No more shoving to get on buses in Little India
Orderly queues form near Race Course Road
After enjoying his day off, he wove through crowds at Little India and made a beeline to the bus boarding area at Tekka Lane.
Mr Hari, a 39-year-old shipyard worker, wiped the sweat from his brow as he joined a queue for a bus that would take him back to his dormitory at Jalan Papan in Jurong.
The orderly queues yesterday near Race Course Road were a far cry from what it was like before the riot that broke out last year on Dec 8.
Speaking to The New Paper, the Indian national, who has worked in Singapore for eight years, said that back then, he had to jostle with the other South Asian workers to get on the bus.
Beaming, he added: "It's much better now. No more pushing."
Buses from the Singapore School Transport Association (STTA) stop at the Tekka Lane waiting area, which is about the size of half a football field and brightly lit when night falls.
The area is fenced off and workers can enter only from designated spots.
The buses that stop there ply about 10 different routes, covering places such as Kranji, Tuas and Seletar West.
About 10 STTA employees were on duty there, all working together to ensure that the operations run smoothly.
Many foreign workers were seen approaching them to find out which queues to join. They were then politely guided towards the right ones.
The STTA employees and the foreign workers appeared to be on good terms. Greetings were exchanged and they were seen chatting with one other.
During a Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing on Feb 24, an STTA timekeeper, who was one of the targets of rioters, was accused of being rude to foreign workers.
Madam Grace Wong Geck Woon, 38, had been overheard calling them "stupid", "idiot" or other worse insults, said auxiliary police officer Nathan Chandra Sekaran, 35, on the fourth day of the public hearing.
She had scolded and shouted at the workers to get them in line for the buses because of the messy queue system before the riot, said the constable from security firm Certis Cisco.
From what he has seen, she was the only bus timekeeper to resort to such insults, he added.
This contrasted with what Madam Wong had earlier said under oath, when she flatly denied ever insulting or roughing up anyone.
STTA chairman Wong Ann Lin, 66 told TNP yesterday that timekeepers and marshals are usually polite to foreign workers.
He said: "These foreign workers pay us for the transport service. There is no reason to be nasty to them. They are our customers - our bosses."
TNP spoke to Madam Wong last Friday, and found out that she had quit her job as a timekeeper. (See report on facing page.)
Mr Wong also said he welcomes the Little India alcohol ban, which starts at 6am on Saturday and ends at 6am on Monday.
He added: "Last time, some of the foreign workers would board the buses drunk and vomit.
"It would take the drivers about two hours to clean their vehicles and get rid of the smell.
"But we don't encounter the problem any more since the ban."
Besides the Tekka Lane waiting area, buses from another organisation, the Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners' Association, were observed operating from Hampshire Road about 100m away. Taking up half of the road way, this pick-up point is marked with bright yellow barriers and stretched for about 300m.
Bangladeshi Md Ariful Islam, 30, told TNP that he is happy now that queueing is enforced there.
Said the construction worker, who lives in a dormitory in Senoko: "Last time, I had to push to get on the bus. Now, no need. It's very good now."
A man who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, 60, was seen guiding the foreign workers and directing the buses along the narrow road.
He told TNP in Mandarin: "It is much better now. The foreign workers queue up and things are more orderly."
Before the riots, 250 to 280 buses were used to ferry workers from Little India on Sundays.
As part of cooling measures after the turmoil, the authorities suspended the Little India bus services for a week, starting on Dec 15.
When services resumed, they did so with half of the usual number. Operating hours were also shortened, with services ending at 9pm instead of 11pm.
The fleet size was increased to 56 per cent and now to about 71 per cent on most Sundays and 76 per cent on peak Sundays - typically the first Sunday after payday each month.
At Tekka Lane and Hampshire Road, where workers board the buses, facilities such as bus shelters are being built and are set to be completed in the first quarter of next year.
A Land Transport Authority spokesman said the new facilities being built at the two passenger points will be largely similar to those of a bus terminal.
In addition to sheltered waiting areas, fans and lights will be installed. The grass patch at Tekka Lane has been paved to make it more conducive for foreign workers to queue for the buses, she said.
The passenger facilities will cost $3.58 million.There were also 331 liquor licences in Little India at the time of the riot and before curbs on the sale and public consumption of alcohol were imposed after Dec 8. The figure has since dropped to 321, according to police figures as of June 16.The number of auxiliary police officers in the area has also increased.
Senior police officer Superintendent Victor Ho, 38, told the COI on March 18 that there are now 27 teams there, compared to 12 in 2009.
Last time, I had to push to get on the bus. Now, no need. It's very good now.
- Bangladeshi Md Ariful Islam, a construction worker who lives in a dormitory in Senoko
'I'd rather deal with the occasional drunk'
ORDERLY: Hundreds of foreign workers at Little India were seen queueing up for buses to take them back to their dormitories yesterday.
They used to sit by the roadside and in the open fields at Little India, drinking beer and catching up with their friends.
Often, some of the South Asian foreign workers would end up drunk and rowdy after having one drink too many.
Even though the neighbourhood is more peaceful now, many businesses there told The New Paper that they preferred the situation before the alcohol ban was rolled out on Dec 14 last year.
TNP spoke to 20 businesses, including restaurants and liquor stores, in Little India, and nearly all of them said sales have plummeted by at least 50 per cent after the riot.
Said Mr M. Shaiyleysh, 20, who works for Pamban Trading provision shop at Race Course Road: "I'd rather deal with the occasional drunk than see the business suffer."
There are also business owners who have decided to throw in the towel and close down their businesses due to poor takings. One business owner, who gave his name as Mr George, said he invested $200,000 to open a restaurant 2½ years ago, but decided to close down last month.
The 44-year-old said that before the riot, his eatery could make up to $5,000 every Sunday and about $1,000 every weekday. But due to the ban, the restaurant made only about $2,000 every Sunday and between $600 and $800 every weekday.Chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association Rajakumar Chandra said that liquor shops are among the worst affected by the ban and they are suffering up to a drop of 80 per cent in business.
He said that in the near future, he will be putting up an appeal to the Home Affairs Ministry to lift the ban between 6pm and midnight on Saturdays.
Currently, the alcohol ban is between 6am on Saturday and 6am on Monday.
But residents in the neighbourhood have a different view and some of them want the ban to be enhanced.
Chairman of the Tekka Residents' Committee Martin Pereira told TNP that residents have told him that they want the ban to start earlier - at 6pm on Friday.
He said: "With the ban, residents feel more secure when they come home at night. There is now also less noise in the area. There are fewer drunk and disorderly people in Little India on weekends."
A resident at Block 661, Buffalo Road, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tan, 40, agreed.
She said that the neighbourhood used to be heavily littered with empty beer cans and leftover food on Monday mornings. But these can no longer be found lying around after the ban.
She added: "The foreign workers now queue for the buses to take them back to their dormitories on Sunday nights at Race Course Road.
"Previously, they used to just rush for them and it was very disorderly. Now, from my flat, I can see them patiently queueing for their transportation back. This is a very good improvement."
'I make it a point to avoid the place'
She still feels afraid when she is at Little India.
That was what Madam Grace Wong Geck Woon, 38, said in a phone interview with The New Paper last Friday.
The former timekeeper was one of the people involved in the chain of events that sparked the Little India riot that fateful night on Dec 8.
She had asked Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu to alight from a bus as he had been causing a scene, shortly before Mr Sakthivel was killed.
As she took refuge in the bus, rioters threw concrete slabs and beer bottles in her direction. Two foreign workers managed to climb into the bus through a broken window and one of them assaulted her with a stick.
Recalling the incident that night, Madam Wong said she was still fearful of being in Little India even though about seven months had passed.
Said Madam Wong in Mandarin: "I make it a point to avoid the place whenever possible.But sometimes, (my family and I) will pass by the place where the riot happened and I would still be afraid."
She said she still felt this way even after she was told that Little India had changed since the riot last year.
Last week, several recommendations announced by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the riot also paved the way for future improvements to the troubled neighbourhood.
Madam Wong said it made no difference to her.
She said: "I have read about the findings from the COI, but I still have fears of the place. If you experienced what I did, you would be afraid, too."
Because of the trauma, she had quit her job as a timekeeper managing bus queues of foreign workers at Little India. Now, Madam Wong stays at home on most days to look after her children, she said. She also runs a business from home.
- NG JUN SEN