Singapore: Efficient vs Resilient City


This week Singapore’s MRT system has seen unprecedented disruptions to it’s service that have made headlines across local and international news. As I wait for a shuttle bus this Sunday morning to take me across the island instead of the much faster, less crowded train I can’t help but be as upset as my fellow passengers at SMRT for using Sunday morning to finish their track inspection. As I wait on the bus though and read the many opinion pieces in the paper and blogs about this planned outage it suddenly occurred to me: I would never have left my Brooklyn apartment on the weekend without first checking the MTA’s website for disruptions in the F train service. I also remember a few late night rides on a shuttle bus instead of the G train through brooklyn that had become almost expected on the weekends as the NYC’s subways is one of the world’s oldest and was in frequent need of repair. And of course Singapore’s trains even with disruptions are still quicker than many of the other cities in SE Asia.


It made me wonder in my four short months in Singapore have I become so dependent on this “efficient” train system that my first reaction has been to complain? How have I so quickly forgotten how NYC’s subway system would frequently have disruptions? Of course I could argue that NYC train disruptions were not as traumatic because there were many more subway route options than Singapore. However the difference seems to be more about our expectations of service as city dwellers in a city state that prides itself on efficiency. Instead of having more train lines that encompass a larger area of the island and provide more service options Singapore prides itself on being able to do more with less. But in times like these when one train line down paralyzes the whole system I can’t help but ask, is the resiliency of a city’s infrastructure ever considered over efficiency?


Additionally while these disruptions are certainly inconvenient I must admit it is also refreshing to see so much discussion among friends, colleagues and across the Internet about the role of public servants and public agencies in a place that has been dubbed a “nanny state” for taking care of its citizens. Perhaps these disruptions and people’s anger can help shape the evolving dialogue in Singapore between the government and the people. After all a more resilient city needs not just resilient infrastructure but also resilient and engaged citizens that help create innovative solutions to benefit their city.

– Melissa



  1. Lau

    You are like comparing a relatively new car with a very old car. the NY subway is more than 100 years old and runs 24 hours. it carries many more people than the sg one. it has so many lines. the sg one is relatively new, has few lines, has many hours of closure each day for maintenance and other advantages over the NY one. i think the CEO of SMRT cannot even manage 1 line in NY.

    • Thanks for your comment! Actually each line in NYC is run separately, each with their own problems and politics. I also didn’t intend to directly compare the systems, just people’s expectations of the systems. – Melissa

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