Of late, one of Singaporeans' main grievances has been the deterioration in the quality of journeys on Singapore's subway or MRT system.
In reality, the MRT's service quality has not declined. Trains still run regularly. Breakdowns or delays are rare. It is simply that MRT trains have become extremely crowded. During peak hours, it is not unusual for commuters to wait for the third or fourth train before boarding.
Deterioration, in other words, is a euphemism for crowded.
|Job creation Japan style: SMRT 'carriage management agents'|
Singapore's MRT trains do not operate in a vacuum. Crowded trains reflect the increasing numbers of people inhabiting this small island of 687 square kilometres, slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C. has a 'weekday' population of over one million and a resident population of approximately 600,000. Singapore's total population is 5.1 million.
The five years from 2005 to 2010 saw Singapore's population grow by 800,000 inhabitants, from 4.3 million to 5.1 million. The country's population has increased by almost exactly one million persons in each of the last two decades. Government statistics show a population of 3.0 million, 4.0 million and 5.1 million in 1990, 2000 and 2010 respectively.
In other words, the number of people living on the island has increased by almost 70 percent since 1990. (I am pretty sure my math is correct!)
The impact of population on Singapore's trains is noticeable. During 2003, the MRT's monthly ridership was 32.4 million. In 2011, the MRT's average monthly ridership is 52.3 million (data for January – August 2011), an increase of just over 60 percent.
Surely, Singapore's train network also expanded during the last few years. Many Circle Line stations opened in May 2009 and some extensions to other lines were implemented. Hence, the comparison of average monthly train travellers is not 'like for like.' However, MRT trains are visibly crowded.
The numbers do not lie, ask any commuter.
Unfortunately, train travellers should not expect any respite in the next decade. Notwithstanding Minister's 'experiencing' MRT travel first hand there is little planned which will make a dramatic difference to overcrowding in the short term.
Longer term, the Downtown, Thomson and Eastern Region lines will open between 2017 and 2020. Signal improvements over the next eight years will allow trains to run at intervals of below 100 seconds versus the current 120 seconds. In due course, these 'systemic' enhancements should have a positive impact on train travel.
Like the rest of Singapore's infrastructure, the country's MRT system is feeling the effects of dramatic population growth during the last few decades. Sadly, train travellers cannot expect the quality of subway journeys to improve dramatically anytime soon – if ever.
Perhaps the real issue at hand is not the government's immigration policies but the perceived benefits of a trade-off between economic growth and quality of life.