Imagine you are working in LTA. You are in charge of reducing the number of train delays. There’s a new Minister for Transport. He needs some way to show the public that he is on the ball, that he’s up to the task. After all, he is known for cleaning up shit. He needs to live up to that reputation. He wants results. He wants them now. Your neck is on the line. You need to come up with some way to cut the number of train delays. Immediately. What do you do?
You change the way you count train delays. That’s how. You change it to exclude train delays that are caused by “external factors”. In other words, you exclude the “factors beyond the control of the operators and LTA, such as passenger action”. For instance, if the train delay is caused by someone’s foot getting stuck in the gap between the train and station platform, or when someone trespasses onto a track, don’t count them.
Straits Times senior transport correspondent, Christopher Tan, highlighted, perhaps with a bit of sarcasm, “Not unexpectedly, figures collated with this new method are noticeably lower than previously. For instance, under the old calculation, there were 12 major breakdowns (those longer than 30 minutes) last year. Under the new system, there were 10. In the first nine months of this year, the authority said, there were seven such disruptions while, with the previous method, there would have already been seven in the first six months.” It reminds me of this clip from Yes, Prime Minster:
Of course, this change can be justified. Hong Kong’s MTR and New York City Transit use similar methodology. So switching facilitates “international benchmarking”. What does that mean exactly to commuters? Nothing. Essentially it still means LTA and the rail operators still have some way to go before we can be sure that train delays will be significantly reduced. As Dr Walter Theseira said: “While I agree with the principle of making our rail reliability statistics comparable internationally, for commuters, a disruption is a disruption, regardless of cause. Some types of passenger action which contribute to delays can be reduced by revising the design of stations and trains.”
More importantly, Dr Theseira highlighted that, while the overall statistics have, delays lasting more than 30 minutes improved, which causes the most inconvenience for members of the public, “have not budged significantly in recent years, even with the revised methodology”. Dr Theseira explains why delays lasting more than 30 minutes cause the most inconvenience: “While service can be recovered readily for disruptions of a few minutes, major disruptions force commuters to travel by alternative modes of transport, and we don’t have the capacity in the rest of the transport system to accommodate such a large volume of commuters readily during peak-hour major disruptions.”
So. Yes. There may be good reasons to change the way we count train delays. But LTA still has its work cut out. Let’s hope that Minister Khaw lives up to his reputation of miracle cleaner of shit. At least let’s hope that there won’t be any more major train delays till the next year.
[Featured image: photo of East-West line disruption from TodayOnline.com. Photo by Robin Choo]