Patches, grit, and the sorry state of things

There used to be benches on both sides. They were recently removed — most likely as part of SMRT’s “service improvement”, which is Orwellian-speak for “squeeze more people in”. The parts under the erstwhile benches are darker grey, but the outline of the benches isn’t of straight lines. Instead the wavy boundary between the darker and lighter grey is almost surely caused by abrasion from feet over the years.

Yet, there are some dark spots too near the doors where abrasion must be greatest, suggesting that the floor covering has worn through one more layer, revealing a third, dark layer beneath, or that abrasion is so deep that dirt is trapped there.

An alternative explanation could be that the spotty abrasion near the doors came not from feet, but from scrubbing with an incompatible chemical in an attempt to clean the dirtiest parts.

The questions that come to mind are:

1. Was this degree of wear and tear expected?

2. If it was, what is SMRT’s replacement policy for flooring?

3. If it wasn’t, was it because of substandard materials used? If so, did the manufacturer cut corners, or was the vendor specification too lax?

Regardless of the answers to the questions above, the fact is that when the seats were removed, the stark discolouration of the floor must have become noticeable. Why didn’t SMRT promptly lay a new flooring? Did the maintenance and branding people think it acceptable to leave this awful sight in place?

Or was replacement proposed but rejected by management?

Some readers may also have experienced SMRT carriages with an unpleasant odour. I’ve never been able to identify it, but it is a chemical kind of smell, not from other humans. My guess is that it was either from the cleaning chemicals, or from a nasty reaction between the chemicals used and the interior of the carriages — perhaps the flooring.

That something nasty is going on became quite apparent two weeks later, when I was in a different train and took this photograph:


I took it because, as I stepped into the train, I felt the floor to be gritty underfoot.

Why is it so? I asked myself, and stooped down for a closer look. And took this next picture.

What is evident is that what used to be a smooth floor covering — the speckled floor is really composed of grit embedded in polymer — has now been so badly abraded that the softer polymer has worn off by a millimetre or two and grit stands exposed. It won’t be long before the grit loosens out altogether, perhaps to be shuffled by walking feet, with some pieces eventually ending up in the door channels. We’ll know it has happened when the doors jam and refuse to open or close.

I can’t say for sure why the polymer flooring in this train has worn down so badly. No other train that I have been in had this problem. Either the flooring was particularly substandard in this train, or a new cleaning chemical was tried on this one, with disastrous results.

Regardless of the reason, why wasn’t the floor covering replaced immediately?

It says much of an organisation whether problems are promptly attended to. We can read a lot about management attitudes from the little things. Not just the attitudes of top management, but all the way down line management.

Look at this next photo, taken at an MRT station toilet. Three faucets have broken down. What are the odds that they broke down the same day? Very unlikely, I would think. In all probability, they broke down sequentially over a period of time. Yet the first wasn’t repaired before the second broke down, nor even before the third!

It’s like nobody cared.

Frustrating though incompetent management and sluggish corporate culture may be, the bigger danger is that Singapore society will slowly come to accept all this as normal. It is bad enough that we are reticent about speaking up, and that reticence simply means we fail to apply the needed pressure on public service organisations. But when such a sorry state of things becomes normalised, then the rare person who does speak up will be the nail that sticks out and is seen negatively for it: as the guy who makes trouble, the guy who expects too much, the guy who is unreasonable.

It is never unreasonable to demand better. If we don’t strive, we’ll never progress.

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