I believe that the widespread unhappiness over the public transport was due to operational issues that were further worsened by public relations lapses. I’ll be sharing some rumours that I heard which may make sense of why there have been track faults. I apologize if it may not be true but my purpose is to share my knowledge of the situation. It was said that there were many changes after Ex-CEO Saw Phaik Hwa took over. She focused on the financial potential of SMRT and that was why there were many shops introduced at MRT stations for a period of time.
However, it was also rumoured that SMRT decided to buy cheaper alternatives for numerous train line equipments that may prove to be detrimental in the long run to cut costs. This prompted the resignation of many senior SMRT staff and, potentially, the reason for the numerous train faults that we have been seeing for the past few months. These are rumours that I have heard and once again I apologize if it is not true. Nevertheless, another operational failure I saw was SMRT’s crisis management during the December train crisis.
Many people in the train were left there for long periods of time without any knowledge or instruction of what to do next. The drivers of the MRTs that were stranded there only let them out after hours without much ventilation or air-condition. The staff members at various MRT stations seemed clueless too. They closed various MRT stations from the public and even told members of the public that they do not know what is happening.
Apparently, the instruction given to them was to direct the public to the bus services but they were not able to answer the queries by the public on the spot. The queues for the bus were tremendously long and rowdy that the SMRT staff could not contain the situation properly. Riot police were even called in and put on standby to alleviate the situation. In my opinion, it showed the failure of SMRT as an organisation to effectively tell its staff what to do and how to handle the problem. It was evident that the staff members were unclear of the protocols at that point of time.
Crisis management was poorly carried out, as the staff members looked like they were frantically going around without proper focus. This brings me to the point of how SMRT handled their public relations with regards to the issue. Before I explain their actions, it is important to know the public’s expectation of SMRT. SMRT has always been known as one of the few efficient public transport systems in Singapore. The Singaporean public expects quality service from them especially for that period of time when it was a few months after SMRT increased their fares.
There was never any major breakdown as big as this so Singaporeans were uncomfortable and unhappy that it happened because they are too used to the efficiency and good service that SMRT have been providing to the public. Hence, the public somewhat expected SMRT to be as efficient as they have always been when the crisis occurred. The fact that there were hours of delay without proper actions done to improve the situation did not go down well with the public. So what should have been done or said by SMRT? Regardless of what happens, I feel that any company should be transparent and be truthful about the situation.
I feel SMRT did that. They admitted that it was train line fault. However, it was too vague, especially for the people who were stuck in the MRT breakdowns; they did not receive instructions and were clueless for long periods of time until they got out through the tunnels. I also felt it was a bad move by SMRT to promise that the train lines will be fault-free after the first few incidents. There have been a series of train faults occurring after that. This was a big hit to SMRT’s credibility, by promising something that could not be met.
Another issue was how they handled the situation. As mentioned, SMRT was slow in giving out instructions. Other than that, they were also slow in announcing about the train faults. Singaporeans found out about it through social media platforms hours before they made their official announcement about the breakdowns. They should have been the ones telling the public rather than the public informing each other about it. Even though this is hard to avoid due to the advancements of technology, they should have been faster.
Even a radio DJ was warned about announcing the information about the breakdown on his radio show when he read it on twitter. All of these were just bad handling of the usage of the media by SMRT. Eventually, they did create a twitter account to in an attempt to update the public more efficiently on what is happening I think. However, it is somewhat a double-edged sword, where people can use that avenue to complain even more. It may be a pre-mature decision but hopefully it will reap benefits. Well, they did inform of their progress in public platforms such as through SPH and its own company website.
Nevertheless, the speed was the issue. Another impactful part of their public relations lapses was the “income opportunity” message sent to their taxi drivers. It was another failure that just added fuel to the already big fire it has caused upon itself. It angered many Singaporeans. It was very poor foresight that if you sent that message, customers could actually see it. The fact that a picture of it was taken and spread across social media was somewhat damaging to SMRT’s reputation. Social media acts as a catalyst to any situation; be it good or bad.
In this case, it spurred the anger towards SMRT which further prompted the resignation of ex-CEO Saw Phaik Hwa. The resignation was also another failed PR move by SMRT in my opinion. This decision angered many Singaporeans because it gives the impression that she was escaping the responsibility of handling the situation that she should have solved in the first place. Even though she did mention that she will offer her help after she resigned, the damage was already done in the Public’s eyes. All of these have encouraged me to believe that SMRT failed to handle the situation proper.