Wanting to get an upfront and unadulterated view of what commuters were experiencing, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew made it a practice to visit train stations and bus stops during peak hours by himself.
This was an example of his determination to improve public transport, said the Ministry of Transport's (MOT) permanent secretary Pang Kin Keong on Wednesday.
In a speech at the MOT SG50 Gala Dinner, which was held a day after it was revealed that Mr Lui would be not standing for the coming elections, Mr Pang gave praise to his working style. Addressing Mr Lui, he said: "You are not content with just looking at the barrage of statistics that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) collects."
Instead, visits to trains stations and bus stops would be followed by e-mails to the Ministry on how things could be improved, added Mr Pang in his seven-minute speech which drew applause from audience at the Raffles City Convention Centre.
He also said Mr Lui had a "direct, straight-talking and principled approach" to issues.
While the minister often gave broad directions, leaving the Ministry to work out the details, he could be meticulous too. "I think the best example is your chairing of the meetings with LTA and the operators on train reliability issues," Mr Pang said. " I must confess that some of the technical and engineering details fly over me, but you are able to get into the specifics and often follow up with sharp and pertinent questions and points."
While he admitted that his words would have a "tinge of bias", Mr Pang also said that fair observers would not disagree that Singapore's public transport had improved significantly since 2011, when Mr Lui took office.
Mr Lui also laid the foundations, including an overhaul of the bus and rail industry structures, which will yield results in a few years, he went on.
Further improvements will take time, given the state of the system back then, Mr Pang said. In Dec 2011, two massive breakdowns occurred on the North-South MRT Line, which sparked off a committee of inquiry that revealed lapses in rail maintenance.
In the aviation sector, Mr Lui has also helped the Ministry roll-out exciting new plans, including the Project Jewel, a mixed-use complex with retail outlets and airport services, Changi Airport Terminal 4 and 5, as well as a third runway, Mr Pang said.
He also described Mr Lui as having no airs, and even armed with a sense of humour to lighten situations. "You are prepared to listen to and accept our arguments, regardless whether the arguments come from senior staff at the table or junior staff sitting at the back of the meeting room," Mr Pang said.
In response, Mr Lui gave the credit to his team.
"It's never because of a single individual... it's because of a team of different people, different abilities, different temperaments, different skills, all coming together working as one, united in a common purpose, driving towards a common destination, that allow us to do what we have done," he added.
In a separate interview with the media, Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim also said of Mr Lui: "Sometimes when we discuss issues, you could see that at the end of the day, the crux of the matter, in his heart and in his mind, are the commuters."