drinking of plain water or taking of medicine/pills/sweets is allowed, if you feel ill, nauseous or sick. A $30 to $500 fine is imposed if you are caught by SMRT staff.

    On the relative absence of vandalism:

    Singapore has strict laws against vandalism. Convicted vandals can be sentenced to caning in prison (minimum of three strokes, I believe). Their buttocks are usually covered in blood after three strokes. It is quite an effective (and deeply painful) deterrent.

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