Thousands of Singaporeans take the MRT to work each day – here’s what it’s like for them

Joey Lee/Business Insider

I’ll be honest, my relationship with public transport is unlike that of most working professionals.

I’m fortunate enough to hitch a car ride to work so I take the train only once a day – to get home.

But sometimes my dad, who doubles up as my morning chauffeur, isn’t free to save me from the hassle of jostling with crowds on the train.

It is then that I, like most others, am left with no choice but to rough it out.

In Singapore, it’s expensive to own a car and public transport is often one of a few options people have if they want to get to work on time.

The rush-hour crowd in the morning is no joke, made worse by repeated incidents leading to delays or train breakdowns.

Recently, I was forced to take the train as my morning commute to work.

I was reminded again of how the relatively silent half-hour journey sees commuters glued to their smartphones, only seeming to come alive when their station is announced.

Here’s what it’s like to commute from the West end of Singapore to the financial district, a trek that thousands of Singaporeans make every morning.

The Mass Rapid Transit (or MRT as we know it) is one of the main transport systems in Singapore which is used by over 3 million people daily – more than half of the entire population.

The train network, spans the entire country and is owned by two private train operators: SMRT and SBS Transit which, to be fair, could do better to curb train faults and disruptions.

Today, I got lucky. My journey was fuss-free.

I started my commute from the station closest to my home – Clementi.

There are 106 operational stations scattered across the island. These stations are located along five major criss-crossing network lines

The Clementi station itself has a pretty standard set-up, with two giant electronic displays which told me that all lines that morning were functioning normally. The next train was expected to arrive a minute later.

The crowd started building up from the West side of Singapore, but trains often reach maximum capacity by the time they get to the Clementi station, especially when school-going students are thrown into the mix.

Today though, because I started my journey around 8am, I was one of the 200,000 working adults who use public transport during around that time of day.

During peak periods like the morning and evening, trains come every three minutes or so, but some passengers still complain that they don’t come often enough.

At 8am, the morning crowd starts out unintimidating: There’s a fair amount of people, but we’re not yet packed like sardines.

Trains in Singapore run both above and below ground. Just before my train disappeared into the underground five stations away at Tiong Bahru, I managed to catch a glimpse of the gloomy overcast weather outside, along with some road congestion.

As we got closer to the financial district at Raffles Place, the train started filling up quickly with commuters shuffling in, trying to find spots to anchor themselves.

By the time we neared Raffles Place station, this was how much personal space I had left – at least I could still see my shoes.

Thankfully, the journey between most train stations in Singapore takes less than five minutes, so I arrived at Raffles Place within 30 minutes of starting my journey. Not too shabby, I thought.

That’s not always the case though.

2011 was a game-changer for the MRT in Singapore when it experienced its worst breakdown in history affecting over 200,000 commuters in two separate disruptions. In 2015, a sole incident affected about 250,000 people.

SMRT was eventually fined the maximum financial penalty of $2 million by the Land Transport Authority for 2011 incidents, a sum which was donated to help needy families with transport fares.

When the trains run smoothly though, people file like clockwork to the nearest exit points.

This was the first time I saw the stairs preferred over the escalators.

In total, I travelled 11.7km within a short 30 minutes and the trip only cost me $1.41.

By the end of the day, a fresh batch of work-weary commuters will board the trains and begin the travel back home to their families, wishing the evening could last a little longer and the morning would come a little later.

Source: LTA