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Transport woes are top issue

Submitted by admin on March 31, 2011 - 3:56pm

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This is the 10th in The New Paper series on single-member constituencies

THE morning rush hour can be a stressful time for those heading to work.

For Mr Yasin Jilalludin, 40, a senior freight officer, the tensions of the daily commute are compounded by long waiting times for buses.

His usual routine is to take bus service 163 from a bus stop along Sengkang East Avenue before changing to another bus that takes him to his office at the airport.

His flat at Anchorvale Link is a five-minute walk from the bus stop.

But his journey is often stalled right from the start.

"Bus 163 can run very late sometimes. If I miss the 7.10am bus, I have to wait about 25 minutes for the next bus," he said.

The bus is either already packed when it arrives at the bus stop or fills up quickly at the crowded bus stop, leaving him with no space to get on board.

The alternative is for him to take the Light Rail Transit (LRT).

But this is a longer journey that involves a few swops.

He has to first take the train from Tongkang LRT station – a ten-minute walk from his flat – on the Sengkang West LRT line to Sengkang LRT station.

Then he switches to the Sengkang East LRT loop service, alighting one stop away at Ranggung LRT station, where he can finally take a bus to the office.

Mr Yasin's transport woes are shared by many other Sengkang West residents.

The New Paper's poll of 100 residents who belong to the Sengkang West single-member constituency (SMC) showed that public transport infrastructure is their biggest bugbear.

Of the residents who were polled at Anchorvale and Fernvale, 41 said they would raise this issue with candidates.

About half of this group shared Mr Yasin's frustrations about long waiting times for bus service 163, the only one that plies between Fernvale Lane and Sengkang Bus Interchange.

The remainder had complaints about the LRT, with most complaining about the long waiting times as the trains are packed during peak hours and travel in only one direction during non-peak hours.

Others said the LRT system itself is confusing.

"It’s very difficult to understand because after a certain time, it goes in only one direction. When my friends come to visit, they always get lost," said Mr Marcus Chan, 37, an engineer.

He takes the LRT to get to the MRT station, where he takes the train to town once a month.

On weekdays, he drives to his office located outside the city area.

And even he can get confused about which train to take sometimes.

"This needs to be addressed because even residents find it confusing. If old people get on the wrong train, they get stuck on it and can get lost," he said.

Mr Marcus Chan, with his nine-year-old daughter, finds the LRT system confusing. TNP PHOTO: AMANDA YONG

Residents in the SMC also say there are insufficient amenities such as ATMs, markets, sheltered walkways, foodcourts and carpark lots.

This concern ranked second in the poll with 22residents bothered by it.

"It's not very convenient around here. The nearest ATM is at Compass Point, about a 20-minute walk away," said Mr Yasin. "You can't expect old people to walk all the way there every time they need money."

Madam Anita Mariappan, 30, a teacher, said more sheltered walkways should be built.

"There aren't enough sheltered walkways in the estate, so you'll see residents walking along the road, which can be quite dangerous," she said.

Dr Lam Pin Min, who has been taking care of the Sengkang West ward since 2006, is aware of the concerns of residents in this new constituency.

In last month's electoral boundaries report, Sengkang West was carved out of Ang Mo Kio GRC to form an SMC.

Dr Lam said the poll results are an accurate reflection of the concerns on the ground.

And some progress has been made after his meetings with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SBSTransit, which operates the LRT, he said.

For instance, the LRT used to operate in only one direction due to low ridership.

But with a larger population and higher ridership, SBS Transit has started bi-directional services for the LRT during peak hours since the beginning of last year.

"We are monitoring the situation closely and will request full bi-directional service, if warranted, to better serve the residents' needs," he said.

Dr Lam said he has given feedback on bus service 163 to SBS Transit and the LTA and asked for increased bus frequency to shorten waiting times.

The LTA is currently looking into the request.

"We have also added a new bus service 85 that plies through Sengkang West from Fernvale to Anchorvale and Compassvale," he said.

Dr Lam said the request for an ATM at Block 308 in Anchorvale is a longstanding one.

"We have written to several banks in the past, and they have surveyed the area and decided that the human traffic there is not high enough to justify an ATM. They also cited the proximity to Compass Point as another reason for the rejection," he said.

He intends to appeal to the banks again.

Dr Lam added that over the past few years, facilities such as Fernvale Point, Sengkang Sports and Recreation Centre, new schools and childcare centres have sprung up.

With a growing population, a better transport network and more facilities will be needed.

Two more primary schools will be built in the next few years, while more childcare centres and kindergartens will be set up to cater to the young families in the constituency, Dr Lam said.

These have not gone unnoticed by residents.

Madam Anita, who is married with a one-year-old son, said: "This estate is pretty tailored to young working couples. There are a lot of infant care centres and playschools to cater to parents with young children."

Political observer Eugene Tan said such municipal issues are "the sort of issues that plague the newer towns" and are a "perennial problem in new estates".

Mr Tan, a law academic at the Singapore Management University, said residents in a young estate like Sengkang West expect to have the same facilities as those found in a mature town.

These expectations become demands when elections are around the corner.

If the problem has existed since the last election and progress has been too slow, residents may be wary of further promises by the incumbent MP, he said.

"But they're realistic at the same time. They know that the opposition will face similar difficulties, and if this is the ruling party and they can't exert pressure on the transport companies, what more the opposition parties," he said.

Opposition interest in this SMC is strong, with the possibility of a four-horse race.

The Workers' Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) are both eyeing the ward.

When contacted, WP chairman Sylvia Lim and SDA Secretary-General Desmond Lim were mum about any compromise between the two parties.

Said Mr Lim: "We are not able to comment as negotiations are still ongoing."

Why the interest in this SMC?

Mr Lim declined to comment.

But Ms Lim said: "WP is interested to contest in Sengkang West SMC as it is located close to Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC."

Mr Ooi Boon Ewe, chairman of the People’s Liberal Democratic Party, has also thrown his hat into the ring.

He said he is keen on contesting in the ward as he has been a resident there for the past 61/2 years.

Mr Ooi, who lives in Fernvale, said: "It's my kampung. I live with them (the residents), swim with them, play badminton with them; it's an advantage for me."

POLL

We asked 100 Sengkang West residents: What is the most important issue you would raise with the candidates when they visit you?

MUNICIPAL ISSUES: 72%
Public transport infrastructure: 41%
Insufficient amenities such as markets, sheltered walkways, foodcourts and carpark lots: 22%
Cleanliness of estate: 3%
Safety in estate: 3%
Others: 3%

NATIONAL ISSUES: 28%
Cost of living and financial assistance: 18%
Childcare and school fees: 4%
Housing prices: 3%
Others: 3%

tnp@sph.com.sg

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