Last night, despite the online backlash and possible fine penalty by LTA, managing director of SMRT Trains Lee Ling Wee took to social media to set the record straight.
Lee wrote on SMRT’s Facebook page that the train operator will still encourage schools in the neighborhoods located close to MRT stations to consider such charters.
While SMRT was quick to acknowledge that it did not seek LTA’s approval on the matter, Lee added that this is not the first time such a charter has been conducted.
“The charters are not without precedent. Tens of thousands of students from many schools have experienced similar charters done in support of National Education shows in recent years – all moved efficiently and safely and without fuss. No permission was sought from LTA in these charters.”
All things considered, he added, “we feel the effort was genuine and worthwhile as it transported a large number of students efficiently and safely.Going forward however, he added that relevant agencies will be updated on such arrangements and charter requests will be viewed on a case-by-case basis.
The online uproar first began when SMRT decided to charter 3000 Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) students to the Schools National C Division rugby finals.
A quick look on the transport provider’s Facebook page showed that netizens were divided on the stance. While some have called the move a “serious breach” considering SMRT is a publicly listed company, other have come to support it saying that it is “doing what [it is] supposed to do” – move crowds quickly.
How to salvage the situation
According to Lars Voedisch, principal consultant and managing director of PRecious Communications such a public outcry probably happened this time around largely due to the different incidents recently where SMRT lost the trust of their passengers when it came to delivering reliability and consistency.
“After LTA clearly voiced its displeasure of SMRT making the decision without further approval from LTA, SMRT runs the risk of being possibly perceived as disorganised and unprofessional — SMRT should have been aware that for a decision with such a visible impact to the public, there would have been a proper procedure,” he added.
While an apology to LTA is necessary, said Voedisch the mass rapid transport system should however continue to emphasise that the public at large was not impacted by the special service provided to ACS.
Meanwhile Daniel Yap, head of creative communications at Right Hook Communications also gave a flip side to the view.
Yap explained that because ACS(I) has always had a reputation for housing well-to-do students, initial rumours that the trains cost SG$60,000 added to the public fury.
“Obviously there's always some old school rivalry in play when it comes down to pointing fingers at ACS(I) for shows of extravagance. When you throw that into an environment of breakdowns, complaints, crowds and claims of poor service, then such a publicly announced event will really feed SMRT's critics and give them the opportunity to hurt the brand,” said Yap.
Yap urges the brand to now be clear on the costs and processes involved in charter processes. Hiding prices at this juncture may also point to some other discrepancies in terms of pricing.
“If SMRT can do some CSR through chartering trains, that would be good to bring up as well, but not in a defensive manner. But so far SMRT has done well to own up to the lapse and should continue to be apologetic and cooperative when facing any disciplinary actions,” said Yap.