What would you consider to be a pleasant journey on Singapore’s public transport?
Trains and buses that come at regular intervals? Peace and quiet during the journey? Travelling in clean buses and trains?
As a regular bus and MRT commuter, I daresay it’s all of the above.
But, should the responsibility of providing commuters with a pleasant journey fall solely on the shoulders of Singapore’s public transport operators?
The realistic answer is no – not when as commuters, all of us are also important actors who determine what happens in these experiences.
Public graciousness campaigns have come and gone, and they’ve certainly left some measure of impact on improving commuting etiquette in Singapore. Still, it’s not uncommon to hear of or witness bad behaviour on public transport. Social media has only made it easier to spread these incidents farther and wider than before.
Whether these are just a few unfortunate cases of black sheep or otherwise, the takeaway is that gentle reminders alone are not enough to get the message through to a segment of commuters.
Because it doesn’t matter that we have a reliable and convenient public transport system, if some commuters choose to put their feet up on bus seats, despite the signs telling them clearly not to do so.
It doesn’t matter that we can travel almost anywhere in Singapore via public transport, if some commuters choose to inconsiderately hog up space on the MRT.
It doesn’t matter that the trains and buses are cleaned thoroughly before operation, if some commuters still choose to litter, and vandalise them.
It’s a shame that the inconsiderate actions of a few would sully the experience of many others on public transport.
After all, I believe the vast majority of us are aware of basic etiquette like giving way to alighting passengers, moving into the centre of the train carriage or bus so others can board, and giving up our seats to those who need it more than we do.
There are also heroes among us who rushed to help a woman having an epileptic fit, and lent a helping hand when someone took a bad fall and was bleeding heavily on the train.
I suspect a big part of why these commuters don’t hesitate to step up is because they are empathetic to the needs of others, and know that if placed in the other person’s shoes, they would hope to be treated with the same graciousness too.
To be better, more considerate commuters, we can take the empathy test:
Would you be comfortable sitting on a bus seat if you knew that someone had put their bare feet or shoes on it previously?
Would you feel exasperated at being unable to board the train because someone was inconsiderately hogging space?
Would you not be disgusted if you accidentally touched a used piece of tissue paper on the bus or train?
If these scenarios make you feel uncomfortable, then it’s pretty simple – don’t do unto others what you hope they wouldn’t do unto you. And if you do encounter inconsiderate commuters, sometimes, a polite reminder can make them more aware of how their actions are affecting others.
Just last month, while on the train to work during the peak hour, I noticed a young boy – who was with his mother – standing on one of the seats with his shoes on.
When they alighted at Bishan, another commuter immediately moved to occupy the seat that the boy had vacated. Just as the commuter was about to sit down, however, she seemed to spot something on the seat, and abruptly stood up.
Curious, I peered over to see what it was that had prevented the commuter from sitting down. And right there, in the middle of the seat, I saw a brown shoe imprint.
The seat remained vacant for the rest of my journey to Raffles Place.
Now, how would you feel if you were the one who was denied a seat because it had a stain from a dirty shoe?
As commuters, we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that our journeys on trains, or buses, or even taxis, are pleasant.
Our actions – big or small – can have a direct impact on others. With a bit of empathy and graciousness, commuting could actually be that much more pleasant for all of us.
Let’s try to be greater – because that’s the best way for us to enjoy our commute.