In Singapore, it’s expensive to own a car, and public transport is often one of a few options people have if they want to get to work on time.
The rush-hour crowd in the morning is no joke, made worse by repeated incidents leading to delays or train breakdowns.
The Mass Rapid Transit (or MRT as we know it) is one of the main transport systems in Singapore and used by over 3 million people daily — more than half of the entire population.
The train network spans the entire country and is owned by two private train operators: SMRT and SBS Transit which, to be fair, could do better to curb train faults and disruptions.
Here’s what it’s like to commute from the West end of Singapore to the financial district, a trek that thousands of Singaporeans make every morning.
I started my commute from the station closest to my home -- Clementi -- around 8am. 200,000 working adults use public transport during around that time of day.
There are 106 operational stations scattered across the island. These stations are located along five major criss-crossing network lines. The Clementi station itself has a pretty standard set-up, with two giant electronic displays which told me that all lines that morning were functioning normally. The next train was expected to arrive a minute later.
The crowd started building up from the West side of Singapore, but trains often reach maximum capacity by the time they get to the Clementi station, especially when school-going students are thrown into the mix.
During peak periods like the morning and evening, trains come every three minutes or so, but some passengers still complain that they don't come often enough. At 8 am, the morning crowd starts out un-intimidating: There's a fair amount of people, but we're not yet packed like sardines.
Trains in Singapore run both above and below ground. Just before my train disappeared into the underground five stations away at Tiong Bahru, I managed to catch a glimpse of the gloomy overcast weather outside, along with some road congestion.
As we got closer to the financial district at Raffles Place, the train started filling up quickly with commuters shuffling in, trying to find spots to anchor themselves.
By the time we neared Raffles Place station, this was how much personal space I had left -- at least I could still see my shoes. About 5 minutes passes in between every station.
I arrived at Raffles Place within 30 minutes of starting my journey. That's not always the case, though. In 2011, the MRT in Singapore experienced its worst breakdown in history, affecting over 200,000 commuters in two separate disruptions. In 2015, a sole incident affected about 250,000 people.
SMRT was eventually fined the maximum financial penalty of about $A2.64 million by the Land Transport Authority for 2011 incidents, a sum which was donated to help needy families with transport fares.
When the trains run smoothly, people file like clockwork to the nearest exit points. This was the first time I saw the stairs preferred over the escalators.
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