Clementi is the worst place to start from when going downtown, as I recall from a news story a month or two ago. Tampines also figured in the hellish-commute stakes. A figure of 20 minutes was mentioned, increasing to a little over 30 minutes at peak hour, if my recollection’s any good.
The times sounded too good to be true — 30 minutes is hell? — and I did a double-take. Only on re-reading the article did I realise it was about driving. The study did not refer to the proletariat that had to rely on public transport.
It only upset me more.
Heck, some days, I am kept waiting 25 minutes just for a bus. You may have reached your destination, but I am still stuck at my starting point. It happened again over the Christmas weekend. It was raining and I had to rely on a feeder bus, which took forever to arrive. I resolved to write.
The service quality standards laid down by the Public Transport Council (PTC) can be seen at their website www.ptc.gov.sg. In a nutshell, these are the standards required of bus operators:
“Headway” means the time between one bus and another on the same route. However, the service standards only refer to headway at the commencing bus terminus. The 10-minute or 20-minute headway intervals mentioned above (with 5 more minutes’ allowance) do NOT apply to buses en-route.
Nor could I find a definition for “peak” and “non-peak”. I would have thought it essential to set out the times clearly if the quality standards are to mean anything.
Just today, I see a report about SMRT Corp, the operator of the East-West and North-South metro lines, increasing train frequency:
Those travelling at the peak of the weekday morning rush hour will see trains arriving every 2.14 minutes to 2.5 minutes, while trains will arrive every 2.5 minutes to 3 minutes at the height of evening peak hours.
The morning peak hour stretches from 7am to 9am, and evening peak hour starts from 5pm and ends at 7.30pm.
— Sunday Times, 1 Jan 2012, More frequent train service during rush hour, says SMRT, by Royston Sim.
Many readers would leave with the impression that they can expect a frequency of 2.14 to 2.5 minutes during the morning peak of 7 to 9 a.m., but you would have been fooled. Read it again. It says: “at the height of peak hours”. What does that mean?
It is also rather irresponsible for the newspaper to place a sentence about peak period timings right after SMRT’s claim which DOES NOT refer to peak period timings.
Coming back to buses, commuters may need to judge if the standards are too lax. Is a 10-minute headway (ex-terminus) during the mysteriously undefined “peak” good enough? Is a 20-minute headway all other times good enough?
Of course, these are minimum standards. The bus operators SBS Transit and SMRT could well be doing much better than that for several services, but it would be hard for the public to know, since this is not published information.
More importantly, what matters to commuters is the headway en-route. We hear of buses bunching up followed by a terribly long interval before the subsequent bus comes along. The latter will likely be overcrowded as a result. In this respect the Public Transport Council has no quality standards in operation. It appears that the PTC takes the bus companies at their word that it all depends on traffic conditions and there is nothing they can do about it.
Worse, I haven’t seen any reports about attempts to measure headways en-route. It’s a known unknown, but we make no effort to find out?
* * * * *
This is where I beat the drums called Freedom of Information, and the related Open Data. If the PTC won’t act, let citizens act.
All our buses use (or should be using) the Global Positioning System (GPS) or other systems to predict and record arrival times at bus stops. At several bus stops, we have electronic boards like the one at right.
You can also digitally query SBS Transit about the expected arrival time of the next bus of any of its services, at any bus stop.
Clearly, data is being collected. Release the raw data (in machine-readable format) to the public and some whiz-kid somewhere is going to find a way to crunch the numbers to reveal patterns and trends. We’ll be able to see how bad the problem is: Which routes tend to have the problem of bunching and/or long headways en-route, and at what times.
We can then focus on possible solutions such as looking at more efficient bus lanes along the most troublesome stretches of roads, or redesigning the service routes if their excessive length aggravates the delays.
SBS Transit and SMRT may well say, Oh, we’re already doing that. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. We, the public, don’t know. And that is the point. Since they are running a public service, we should have a right to know. We should have a right to monitor their performance.
In theory, the PTC is supposed to represent the public in monitoring the operators, but given the complete lack of information from the PTC — “peak” not defined? — and the apparent failure to even measure en-route headways, it may well be sleeping on the job. In any case, as a public body, the PTC too should be sharing information with the public. There shouldn’t be a cosy, opaque relationship between the regulator and the regulatees.
The time for open data is now.