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Monday, February 4, 2008

Rail demand and capacity Jan 29 2008

Rail demand and capacity

RAIL commuters here, like those in cities with much larger populations, judge service satisfaction by peak-period frequencies and coach loading. On these measures the prevalent view has been that the MRT system has been passable: Reasonably good, but should be better. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the operator of the older and more heavily used lines serving the city centre and its immediate environs will have noted the rising volume of gripes about crowded coaches and inconsistent scheduling during the morning and evening rush. Riders would want an interval of no more than two minutes between trains either way during the extreme peak. They are prepared to give due allowance for the operators' limited fleet size and pool of drivers, but expect them to be more responsive to need by investing continually in these two factors. Population size has been growing with the immigrant influx.

Commuters should now allow the two operators, SMRT and SBS Transit, a fresh start. The first service augmentation in some years starts next week when 93 more trips a week will be added to the schedule of the North-South, East-West and North-East lines, partly at the urging of the LTA. The Transport Ministry expects waiting time during peak periods to be reduced to about two minutes. Can 93 more trips swing it? SMRT will get the lion's share of 83 more trips. SBS will have 10 trips added to the slightly patchy NEL. Divided by the two lines SMRT runs, it will amount to a notional six trips daily on each of the two. If weekends are excluded, the number rises to a more commodious eight. Depending on how widely or narrowly 'peak' is defined, the effect may be dispersed. After due evaluation, the LTA could be forced into making adjustments to serve better the North-South line, where present traffic and anticipated demand are heaviest. The stretch between Ang Mo Kio and Raffles Place and most stations in between (especially Orchard, Somerset, Dhoby Ghaut, City Hall) are at peak capacity. To achieve the two-minute target, which riders in the commercial and financial zones expect as the minimum, the peak-period window may have to be constricted, based on service capacity. This will bring a new set of complaints,

Moreover, weekends are not considered peak. This is a curious anomaly for an Asian city of seven-day commerce and weekend meals out. Western cities not on the tourism trail have little commuter traffic on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends are bonanza time in any Asian city of size. It is time the operators updated their practice by extending peak-hour definition to include Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.

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