Our most precious …

Our most precious

Our rail networks are very costly, multi-billion-dollar assets. We have spent some $14 billion in public transport in the past five years alone, and will spend another $26 billion over the next five years as we look to double our network by 2030.  But these are not our most precious.

Our most precious are our engineers, mechanics, and maintenance crew who toil day and night to ensure that these assets, trains, tracks, and electrical systems are in good serviceable condition, so that trains can run reliably and on schedule, and commuters are not inconvenienced.  They deserve our tender loving care, and in turn, they look after the assets with similar passion.

That is why my first of many visits to SMRT and SBST over the next few days, will be to the maintenance crew, at their depots and their workshops.  I hope to know them well, understand their concerns, and their aspirations.  Over time, I hope they will accept me as their friend.

Minister Visit to Bishan Depot

As hospital CEO, I must have spent thousands of hours getting to know our nurses, our attendants, our paramedics.  Occasionally, I got gems of advice and suggestions, and which I promptly implemented to better our patient-care service.  And they remain my friends even though I have left the hospitals long ago.

I look forward to a similar working and social relationship with the crew of our rail operators.

Thankless Job or Transformational Opportunity?

Thankless Job or Transformational Opportunity

Many friends have advised me against taking on transport. But when asked by PM, I said yes, because of three strong beliefs.

Minister Khaw cyclingFirst,  I believe in raising Singaporeans’ quality of life further in a city where public transport is so convenient, accessible and reliable, much like public utilities, and that Singapore can be car-lite. In many European cities, the young no longer bother to learn to drive. In Tokyo, New York, Sydney and London, it is common for bankers, lawyers,
businessmen, students, hawkers, tourists and all, to walk, cycle, and take the trains and buses for most of their journeys. This is not yet our lifestyle here, but it can be. We should make it hip, and do our part to save the environment, eventually reclaiming some road/car park spaces for more greenery and communal spaces for the people.

Second, I believe that we can make our train lines more reliable, even though some of the trains and infrastructure are no longer new. We just need to pay extra attention, and invest sufficiently in the engineering and maintenance department. Critically, we must prioritise the engineering and maintenance department over others, as an organisational culture. In hospitals, we put our doctors, nurses and allied professionals ahead of others. In schools, we put priority in our teachers and principals. In public transport, we must put priority in our drivers, engineers, technicians and maintenance crew.  They are our most precious. They deserve our “sayang”, as a clear corporate culture. In my first visits to SMRT/SBST, I will chat up the drivers, the engineers, the mechanics and view their rest areas, their workshops.

Third, I believe that a united Team Singapore can tackle any problem, daunting as it may seem. That was how we tackled SARS, and the 2011 housing crisis. That is what I will bring to the table. Let’s drop silos. The train reliability problem is not an SMRT problem, or an LTA problem, or an MOT problem; it is everyone’s problem. Let’s tackle it collectively as good engineers will.

Blog_StaffMRT is not a new science and there are good, tested engineering solutions available. If we pool our knowledge and experience together, we should be able to overcome any problem that comes our way. But we do need time to bring about permanent improvements. There will be fires, big and small, to fight. Things may even get worse, before they get better.

I ask Singaporeans for understanding and patience. In housing you gave me 4 years. I hope that I will have some “honeymoon” period too, as I dive into the details, know the people, learn from them, and especially those many unsung heroes, toiling away at night, over weekends, and behind the scene. You can be sure that I will be in the trenches with you. We will fight together, comrades!

This is my first post in “Moving News”. Through subsequent blog posts, I will share my thoughts, priorities, and my ideas. Please give me your views, feedback and suggestions. Let’s build a great city and promote a car-lite lifestyle. Through “Moving News”, let’s share our dreams and encourage one another on.

Improving public transport is a continuous journey.  With each milestone, big or small, I hope these blog posts will constitute a moving story of blood, sweat and tears, dedication and determination, and of ultimate success, as our city achieves its full potential where people move about with ease, on two feet,  on bicycles, in buses and trains, and occasionally in cars.  It will be a moving story of the many dedicated Singaporeans who work in the trenches to make our city great, so that all can live a happy life. We may fail occasionally, but we shall learn from it and emerge stronger. Please cheer us on, like we cheered our athletes during the SEA Games. Your strong support makes a crucial difference.

If my term turns out to be a thankless job, the loss is personal. But if we succeed collectively in transforming the city, the benefits will go to millions of Singaporeans. In such a cost-benefit equation, I will be selfish to say “no” to PM.  I just hope that my heart, my own body train, can withstand the stress and do not breakdown 🙂