One great thing about being a tourist (and, I suspect, a resident) of Singapore is the ease with which you can get from one place to another. Yes, Singapore is a small island, but there’s only so much walking your feet can take – I think all five of us can attest to that.
Thankfully, we’re coming to find that Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) is a really convenient, pleasant way to get around. That’s not just based on comparison with Pittsburgh’s T, either. Between the five of us, we’ve ridden a lot of subway/metro/MRT systems. I’ve been of the opinion that D.C.’s system tops those I’ve tried in the U.S., and that was totally surpassed by quite a few systems I rode throughout Europe, Madrid’s being the most extensive and easy to use of those. Though perhaps not as extensive a network as some (SMRT has four lines, with a fifth currently under construction), SMRT is impressively clean, fast, and user-friendly. Here are some of the highlights:
Ez-link card: On our first night in Singapore each of us purchased an “ez-link” card. This $12 purchase came loaded with $7, and we added additional value since we knew we’d be using it a lot. To access the trains in a MRT station you just tap your card on the reader and the entrance gate opens. The system tells you your card balance and registers your entry location. You then catch your train(s) to your final destination and tap your card again at an exit gate, and the system charges you based on the distance you traveled, showing you your remaining balance as you leave. But wait, in case I haven’t convinced you of how great this is, the ez-link card gets even better – we just found out today that you can also use it to buy postage from ATM-like machines and that we can use it for our dorm washers and dryers. To put it in Pitt terms, the ez-link card is like a Panther card that’s useful throughout the entire city.
No eating or drinking, and no durians: Picture any bus or MRT you’ve ever ridden. Now imagine it without any trash or questionable odors. This is no longer an impossible dream – SMRT is virtually spotless. The stations are plastered with signs stipulating, among other regulations, no eating or drinking (that goes for all public transportation) under penalty of hefty fines. There aren’t even trash cans in the stations – Singapore seems to think there’s no reason anyone should have trash near public transportation if they’re obeying the law. Now, you aren’t going to get in trouble for carrying a water bottle or a bag of groceries, unless that bag of groceries has an infamously pungent durian in it, the one food item that is specifically banned from the metro. There’s no specific fine for violating this rule, but it seems to be a general rule everyone respects. I’m sure one of us will write about these stinky fruits soon, so stay tuned… Suffice to say, Singapore is serious about keeping their MRT clean.
Order: The other thing making the SMRT so pleasant is that the system and its users generally follow the rules to maintain order. When riding the escalators, you stand to the left and walk to the right. The trains always pull up to the same place, marked on the floor. When waiting to get on a train, stand to the sides of the doors and wait for everyone to get off first. When riding the train, sit in any empty seat (don’t be shy about sitting next to strangers) but save the seats on the end of every row for the elderly, people with children, pregnant women, and injured people – these seats are marked with signs indicating that they are reserved for these riders.