The Long-Term Cost of Train Delays We Should Be Talking About
Cover photo from Flickr.

By now, most Singaporeans must be feeling tired of hearing the dreaded words train disruptions.

Just this week alone, there have been two track faults attributed to hardware and software issues. This comes after SMRTs apologetic press conference last week.

At this rate, the train operators woes are not likely to end in the foreseeable future, and it is the commuters still who suffer the most.

But we have not seen the worst yet.

Train disruptions may even have a trickle-down effect on our quality of life, if UK researchers are to be believed.  

According to a study by the University of the West of England, each additional minute of commuting time reduces both job and life satisfaction, and increases strain and exacerbates mental health among workers.

Accumulate an additional 20 minutes of commuting per day, and you will experience the same level of job dissatisfaction as receiving a 19 per cent pay cut.

That is a huge figure, and an appalling conclusion.

Imagine all the commuters who were stranded on the East-West and North-South Lines this week, mulling over their career choices and happiness in the office while they waited in line for 30 minutes to board the train to work.

And consider those who had been affected by the unprecedented tunnel flooding more than two weeks ago, which forced the train service to be shut down overnight.

How many showed up to work the following week with a letter of resignation?

This, of course, is an exaggerated train of thought.

But as it becomes increasingly likely that train disruptions are going to be the norm in Singapore, it become worth pondering. And when we let unhappiness from commuting creep into other aspects of our lives, things could snowball very quickly.

If Khaw Boon Wan or SMRT thinks that over time Singaporeans would be desensitised to incidence of train faults and thus stop giving them a hard time, then they could not be more mistaken.

In the long run, their failures to rectify the deep-seated problems with our trains could have severe implications on our economy.

When you see crowds like this at the train station, how do you still motivate yourself to go to work? (Photo from Today Online)
Already, job satisfaction among Singaporeans has dropped over the last two years. According to a survey by human resource consulting firm Mercer, about one-third of Singaporeans are not happy with their companies.

The key to Singapores economic success is raising the productivity levels of the countrys workforce. And its a no-brainer that happy workers are more productive workers economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12 per cent spike in productivity.

But when employees worry about reaching the office late due to yet another unforeseen train fault, and have to work overtime as a result, they become more dispirited and lose their drive.

You’ve already woken up an hour earlier than usual just to try to beat the morning rush hour crowd. But guess what, this particular morning everything goes off rails – the trains have already broken down before you even reach the station.

You barely get on a carriage, squashed by equally drenched shirts, and the train crawls forward. You can’t breathe in the muskiness, but there’s no point getting off either. With that Uber surge pricing, you might as well continue on your arduous journey and forgo that meeting with your clients.

Your colleagues can handle that, but what would they think of you? It’s not the first time they have had to cover for you due to a train fault. You start to worry about what they would say in the upcoming appraisals, and how it would affect your ranking.

When you finally reach the office an hour late, your mind is just a whirlpool of worries and exhaustion. You slump into your seat but you’re in no rush to switch on the computer.

Work? That can wait till after lunch.

Repeat the cycle week after week, and you will only get a work life that is counterproductive.

Maintaining productivity levels is a national challenge. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said earlier this year that productivity in domestically-oriented sectors has fallen slightly over the last three years.

No doubt, fixing the reliability of our trains would not simply raise Singaporeans spirits overnight and transform them into super-motivated workers. After all, productivity comprises so many more factors than just having a smooth commute to work.

Conversely, its also so much easier to add fuel to the fire when the public transport problem spirals into disarray.

Weve already got office politics, long meetings and burdensome admin work to deal with. Now, a train disruption, and not a text from the boss, is the first thing we worry about when we get out of bed.

Commuting really should not be more stressful than working.

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