Singapore Public Transport
“Good evening, happy Tuesday, welcome to bus service number 196,” says the beaming turbaned driver in a musical Indian accent.
And so my love-hate relationship with Singapore’s public transport flips over to love again. Stays on love when I climb up to the upper deck and find the front row seat free. I slide into the corner and proceed to ignore the rest of the commuters.
Ten minutes later my meter has swung back. Not all the way to hate, just to mild annoyance. A chubby guy has sat next to me and he’s touching me, bumping me with his arm as the bus bumps along. I can’t squish myself into the window any further to get away. God I hate commuting in Singapore. With a passion.
I’ve trying cycling to work and it’s just too damn hot. I’ve tried the bus and the train. I’ve tried taking the bus to the train. I’ve tried walking to the train. Every method sucks. Sucks an hour of my time each way. My valuable baby-cuddling time. And every method delivers me to work dripping with sweat. Classy.
What really rankles is that it takes 12 minutes to get to work by taxi. Twelve minutes and about $20. We just can’t afford it. I can almost see my office from the end of my street. But the buses don’t go directly to the financial district, they shun the expressway and meander through various back streets for half an hour or so, before delivering me two blocks from my office. The two block walk includes three pedestrian crossings, all on long cycles, which means two blocks takes 10 minutes. Maddening.
Then there’s the bus timetables. Or lack thereof. No timetable, just a sign saying buses will be along every five to 15 minutes in peak hours, nine to 20 minutes in off peak. So every day about 15 minutes of possible standing at the bus stop time has to be added to the commute. Every day I leave the house at the same time. Some days I arrive at work 30 minutes early, other days a minute or two late. Maddening.
Then there’s commuter behaviour. Kiasu I’m told it’s called. The fear of losing. I’ve been pushed out of the way, pushed in front of, prodded with handbags, squashed and poked and generally ticked off in innumerable ways. I’ve watched teenage girls charge across an empty train carriage to get a seat. I’ve gotten on a half-full but full bus. Half the seats are empty, but they’re all window seats, the selfish commuters taking the aisle seats so no one can sit next to them. If you approach one of these seat-hoggers, they will just twist in place, leaving you to edge past them, your bum inches from their faces. (Kinda serves them right, I think.) But still, maddening.
At the train station, people surge onto a train before those aboard can get off. When I wait at what seems to me to be an appropriate distance from where the train door will be (it’s well-marked on the platform), someone always comes and stands in front of me, edging themselves in between me and the yellow line. Maddening. (I know, I know, Asians have a much smaller concept of personal space than Australians. It’s not that they’re standing so close that bothers me, it’s the pushing in. It’s rude, even in Asia, I’m sure.)
At the weekends, when we pack up Miss M for an excursion, it’s same-same but different. Our first week in Singapore, at the MRT station, the people on the platform pushed through our family group, shoving the pram out of the way, in their desperation to board a train. The three of us barely made it on board together. Darling Man and I clung to each other as the crowd continued to push and shove, we were trying to hold the baby, hold on and hold the pram. It was too frightening to leave her in the pram when the crowd had such disregard for it. She was only six months old, so small and fragile and still wobbly-necked.
Nowadays she’s sturdier and much more active. She wants to hang from the bus straps, press buttons, stand up, jump around and smirk at other commuters. She’s a handful. And she’s heavy. And despite all the signs indicating which seats are reserved for the sick, elderly and those with children, rarely does anyone heave themselves up to give us a seat. We usually finish a bus journey with at least one dislocated shoulder in the group. And it’s not the baby’s.
Yes, there’s a lot more hate in my relationship with Singapore public transport. Today there was a flash of love for the lovely Indian bus driver. There have been other lovely bus drivers, too, who have made boarding the bus a pleasure. But they’re the exception rather than the rule.
On good days, I have hardly any waiting time at the bus stop and I get on to find a spot on the top deck at the front. Then I can look out over some of Singapore’s most appealing attractions – the Merlion, the Fullerton Hotel, Marina Bay Sands casino, the Arts Science Museum, the Singapore Flier, the durian building, better known as Theatres On The Bay. From the top deck of the bus, I also get a great view into the gardens of some of Singapore’s most fancypants mansions, along Mountbatten Road. Yes, named after the fancypants English lord who founded the Boy Scouts.
When the morning sun is bright, the bus air-conditioning is strong and I have no eye contact with other commuters, I love the bus. I love Singapore. I love life. This is rare though. I can ignore the commute when I’m on the bus (which is why I usually take this mode of public transport). I can read a book, I can stare out the window, I can scribble notes in my important navy-blue notebook. On the train, all I can do is stare at the other frowning grumpy-faced commuters or stare at the ceiling. I usually choose the ceiling, which delivers me to work with a crick neck.
Now, don’t let me put you off Singapore’s public transport. If you travel to Singapore for business or for a holiday, a quick trip on the train or the bus is great, especially if you travel in off-peak times. Even for a month it would be ok. But it’s been 14 months now and it’s a real grind.
Not that I’ve experienced anything very much better. In the little-known capital of Australia, Canberra, there is no public transport to speak of. But I had a car and a bike and I cycled to work, except when the radio said it was below 2 degrees Celsius. In Melbourne the trains were so crowded I also chose to cycle. In Brisbane the trains were wonderful, but I’ve heard things have changed. In Ho Chi Minh City, the commute was challenging because I wasn’t used to riding a motorbike and it was HOT in a helmet in a traffic jam in the sun. Especially when Darling Man told me protect myself by wearing a mask and a long-sleeved shirt over my work clothes.
How’s your commute? Does it drive you nuts like mine? (I am so looking forward to working from home after our next dropout, so there’s no commute.)
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687 days ago