Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why I prefer TransLink to SBS

Luke Lu wrote a personal opinion piece about why he preferred the London Tube to MRT on The Online Citizen. Extracts below.
"I’m just saying it’s my personal preference, that given a choice, I actually like the Tube better." 
"Maybe it is in us Singaporeans to be less spontaneous and less helpful. Perhaps it isn’t in our culture to speak up. It could be an SMRT policy for drivers not to deal directly with passengers. Whatever new SOPs or procedures conjured up by the recent Committee of Inquiry, these can never be a substitute for the human touch when taking the train."

Aha, the human touch! It's a similar reason why I prefer the Metro Vancouver TransLink to the Singapore SBS.

Firstly, let's look at where SBS beats TransLink hands down -- bus frequency. Except for a few busy/downtown routes, the TransLink buses are infrequent compared to SBS. But then, the passenger volume isn't as high either, given other transport options -- Skytrains (i.e. MRT), cycling (with demarcated cyclist lanes), taxis, and cars (affordable for the middle-class family, no need COE or ERP). Here, the best bus frequency that I've encountered is 1 bus every 10min during peak hours. A bus that comes every 20mins during regular daytime hours is considered a well served bus route. At night, the service frequency may even be reduced to once hourly and if you miss the last bus, too bad. In winter, some bus routes are changed, truncated or suspended.

Here's where TransLink and SBS have a close fight -- driving skills. Driving skills varies here. Drivers on routes that crosses fare zones (i.e. long distance, over highway) tend to speed. Drivers in downtown or on peak hour routes occasionally drive jerkily. However, there is one thing that forever impresses me is how close the buses come to the edge of the pavement, making it easier for the elderly/children/strollers/handicapped to board/alight. On top of that, I have not seen Vancouverites grumbling about the time taken to lower/retract the ramp for the wheelies to board/alight -- not even during peak hour travel. See photos below for the typical distance of the bus from the edge of pavement.

Pink arrow indicates edge of pavement

2 buses, both equally close to the pavement

Similar to what Luke mentioned in The Online Citizen for the London Tube, the Metro Vancouver TransLink bus rides have the human touch. Yes, TransLink beats SBS hands down in this aspect.
E.g. Once, my friend and I lost our way late at night. We saw a bus coming towards a nearby bus-stop and ran after the bus. The bus waited for us. We boarded the bus and asked the driver for directions. The bus couldn't take us to our destination directly, but the driver explained how we could alight later and change to another bus. Then we realized that my friend didn't have enough fare. The bus driver waved us through anyway. When the bus reached our "interchange" stop, the bus driver reminded us to alight and change bus.
In Metro Vancouver, passengers often greet and thank the bus drivers as they board/alight the bus. Bus drivers are generally polite and return the greetings too. Sometimes, we get jolly bus drivers who entertain their passengers while on the road.
E.g. A lady bus driver was listening to the radio update about an additional day of statutory holiday to be introduced in B.C. She turned up the volume of the radio, announced to the whole bus the "good news" and launched into a discussion of how workers/families would benefit from it. 
E.g. An elderly bus driver of Swedish descent (he told the passengers of his roots) driving on the route passing Ikea ran a "Are you smarter than a Swede?" quiz while on-route to Ikea. 
E.g. A middle-aged male bus driver joked as the bus approaches an interchange stop to a Skytrain station, "Check your belongings, don't leave your things behind. Make sure you've got your mobile, laptop, jacket, coffee mug, .... [long list of things Vancouverites like to carry on-hand] or you'll never see them again. Don't forget your friends and relatives too, or you'll never see them again." Later, when we approached another Skytrain station, he joked similarly as before, and then added, "Don't leave your things behind or they'll disappear. Especially chocolate chip cookies, woooh, I luuuurve chocolate chip cookies." Both times to laughter from his peak hour passengers.
[Note: That said, I have come across helpful and friendly bus drivers in Singapore. IMHO, based on their accent, they were either Singaporean or Malaysian drivers. I am not aiming to be xenophobic here, but just stating my observation. Perhaps it has to do with foreign drivers being cautious about the "anti-foreigner sentiments" in Singapore now and thus decide to keep their mouths shut so as to not let their foreign roots show?]
Finally, to top it all off [锦上添花], we can now get the real time schedule of the "next bus arrival time" with the new improved Next Bus SMS. I use this frequently, so I know this system works -- accurate to the minute. As far as I remember, Singapore SBS tried but was unsuccessful in displaying estimated arrival time of its buses.

So yeah, I prefer TransLink to SBS.

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