Sunday, December 6, 2009

Security measures went absurd

I went through security screening 2 times at the airport in Banda Aceh and another 2 times at Medan where I took a connecting flight to Singapore. Each time, I was screened on entry to the airport and on entering the waiting area. I had to remove my mobile phone, keys and other metal objects for the screening.

On return to Singapore, I was screened again. This is a special exercise carried out an random. In total, I was screened 5 times on this trip.

I wonder if all the screening was really effective. If there was a terrorist or hijacker, would they have a better way to send in a bomb or weapon, rather than carry them as a passenger? If a terrorist went as a passenger, would the elaborate screening catch them?

With the countless screenings that are being carried out at airports around the world, did they manage to catch a terrorist? It is easy to carry out these screening mindlessly under the umbrella of "security". This is also good business for security consultants and airport personnels.

I hope that someone will really check on their effectiveness, or look for better ways to solve the problem.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Excellent train service in UK

I had to take a trip from London to Canterbury. I found the train service to be excellent. I was able to book for the train ticket online. There was a good schedule with a train connecting these cities every hour.

On both legs of the journey, the train was rather empty during the off-peak hours. But they still run the service to give a convenient connection to the passengers. This may increase the train fare, but the fare is still affordable (about SGD 60) for a return ticket on a journey that takes 90 minutes.

I have the option of taking the bus, which is cheaper. But the bus runs only two trips a day, and the timing did not suit me.

There is a fine balance between cost and convenience. The authority in the UK appears to be able to get this balance right. I hope that Singapore can learn from this observation, instead of leaving matters to the "free market".

Tan Kin Lian

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Magnificent views of Paris

I just visited Paris to meet people at the research institute INRIA. I did not take any pictures of Paris, although it was a beautiful city. Someone sent me these wonderful images of the Eiffel Tower and other sceneries of Paris - much better than I can ever take with my own photos.

Dear Mr. Tan,
One of my friends sent this to me. I am sharing this just in case you have not seen it. Today's technology make possible to see the wold with having to leave home. Just enjoy.

The Eiffel Tower - like being there yourself.

You will see the Eiffel Tower like never before....push the arrows and put it on the full screen 360 deg

Click on the link:

Sound provided as well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cheaper way to travel on London Underground - Oyster card

If a commuter pays by cash to buy a ticket on the London Underground, the standard fare is 4 GBP (SGD 10) regardless of distance. This is very expensive, especially for short trips.

The commuter has the option to buy an Oyster card and pay a lower fare, starting from GBP 1.60 for travel within zone 1 (in Central London) or GBP 1.10 within the same zone outside of zone 1. The fare increases according to the number of zones travelled, but is still lower than GDP 4.

I did not realise about the big difference when I paid GBP 4 for a short trip of about 5 stations within zone 1. The station staff did not tell me about this option, when I bought the ticket from the counter. This was poor service.

Lack of refuse bins

I was not able to find a refuse bin at most part of Heathrow Airport. I mentioned this to the staff at the check-in counter and asked her to throw away the wrappings that I had carried in my pocket. She explained that this is due to "security reasons". Frankly, I think that the security people have gone overboard in their measures. While security is important, it has to be practical and sensible and not caused a lot of inconvenience to the public. The real risk has also to be measured.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Visit to research lab for the Cycab

I visited the research lab of INRIA in Paris to see the Cycab - a driverless electric vehicle. This project started more than 10 years ago. It is now on demonstration in a few cities in Europe.

The Cycab is still a prototype and need a manufacturer to bring it to commercial production, and to bring down the cost to an acceptable level. The cost of the prototype is rather high and is not commercially acceptable.

There is also the challenge of getting the regulators to accept these vehicles on the road. At the current time, the automated vehicle has to move within its own guideways, i.e. separate roads.

It may take another 5 to 15 years for the automated vehicle to be used more widely on the roads.

Tan Kin Lian

Delay in ULTra System in Healthrow

I visited Terminal 5 to look at the ULTra system. This is an automated transport system to bring passengers from the car park to the terminal.

I asked the staff at the Information desk. She said that many passengers had asked the same question, but she did not hear about the ULTra system being ready yet. She thought that it had been delayed.

I asked a French transport expert who was monitoring the development. He told me that the planned starting date is December, i.e. next month. There were some technical hitches that needed to be sorted out.

The first phase of the ULTra system involved less than 100 vehicles. When fully operational in 3 years time, it would involve a few hundred vehicles and would cover the entire Heathrow Airport and the nearby areas.

Many people look forward to this new development, but there had been a few delays. I hope that the technical problem will be cleared up and that the ULTra system can encourage other countries to adopt similar systems.

Name of mass transit systems

Here are some of the common names:
London - Tube
New York - Subway
Paris - Metro
Singapore - MRT

I find the names used in London, New York and Paris to be quite convenient. It is easy to refer to a station by the name Tube, Subway, Metro rather than MRT station.

Maybe some creative person can find a one-syllable, easily pronounced name for MRT. How about Mart or Rapid?

Train service in Paris

I took the train from Gare du Nord station in Paris to Versailles Rive Driote. I had to take the RER Line and change to the SNCF train. The fare was only Euro 1.60. This was surprising low.

I asked my French host why the fare was low. He said that the fare only meet one third of the cost and that two-third was subsidised by the government. He explained that the subsidy was intended to encourage more people to take public transport, instead of using their private cars.

This makes sense. We are so used to paying not only the full cost of public transport but also contributing to the big profit of the public transport operators, under our "no subsidy" appraoch. It is time for Singapore to re-think some of our policies.

Tan Kin Lian

London Underground (1)

I took the Picadilly Line from Heathrow Airport to King's Cross station in London a 9 pm. The journey took more than 1 hour. The train was rather empty and less than half the seats were occupied. Every passenger was seated for the entire journey. The seats were made of soft cushion and comfortable.

The level of comfort of the London Underground beat the MRT in Singapore significantly. The MRT train is packed most of the day, even late at night. I often had to stand during the entire journey. The seats in MRT were made of hard metal.

It is costly to travel on the London Underground in London compared to MRT in Singapore. The difference is about 3 times for the same distance. But the London fare it is cheaper than taking the taxi in Singapore, for the same distance.

Another name for the London Underground is the Tube. Each station is called a Tube station. This is easier to pronounce compared to Underground or MRT. The people in London use their thinking and came out with a good name.

Tan Kin Lian

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heathrow Airport

The passport check at Heathrow Airport went smoothly. There was a staff at the directing the visitors to the right counter. The form for the passport check only asked for essential information. It did not try to capture tourist statistics.

The information counter at the airport provides excellent service. The staff are courteous, knowledgeable and helpful. This is probably the best that I have experienced among airports in the world. In many other airports, the information counter is hard to find and is not well manned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Entertainment system on Emirates planes

I took an Emirates flight to London. I find the personal entertainment system for each passenger to be well designed. The console is placed in the seat in front of the passenger. The video is a touch screen. It is convenient to use and does not get in the way.

Among the airlines that I have taken, the placement of the console in Singapore Airlines is the most inconvenient. It is located on the side seat and is difficult to access or put back.

When Singapore Airlines first introduced the entertainment system, it was a leader in providing this entertainment. Over the past twenty years, it did not improve on the ergonomic design. Today, many airlines have overtaken Singapore Airlines in this respect.

I hope that the management of Singapore Airlines will travel on their airlines, in the economy class, and in other airlines. They can learn a lot from the improvements made by other airlines.

Tan Kin Lian

Signage at Changi Airport

I have been using Changi Airport for more than 30 years. I usually go to the display board to look for my flight and the checkin counter. I learned recently that many other airports have a better way to tell their passengers where to checkin.

There are big signs to direct the passenger to the counters according to the airlines. As this arrangement is fixed, it is practical to use these permanent signs rather than depend on the display board.

The regular travellers already know which counters to checkin, according to the airlines. For those who are not regular travellers, the signs by airlines would be more useful.

After 30 years of operation, it is time for Changi Airport to adopt the best practice used at other airports.

Tan Kin Lian

Monday, November 16, 2009

Widening of Central Expressway

The Central Expressway is being widened. The stretch from AMK 3 to AMK Ave 1 had been opened. There was a smooth flow of traffic for vehicles moving to AMK Ave 1.

The Land Transport Authority has done a great job. I look forward to the completion of the widening of other stretches of this expressway.

I hope that the LTA is now planning for the future. There will be the need for a second level expressway to take vehicles that are travelling to the central business district.

Smooth traffic along Tampines Expressway

I travelled along Tampines Expressway from Yio Chu Kang to Tampines at 8 am this morning. I was surprised that the traffic was smooth flowing. I had expected congestion along this expressway at this time. It was a pleasant drive.

Convenience of train in UK

I am visiting the University of Kent in Canterbury to see a friend, who is studying there. He suggested that I take the coach, where there is a special promotion. However, the coach schedule did not fit my schedule.

I decided to take British Rail. I was surprised to find the wide choice of train schedules that fit my own travelling schedule. This is the convenience of train service.

People who have more flexible time can take the coach and pay a lower fare (about 30% less). This is the benefit of real competition which offers choice to consumers (i.e. to take the train or bus).

I hope that a similar arrangement can be made in Singapore. Commuters can take the trains between the different towns. Bus services can also provide a choice for commuters to travel from between the town.

Tan Kin Lian

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Buses arriving soon

When I wait at a bus stop, I usually know that my bus will be arriving within 5 to 15 minutes. I do not mind waiting as I can take a rest or have something to do.

My problem is that I have to look far away at the service numbers of the arriving buses, so that I can signal my bus to stop. This is stressful, especially as my eyesight is not good. This problem is also faced by many older people.

It will be useful for each bus stop to have a digital display to show the service numbers of the buses that are expected to arrive within the next five minutes. This will give sufficient notice to the passengers to get ready.

Our bus companies and Land Transport Authority have experimented with a high cost system using GPS. However, this system has not worked well, due to the inherent problems of tracking the buses with GPS and sending the data to each bus stop.

A polytechnic lecturer told me that some countries have adopted low cost, wire mesh technology to provide this information. I am not clear about how this system works. Apparently, it is possible for the bus to transmit its service number using this technology to be received at the bus stops and for the distance to be measured. If this technology works according to my guess, it is possible to install a low cost system to show the service numbers of the approaching buses.

I hope that some experts can see if this system is already adopted in some countries and see how it can be implemented in Singapore.

Tan Kin Lian

Friday, November 6, 2009

Work near the home

Singapore is a small place. Many people think that it is all right to live in one part of Singapore and to work in another part.

With traffic congestion and crowded buses and trains, it can take more than one hour to commute from home to workplace and the same time to return back. Travelling time and cost now becomes an important consideration.

To reduce travelling cost, time and congestion, workers should make a conscious effort to look for employment nearer their home. Employers should also consciously look for workers who live near their workplace. This is a win-win solution.

Workers are likely to work longer in a place, if the travelling time and cost is reduced. They may even be willing to accept a slightly lower salary.

Recruitment practices should now focus on workplace. It will be a good strategy for job opportunities to be advertised according to the zones, so as to attract the workers who live near by.

I hope that popular job portals should make a conscious effort to arrange the jobs according to zones, and make it easy for workers to search for job opporunities according to this criteria.

We need to change our mindset and recruitment practices.

Tan Kin Lian

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nice to see you on the train

Someone smiled at me when I was leaving the MRT train last night. He said, "Mr. Tan, nice to see you on the MRT train. I do not see any top people on the train."

I asked him for his name. He recognised me as being the former CEO of NTUC Income, but I have not met him before.

I replied, "Yes. I wish that our government and business leaders should take the MRT like the ordinary citizens".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I took the MRT from Dhoby Ghuat to Yio Chu Kang at 10 p.m. The train was packed and was standing room all the way. Even at 10 p.m.

During the off-peak hours in Taipei, I was able to find a seat for most of the journey. In Singapore, it is difficult to get a seat even late at night.

What is the difference? In Singapore, the regulators and the public transport council do not care about the comfort of the passengers or the waiting time. The ministers and top civil servants do not take the train. SMRT wants to increase their profits to the maximum.

In Taipei, the government is more accountable to the people. This is the benefit of a more democratic and free election.

Tan Kin Lian

Congested roads and lost productivity

I had a meeting at Eunos. The GPS system in my car indicated that ERP cost $4.50. I decided to avoid ERP.

This was a bad idea. I went to pass many congested roads with slow moving traffic. The situation is as bad as Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur during the peak hours. A journey of 10 km took 1 hour.

I did not realise that the roads are so congested outside of the highways. So many people had to travel to work and spend a lot of wasted time and lost productivity. The situation is made worse by the construction works to build more roads and fly-overs.

The solution is to have better local services for the last mile and encourage more people to take public transport. Many people had to use private cars due to the poor public transport. It caused road congestion. Things have become quite bad in recent years.

Tan Kin Lian

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Letter: Singapore's public transport lags behind Hong Kong's

Printed in a newspaper

THERE is no real competition in the public transport sector in Singapore, unlike in Hong Kong where the companies running bus, minibus and train services compete for the same pool of passengers.

Here are two of my concerns about the transport infrastructure here:

- Lack of efficiency and poor response to market demand. SBS Transit introduced premium services to cater to office workers in the Central Business District. The services were well received. In Ang Mo Kio, where I live, service 549 was introduced more than a year ago and soon became very popular. But service 549 continues to be serviced by a single-deck bus and the frequency remains unchanged.

Also, other than premier services, all other bus services still make too many stops. When will SBS Transit realise a point-to-point service is essential?

- Lack of comfort. While SBS Transit has renewed its fleet, it has reduced the level of comfort. For instance, I noted a new fleet of buses was added over the past year - but all were single-deck buses with fewer seats. Given that these buses replaced double-deckers, this means consumers now have less chance of a seat, even during off-peak hours.

It is no wonder that the car population continues to increase, despite rising petrol, Electronic Road Pricing and parking costs.

Liang Hien Fung

Monday, November 2, 2009

Improve the "last mile" in public transport

Sent to Straits Times Forum page. An short version was published

A recent survey showed that a lower proportion of commuters are using public transport. More people are using private cars for commuting, adding to road congestion and insufficient parking spaces.

Commuters have complained for a long time about the unreliability of bus services, congested buses, long waiting and travelling times and poor connections to MRT stations.

The Land Transport Authority is working on the long term solution to add more MRT lines and to bring better connection between these lines. This will bring more stations within walking distance to key destinations and residential areas in Singapore.

However, some practical steps can be done immediately to improve the current situation. I suggest the introduction of local transport services, to use small buses and cars to bring commuters from their homes to MRT stations and bus interchanges and back to their homes. These services need a new set of regulations and operators.

The challenge in most public transport systems is “the last mile”. It is not possible to bring a MRT station within walking distance to every home, but if there is a convenient and low cost service to cover the last leg of the journey, public transport becomes an attractive alternative.

If this local service is available, there is no need to find more parking spaces for the “park and ride” scheme.

Hong Kong has an efficient system using light buses to provide the transport for “the last mile”. Singapore should follow this proven example. We can extend this concept to allow cars to be used as well to add flexibility and choice.

If the connection for the last mile works well, there is no need for the big buses to make many stops to pick up passengers. They can provide an express service to connect the different towns and pick up passengers only at key interchange points. The travelling time will be short and the bus schedules will be more reliable. Every passenger should be given a seat.

I hope that the Land Trasnport Authority can include this concept in its master plan and take early action to implement it.

Tan Kin Lian