Sunday, December 18, 2011

KL-born SMRT CEO under pressure over breakdowns

Angry commuters frustrated and stranded in human traffic for hours in Singapore’s rail line’s third major disruption in four days, are now lobbying for Singapore MRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa’s resignation.

Singapore’s Straits Times reported today that the Kuala Lumpur-born Saw, who built her career in the retail and marketing sector, has now found herself “very much the villain”, and is taking most of the heat for the breakdowns, said to be Singapore’s worst to date.

Born in 1954, Saw studied at Convent Bukit Nanas here before leaving for Singapore to do her “O” Levels. She eventually graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1978.

Saw was DFS Venture Singapore’s regional president in charge of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia from 1981 to 2002 before her appointment as SMRT CEO.

But her success is now unravelling amid the chaos of the past week.

During Thursday’s five-hour disruption at 11 stations across the city, a passenger even had to smash open a window to let air into the stifling stalled carriage.

Over a day later, the same train line broke down again, this time for seven hours, causing a mad rush as commuters flooded the stations in the final weekend before next week’s Christmas holiday.

Elsewhere across the city this morning, frustrated commuters found themselves forced to join lengthy queues before they were ushered into shuttle buses to their desired locations. When the skies opened and rain poured before noon, those stranded at the stations had to scramble for shelter.

But, according to ST reports, in the confusion, many bus drivers were unaware of the routes they were to take. One bus, said the paper, had to make an unplanned stop after missing a drop-off point entering the city.

Train services resumed today at 12.08pm, the daily said, but the disruptions have left a bitter taste in the mouths of Singaporeans, many of whom rely heavily on the city’s railway line, oftentimes referred to as efficient.

Transport analysts, said ST, have also said SMRT needs to overhaul its procedures when dealing with service breakdowns.

“These electrical faults are bound to happen. What we need are empowered staff who can handle such situations with ease, and not the frustrating and chaotic ‘waiting for further instruction’ approach that happened on Thursday evening,” the daily quoted transport analyst Tham Chen Munn as saying.

Yesterday, a group of 80 gathered at the Hong Lim Park to lobby for Saw’s resignation and to protest the one per cent rise in public transport fares.

But in the thick of the chaos and much pressure, ST said “Ms Saw has been working hard behind the scenes”, according to SMRT sources.

The embattled CEO who took on the post despite much criticism in 2002 has been stationed at the company’s headquarters in North Bridge road since last Thursday. She had also reportedly spent much of Friday discussing strategies before addressing the media in the evening.

During yesterday’s breakdown, ST reported, Saw visited the affected stations in Bishan, Toa Payoh and Orchard.

“For someone who has always promised to make ‘improving service’ a priority, it looks like Ms Saw now has her work cut out for her,” the paper reported.

“With a Committee of Inquiry looming and a panel called in to relook at the company’s procedures, it looks like SMRT will have to go back to basics in the next few months,” it added.

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