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Speech by Minister Khaw Boon Wan During Visit to TEL Bright Hill Station

23 Mar 2020 Speeches

“Maintaining Solidarity”

1.     First, let me do some commercial on the new mobile app, “TraceTogether”. If you have not downloaded it, please do so. And keep your Bluetooth on all the time. More than half a million users downloaded the app within the first day of launch.  It is a smart way to help our contact tracing teams and protect ourselves.

2.     This short visit to the Bright Hill Station by our partners from the Kong Meng San Monastery allows us to tap on their feedback on the station, especially on signages and path-finding. This station will be heavily used by the visitors to the temple during festivities and we want to be sure that it will be user-friendly.

3.     We did the same for the religious groups around the Woodlands South station, and found the experience useful.

TEL2 ON TRACK

4.     As you can see, the new station is almost ready. It will be part of the TEL Stage 2 which will benefit more than 60,000 households who live near the 6 new stations.

5.     Stage 2 is on track to open this year. Most of the civil construction is done, with installation and testing of rail systems currently underway. As we see it, there is no show-stopper, not even COVID-19!

6.     Before TEL2 can open, LTA needs to conduct rigorous testing of the systems and trains. This includes running Stage 1 and Stage 2 together as one integrated line. That is why we will soon shorten the operating hours of TEL1 through ECLO: early closure late opening. This will be from April to July 2020, during weekends. This will allow us to run trains through the entire stretch of nine stations, from Woodlands North to Caldecott for thorough integrated testing. It is necessary. We did the same for the Downtown Line which also opened in stages.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS

7.     Meanwhile, everyone is coping with the pandemic, including having to change old habits and adopt new practices. For example, in the upcoming Qing Ming festival, Kong Meng San Monastery is implementing new measures to reduce crowding. For the first time in 99 years, the Monastery is closing its columbaria to visitors during Qing Ming. It has also cancelled mass rituals. Instead, Kong Meng San will use technology to live-stream the rituals and promote online offerings. I commend the Monastery for their wise and progressive leadership. I am told that the devotees are receptive to the changes.

8.     Hawker centres and restaurants too are learning to cope with the pandemic, to help their patrons space out, and to keep safe distances between them. 

SAFE DISTANCING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT

9.     I would very much like to do the same for buses and trains. Unfortunately, as public transport has to accommodate large numbers of people at the same time, this will be very challenging. Almost impossible, unless we can substantially reduce peak hour demand. I say: let’s try. I suggest we make adjustments in three ways.

10.    First, if you are sick, please do not use public transport and endanger fellow commuters. Consult a neighbourhood GP and wear a mask when you do.

11.    Second, cut down unnecessary travels during this period. I observe that demand on buses and trains have come down 20%. See if we can do more. And when you are on the bus or train, be considerate. Talk softly, if you need to. Best, don’t talk. Let fellow commuters have a quiet journey.

12.    Third, avoid travelling during peak hours. Here we need employers to help out by supporting staggered working hours, flexi-time and tele-commuting. Some have done so. MOT is getting our staff to work from home, WFH, as a norm, stagger lunch hours if they come in, and use Skype and teleconferencing in place of large meetings. It can be done. Physical attendance in MOT HQ is down to one-third! Two-thirds work from home regularly. Our productivity is not affected. In fact, less commuting time means more time for work.

13.    I encourage more employers to do the same. Indeed, with digital and telecommunications technology, office life should catch up with the modern world. There is really no need to gather everyone together nine-to-five in an office! Not every job can be performed from home, but I believe most organisations can transform their offices, to take greater advantage of tele-commuting. As a bonus, this will help their workers achieve better work-life balance. I hope post-pandemic, office life for most will no longer be the same. This will reduce peak hour demand and the pressure on us to add more trains and new lines, at great cost to taxpayers and commuters.

14.    Meanwhile, if peak hour demand for public transport can be substantially reduced, then safe distancing in buses and trains can be achieved. Commuters can space themselves out, skipping seats and avoid gathering in cabins. 

TRANSPORT AMBASSADORS

15.    SM Teo Chee Hean suggested to me that we employ some temporary Transport Ambassadors to help commuters keep safe distances among them. These are temporary positions to support higher manpower needs at our stations during this special period. These Ambassadors can also help to sanitise our train cabins, seats, poles more frequently.

16.    There may be other meaningful activities which these Transport Ambassadors can perform. We can place them on 3-month or 6-month contracts, depending on how long the pandemic lasts. The extra cash allowance may also come in handy for the Transport Ambassadors, to supplement their reduced income. Our transport operators have seen some of their taxi drivers suffering due to reduced income. They are game to try out the Transport Ambassador idea, for their taxi drivers. LTA will work with them to get this Transport Ambassador scheme up in the coming weeks.

17.    This is our attempt to help one another, within the public transport sector, cope with the pandemic. Regulator, transport operators and unions working together, fighting a common enemy. We will emerge stronger as one transport family. 

Conclusion

18.    The pandemic has disrupted our daily life. Workload has been drastically re-distributed. Many are overwhelmed with work. Others are under-worked as normal demand evaporates.

19.    We see this within the transport sector; there is uneven distribution. We should find meaningful ways to re-distribute work. The temporary Transport Ambassador scheme is one such idea. I welcome other suggestions. For example, we should actively persuade some of these taxi drivers to become bus captains. The need is there, and this can reduce our exposure to risks of cross-border disruption.

20.    Thank you for joining us in this short visit.