In what appears to be a bizarre turn of events during the massive MRT breakdowns on Thursday and Friday, commuters were seen guiding confused drivers of free shuttle buses activated by SMRT because no directions were provided from SMRT’s operations control centre.
That’s right, drivers who were activated to help out during the peak-hour delays had no idea where to go and how to get there because control room staff who were supposed to provide directions did not do so.
One commuter, Ong, shared an account of what happened on the free shuttle buses this week.
Ong, who had boarded a crowded bus at Bishan station and went to the front of the bus to speak to the driver after missing a turn to Braddell station, found out that his driver – who has 22 years of experience driving for SMRT – was not at all familiar with the roads of Bishan and Toa Payoh.
The driver was reportedly assured that control room staff would guide him over the intercom. However, according to Ong:
“That never happened. The first few times I heard a voice crackle over the driver’s comms, a representative from the headquarters simply reminded him that the final stop would be Newton MRT station.
“Until I heard this: “Can you slow down so the shuttles behind can catch up? They don’t know the way too.””
“Neither did our driver; he was still following instructions from (another) passenger, who eventually got off at Novena.”
Seeing that the driver had no idea where to go, Ong stepped up to guide the driver. He thought it would be fairly easy since Newton was just one train stop away but control room staff complicated matters further:
“It was left to me to direct the driver towards Newton – after all, it was just one more stop, right?
“Not really. This was what was communicated next: “Hey sorry, can you go all the way to Marina South Pier? You know how right? Call back when you get there.”
“Being somewhat familiar with the rest of the route, I cautiously agreed to become a human GPS.”
Eventually, commuters who had no knowledge of recommended or even safe routes (especially for larger or bendy buses) were forced to step up to direct drivers due to a lack of direction from the control room.
As for Ong, he subsequently also took the initiative to keep the peace in the bus, helping to take some of the load off the already overwhelmed driver, when an irate bus passenger made a fuss that the bus was not stopping at regular bus stops:
“As we approached Far East Plaza, a passenger pressed the alighting bell – but our driver rightfully ignored it. The passenger then started bashing the bell furiously and shouting from the back. “Why aren’t you stopping?”
“I went over and told him this was a shuttle with specific instructions to stop at MRT stations only.
“”Why you never tell me earlier? (sic)”
“I smiled and walked back to the front. Thankfully, the rest of the journey was less eventful.”
Ong eventually guided the driver all the way to Marina South Pier station, before guiding him all the way back on his return trip to Woodlands Interchange, at which point the driver was instructed to resume normal duties.
Ong also reports seeing another chain of three shuttle buses, all three with commuters standing in front and guiding their bus drivers who appeared confused.
SMRT’s Vice President for Corporate Communications, Patrick Nathan, “acknowledged that there is room for improvement” when contacted by a news website on why this was happening and why contingency plans are still not properly organised despite the high frequency of transport breakdowns:
“As part of SMRT’s service recovery and contingency plans, our Bus Captains (BCs) go through training to learn multiple bridging bus service routes along the North-South Line, East-West Line, Circle Line and Bukit Panjang LRT networks. BCs have to learn these routes on top of regular service routes which they drive daily, and refresher training is conducted to allow BCs to be as familiar as possible with the deployment plans and routes.
“When called upon to provide bridging bus services to help commuters affected by MRT service disruptions, BCs may be asked to operate bridging services which they are less familiar with. Their duties driving these bridging bus services are therefore supported by a bus guide onboard, or remotely via radio communications with service controllers at the Bus Operations Control Centre, who help them to navigate.
“Our BCs are always ready to serve and help commuters, and do their best to ensure that commuters get to their destinations safely. These situations are dynamic and can be stressful for our BCs. We acknowledge that there is room for improvement, and we are continually working to improve our service recovery efforts.”