Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fewer seats on train

Nov 12, 2008

By Maria Almenoar

MORE trains with about a third of their seats removed will ply the MRT tracks from next week, even as commuters yesterday said they found the trains no less crowded as a result.

An SMRT train with 84 of its 300 seats taken out made its debut 1-1/2 weeks ago.

One such train will be added to the network every week from next week, so that by the end of January, 10 modified trains will be in use along the SMRT's North-South and East-West lines during the morning peak hours.

Trains on the North-East Line are unaffected by this change, which the Land Transport Authority (LTA) says aims to give standing commuters more space.

The intention is not to fit more people on the train, it added.

But that seems to be what is happening. Nine of 10 commuters travelling during yesterday's morning rush hour told The Straits Times that they did not have any more room while standing.

And then when the crowds thinned, some stood, longing for a seat.

Customer service officer Sunarti Rohijan, 37, takes an hour-long ride every morning from Bukit Gombak to Tampines, and usually gets a seat from City Hall.

She said, as the train pulled into Aljunied station: 'It is not much different when it's crowded at Raffles Place and City Hall, but now, when it's emptier, I still have to stand all the way.'

Asked whether SMRT planned to roll out more than 10 trains with 84 fewer seats each, its chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa said she was aware that some people liked to have seats.

'So if you remove too many seats, people will say: 'Wow, why no seats?' So I think it's a balance of the two,' she said.

LTA said it was tracking the situation.

In an e-mail reply yesterday, it said that while some people preferred the seats to stay, others have said that their priority was to be able to board the train during the peak hour.

Removing some seats would thus raise people's chances of boarding the train and give standing commuters more room, it said.

[In a few cities trains, buses and trams have fold down seats so during peak periods, there can be more standing room, and during off peak, the passengers can unfold the seats to sit down.]

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