Regardless of how cliché this introduction is, I have to say that citizen journalism is in its infantile stage of growth in Singapore. The Internet is an idealized conduit for many to air their opinion, and perhaps as a ripple effect many are clamoring for their views to be heard. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media is quick to latch on this trend with a host of online portals for the hoi polloi to participate in and for them to subsequently score some column inches in the local newspaper.

This of course bodes well for a nation often accused for its apathy towards current affairs and societal matters.

But what many fail to discern is the difference between positive citizen journalism and negative citizen journalism. Of course, the underlying motivations behind citizen journalism is the same, that is, to push for a greater good in Singapore and to air otherwise unheard opinions. Yet in the pursuit for voices to be heard are we neglecting better methods that lie within our own fiefdom?

The main source of my ire, specifically, is budding citizen photojournalists who ostentatiously play the shame game by whipping out their handy camera phones. All this, without seeming to hold a modicum of respect for other individuals and the capability to posit a thought of the consequences of their actions. Though their motivations may be positive, their actions indicate otherwise.

Let me first clarify that I am NOT a victim of these budding citizen photojournalists, nor do I stand in the camp of the people they have photographed with regard to their wrongdoings.

Take the oft-photographed incident of seat-hogging on public transportation. Yes, it is a moral and ethical issue for youths to give up their seats to the needy. But for people to turn against them via the shame game through photography such that these individuals can be lambasted on Internet forums and lampooned on local newspapers is a shameless act by itself.

It makes infinite more sense for these self-supposed vigilantes to approach these guilty youths themselves and to politely request for them to give up their seats. It is, at the end of the day, NOT a right but a courtesy issue. What’s wrong with leaving the comforts of the ‘cushy’ MRT seats, going up to the person, nudging him awake (if he’s pretending to be asleep) or catch his attention (if he’s pretending to be oblivious) AND asking them to give up their seats?

Wouldn’t that be more likely to create an immediate, positive effect? Would wantonly uploading a photograph onto national portals yield the same effect? Are these people even members of these portals? Even if they are, couldn’t a “this-won’t-ever-happen-to-me” attitude be omnipresent?

Ditto, to some of the photos that appeared on a local tabloid newspaper over the past week.

A woman openly eating on the MRT: photographed and published, rather than kindly warned about the repercussions. Wouldn’t it be a better deed for the keen watchdog to approach her, and inform her of the possible fines in case of sheer ignorance?

A bus driver guiding traffic along the KPE and subjecting himself to danger: photographed and published. Okay this does not go along with the main throttle of my argument but for the driver to stop along the side of the road just to take that shot – isn’t that a case of a pot calling the kettle black?

While the motivations of these purported vigilantes are inherently positive, what is the point when it insinuates a lack of conscious courtesy and politeness in a nation that is quick to infringe on the privacy of other people? All this, at the expense of what could be an immediate and positive resolution to the conflict one views upon. Or could the root of the problem be incommunicado, a sheer ignorance of the perks of open communication?

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Transport in Singapore

February 10, 2008

In recent months, much has been said about the (increasingly deplorable state of) transport systems in Singapore, as compared to previous years. Also, there has been a lot of talk on what we can look forward to in the future.

Firstly, an increased number of ERP gantries (some of which are being placed at ridiculous locations such as in the Toa Payoh heartlands – notice how the authorities are somewhat evading the touchy topic by giving extremely non-commital replies to complaints about the issue. Replies such as “This is a necessary measure so as to curb the rise in…” tell the public nothing at all – instead they should focus on the “How” of the issue and dwell more in depth as to how residents will not be shortchanged.

Secondly, higher ERP rates, especially during peak hours, so as to reduce congestion on the roads and to coerce more people into utilising public transport and to leave their well-groomed trusty vehicles behind in their own car parks, failing to acknowledge the fact that this will eventually lead to more congestion on public transport itself. (But of course, people are obsessed with the age-old antediluvian idea that Singapore has a ‘world-class public transport system’ to acknowledge the flaws which have started to show up.. No wonder, while I find that the recent MRT disruption was handled properly on the ground, what with the numerous shuttle buses catered to shuttle affected passengers, people were nonetheless left bewildered as to what the entire issue was until they managed to catch the news on television that night)

Thirdly,  the LTA is in the midst of testing and developing a world-first GPS-based ERP system, which charges commuters based on how much they “contribute” to congestion on the roads in ERP-activated areas (factors include the length of time spent on the roads as opposed to being parked in some carpark somewhere within the CBD), tentatively slated to be up by 2010. This would mean that the flat rate system currently adopted will be abolished.

Next, the government has announced plans to accelerate the expansion plans of the MRT, which is definitely a good thing as it will cut travel time around the region. (Of course, the downside is that with all the costs in maintaining a larger network of MRT lines, we are bound to be faced with a further hike in MRT fees?)

The following shows an artist’s impression of the future MRT-LRT network. (Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_Rapid_Transit_(Singapore))

Future MRT-LRT Network
* Click to enlarge

Meanwhile, SMRT and SBS will be implementing measures to ease congestion on public transportation, through measures such as increasing the frequency of trains, especially during peak hours (a move which SMRT has announced was to take place on 4 Feb 08), as well as revising the frequency of buses on the roads (which is an irony all by itself as wouldn’t more buses, while it means good news for the commuters as it eases congestion on the buses itself, add on to the congestion on the roads?).

Mr Brown recently posted an article on his blog www.mrbrown.com, titled “There is a reason that MRT train feels less frequent and more crowded…”, which is worth reading.

My personal opinion? The SMART announcement which SMRT made regarding the increment of train services on 4 Feb 08 doesn’t seem to have made any difference. Prior to 4 Feb, at least on the East-West Line, the waiting time for trains for peak hours is about 2-3 minutes, while it is 7 minutes for off-peak hours. Even after 4 Feb, there isn’t any improvement made to the waiting period for trains, while trains are as crowded as usual during peak hours.

SBS and SMRT personnel (especially those ‘with rank’) allege that they understand the actual situation on the ground, using some statistics they gather from who-knows-where, to boost up their claims to make them sound more credible (or laughable,. you decide). But I doubt they actually have even a pea-sized inkling of how the situation actually is, on the ground, and how horrible travelling on public transport has become, in comparison to the past.

You know what? I think they themselves do not travel on the public transport they govern, driving their own flashy cars to work.

PS: If anybody of importance is reading this, I would like to make an appeal to increase the frequency of bus service 518, especially during peak hours on weekdays and weekends. It is exceptionally frustrating when the company charges so much, since it is after all, an express service, but people on the bus are packed like sardines most of the time. Whatever happened to travelling in comfort?

*Written by aR