Surviving MRT morning rush

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A friend told me of  his survival travel guide to taking the MRT train during rush hours. Picking the right spot in the station to get a chance to enter the train is an art, he said.

Jason Teh, 24, an auditor, said: “You know, I used to aim for the cabin that would be right in front of  the escalator when I am at the Raffles Place station. But soon everyone else was doing that. I could not even get into the MRT.

“Now I aim for the cabin furthest from the escalators. I even count … the third cabin from the front when I get on the train from Paya Lebar station; you might get a seat,” he laughed.

Teh’s experience was not uncommon for train commuters, especially the working crowd. It was a sardine-can experience every morning. Though I just spent 26 minutes every morning to travel from Dover to City Hall , I knew that I was one of the lucky few. The Urban Redevelopment Authority has predicted that an average Singaporean spent an average of two and a half hours commuting to and from work.

A Public Transport Customer Satisfaction survey also showed that Singaporeans’ overall satisfaction with the public transport system dipped from 90.3 per cent in 2011 to 88.8 per cent in 2013. Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said last year that the drop stemmed from overcrowding and reliability of the public transport services.

So I wonder, how do we survive the crush and make it to work happy?

I was on assignment and took as many train rides as I could  during five working days to observe and talk to people about their experiences.

During that week, I spoke to over 20 commuters. Every one said the train rides irritated them. I could see laptops being clamped between legs while the rush-hour commuters tried to virtually prevent themselves from crushing into the next person, centrimetres away.  Many of us found ourselves without anything to hold on to as the train went from station to station. There was just not enough space for each of us to hold a metal bar or plastic handle above our heads.

One passenger, Sherry who worked at Tanjong Pagar said: “I have stopped taking the train. I take the bus. It is half an hour longer but it is better than this.”

Another commuter, Vincent Chong who travelled from Dover to Redhill every morning, suggested: “I think one possible way to solve the overcrowding is by removing all the seats and having bigger carriages.”

At 9 am on a Tuesday morning, I happened to be in the Buona Vista MRT station. I spoke to five commuters and learned that they were late for work. Liza, who worked at HarbourFront, said: “Most days, it would be jam-packed. But I am late for work today.”

As the week went by, I met another commuter who excitedly told me how he avoided the crowd in the morning. Jace (not his real name), 24, said: “I take the train from Raffles Place to Marina Bay. Then I take a train to Bishan. You know why? Because I can get a seat at Marina Bay.”

On Thursday, an elderly man with a slightly hunched back stood up a minute or so before we arrived at Tiong Bahru. The train was moving, he was wobbling from left to right as he made his way towards the door. He (Mr Lim, 71) said he would not have made it out on time if he had gotten up after train had come to a halt. Truth be told, even a young person would take considerable time to make his way from his seat to the door considering the large crowd in the train.

After the five-day experience, I wondered if I had learned from various individuals how to survive the MRT ride. From young to old, they all have found ways to make the train ride bearable. At the same time, I wonder if we are ever happy to face the MRT every day at dawn.