When it comes to public transportation, we picture crowded stations and trains. We might remember the sinking feeling we get when our personal belongings are left on the bus or train. Or the frustration we feel when we get stuck at entries and exits with a faulty card.
Now imagine the life of those working in the transport service industry. Among the moving crowds, it takes a keen eye to spot commuters who appear unwell or frantic; and it takes a tremendous amount of kindness and empathy to help them through their issues.
It is a job that is often overlooked, but these staff look out for everyone’s safety. Empathy in public transport shows itself in many forms – like helping a frustrated stranger at the top-up machine, or patiently answering a young student’s curious questions.
Good deeds are mostly small and unnoticeable; hence celebrating kindness is important to encourage it to become the norm.
So that’s why the 21st National Kindness Award – Transport Gold ceremony recognises staff that have gone beyond their duty to help a fellow Singaporean.
This year, 538 public transport personnel and commuters were awarded for their kindness they displayed while on the job, or while going about their everyday commute.
Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung, who was guest of honour at the Jan 27 ceremony, spoke of the importance of such awards.
He said: “An abundance of good things often goes unnoticed, a small ounce of bad things is disproportionate in impact. Because kindness begets kindness, because bad news travel by itself, good deeds need to be broadcast as loudly as possible.”
She showed empathy, and made a new friend
Take Maggie Khoo, who was awarded the Outstanding Award for customer service operations, for instance. She works in SBS Transit as a customer service assistant.
She was carrying out evening platform duties at Ang Mo Kio MRT when she was told that a young man on the next train had difficulty breathing. When the train arrived, she helped him to a seat at the platform, and they waited for help from the Passenger Service Centre.
Then Maggie noticed that he was sobbing. Concerned, she asked him if he was alright. The passenger then shared that he was stressed out by work and health worries, but had no one to turn to as his loved ones lived in Malaysia.
She spent the next half hour listening to him, and taught him breathing techniques to calm himself down. All the while she took care of him, wiping away his perspiration to prevent him from getting a chill.
Even though it was past her working hours, Maggie stayed on.
When the young man felt better, she offered to send him home, together with her husband. So she and her husband took the man to a coffee shop for dinner before driving him home. Concerned for his well-being, she even gave him her contact and told him to reach out, should he need company to see a doctor.
The two became friends shortly after, when the man called Maggie a week later to express his gratitude. Their friendship blossomed out of Maggie’s empathy and patience.
His kindness shines even brighter on rainy days and dark nights
SMRT bus captain Chow Hon Yuen was awarded an Outstanding Award for bus operations thanks to his caring nature.
Once, he was driving his Service 169 bus when he spotted a man by the roadside trying to fix his bicycle. He stopped the bus and explained to the passengers that he was going to help the stranded man.
Another time, during a rainy day, he was on his route again when he pulled up at a bus stop and noticed two men waiting for the rain to subside.
Seeing that they were stranded, Hon Yuen offered them his umbrella without a second thought and waved away their efforts to pay him.
Even after his shift, when he was on his way home in the wee hours, he stopped to help a driver trying to change her flat tyre on the Seletar Expressway.
Hon Yuen’s kindness to strangers at all hours of the day is inspirational and the reason for his award
She goes the extra mile to reunite passengers with lost items
ComfortDelGro cabby Cheong Mun Kuen is used to finding and returning items left behind by forgetful passengers.
But it was a first for her when a frantic man flagged down her cab and asked her to chase a bus.
He had left his laptop behind after alighting, he said. So the duo took off, chasing the bus along its route. Everytime they caught up with a bus at a bus stop, the cabby would wait while the man got off to comb the bus.
Four stops and several buses later, the laptop still hadn’t been found. The man was getting more agitated until he finally got news from his wife that his laptop had actually been returned to the Bedok bus interchange by the bus captain.
Without hesitation, Mun Kuen drove him there, where he was reunited with his laptop. She then offered to give him a ride back home in Clementi.
Her patience during the hour-long ordeal impressed the passenger so much that he later wrote in to express his gratitude.
He won’t rest until his commuters are safe
It’s always frustrating to lose your valuables on public transport, especially when it leaves you stranded.
Andrew Chua, a station manager, was on duty at Kranji MRT when an American tourist approached him to report a lost wallet. Cashless and cardless, the tourist had already called the police to report his missing items. Andrew bought him a drink to calm him down, and they waited for the police together.
When Andrew ended his shift at 11.30pm, he left the tourist his contact and some money for the bus back to his hotel.
But the tired tourist got lost again and he reached out to Andrew in the wee hours asking for directions. So Andrew drove back to the MRT station to pick up the exhausted tourist and took him back to his hotel.
Even off duty, Andrew’s kindness shows.
Another time, he overheard a colleague talking about a misplaced identity card they had found at Sembawang MRT Station. Discovering that the person lived on his route home, Andrew volunteered to return the lost card to the owner after his shift.
She helps her fellow commuters all the way
During her days off work, Siti Rafe’ah Omer would often wait at the Heart Zone in Outram Park assisting other commuters who might need help.
In December 2019, a woman with breathing difficulties approached her to ask for directions to the nearest hospital. Instead of sending her on her way, Siti offered to take her to Outram Polyclinic instead.
There, she alerted the polyclinic staff and waited with the woman. After the check-up, Siti made sure that medical staff waited with the woman before a family member picked her up.
Her willingness to go beyond what’s necessary, sacrificing hours of her time won her the Caring Commuter award.
It takes courage to be kind
In his speech during the awards ceremony, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said: “Kindness is about being responsible, helpful, and caring. But above all, it is courageous.”
The minister also pointed out that kindness is vital especially in the fight against Covid-19, as it only takes a few unkind people for the virus to spread. Kindness can be as simple as being considerate of others while on public transport, he said.
Kindness shouldn’t just be the purview of those who work in public transport; there is more that we can do to build a gracious society. Simple acts like giving up your seat or respecting other people’s personal spaces while on your daily commute ensures a comfortable and safe journey for all.
“My hope is that we would no longer have to celebrate kindness with an award ceremony, for every act of kindness then would not go unnoticed,” said Mr Ong.