Coffee day with the LTA
I should have written this earlier in the week, but then I got too distracted with submissions, reading the Milelion and #wanderlust.
An occupational hazard about running a blog like this is that sometimes you may accidentally say something that should not be said, even with all the necessary precautions taken. People slip up.
Initially, I thought that was going to happen to me shortly after I started blogging. A few months went on after I started, and I didn’t receive any notices under the Official Secrets Act, nor did any suppliers slap me with libel lawsuits. So I figured I could go on for a few more. And then a few more. And I still stayed out of trouble, somehow.
In my previous post I mentioned that the LTA was conducting an online feedback exercise about the new LTMP, both in the form of a “response document” and an e-poll. Being lazy, I decided to fill up the e-poll instead of the really long response document (who wouldn’t, after writing upwards of 2000 words on the matter?). And inside the e-polls, I found this:
Sounds like a good idea, I thought. So, being a little bit cheeky, I ticked yes and provided my details, and then I got an email from them asking me to please make myself present for a focus group discussion. Sure, why not.
Not your typical interview
I thus found myself at the indicated time and place. It’s a lot less cozy than I thought, I muttered, as I stepped into the hall.
I must apologize, this is pretty much the only picture I have. I didn’t want to run afoul of the PDPA, and I’m no media reporter so I didn’t want to look too conspicuous. But I’ll try to describe the rest textually, and bring you through the process of what we did.
Tables were set up in groups of about 5 to 6 participants each, with a (relatively) diverse mix of people. Besides those who went and filled up the abovementioned form, it seems that discussions were also proactively held with disadvantaged members of society. For this session, some people from disability advocacy groups were also invited, which I may say was an interesting pick.
Each group was given two tasks:
- Identify key pain points encountered at a selected step in the journey (planning, first mile, at station, travelling, last mile)
- Provide ideas as to how said pain points can be improved
Welp, that sounded a lot like those design thinking seminars I had to do in school. It’s not much different from said seminars anyway, with each participant being given a marker and a post-it pad, and told to paste their contributions on the whiteboard. It wasn’t entirely self-guided though — LTA personnel were at every table guiding the discussion along.
For me personally, given the session topic, I wasn’t there to talk about the need to build more train lines (although they are well aware, I can tell). What I decided to do was to champion two main points: Accessibility within rapid transit infrastructure, as well as ease of use for the “not so obviously disabled” (like those who are hearing or visually impaired).
The long and the short
My group decided to go with how to make the at-station point of the journey better, having accessibility at the station being our main gripe. At that point, of course, things get interesting.
Just as an example, an opposing perspective from a representative from Minds (the autism advocacy group) got me thinking. I was pushing for having better indicators for when the doors are closing (such as MTR-style loud beeping on the platforms, in addition to the train announcements themselves), but said representative mentioned that autistic people find the current mass of sensory stimulation on mass transit disturbing.
Another case was of a few people at the table suggesting that gap fillers* be used to reduce the platform gap between stations and trains/buses. Ever the devil’s advocate, I mentioned that the gap on trains in Singapore aren’t already that bad (ever been to Hong Kong? You need to jump across the thing!), and that for buses, sometimes the bus stop geography simply can’t allow for a place where a wheelchair ramp can be safely deployed.
That, of course, is just but a few examples of the tradeoffs that planners and designers have to make. If you want more, the last time round they made the participants play board games. Now perhaps I don’t envy their jobs, so staying in the peanut gallery may be better for me. (I’d like to apologize to the LTA lady who was trying to get me to pick up the scholarships they’re offering)
This is arguably a short post, and I promise I’ll try to get back to more substantial content, but I thought it useful to reflect on what I also took away from these sessions. While they also tend to attract angry would-be Straits Times Forum regulars such at myself, the plurality of views that come from such outreach events can, I hope, be useful to the planners and whoever they need it.
But at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if what is suggested gets thrown out. After all, the needs of the many do outweigh the few. But it’s easy to be a crayonista here and I’ll probably continue to do that, perhaps in the hopes that sometimes a good idea or two does come out of them. Anyway, you can probably tell I’m no good at this reflection thing, so in retrospect it does kind of sound rather self-aggrandizing.
And before you ask, I did do the proverbial “lim kopi”.
*the definition of “gap fillers” for Singapore is wrong on that Wikipedia article, over here we have just static strips of rubber or ceramic stuck to the side of the train or the platform edge, as compared to real moving gap fillers