The Straits Times published a commentary by defence columnist Jermyne Chow today, which spoke about the possible reasoning behind the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) decision to involve the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) during times of massive train disruptions and emergency planning.
This follows a massive online backlash against the LTA for carelessly tapping into what many netizens felt to be our national defence resources, all for the sake of helping out a private company (SMRT) which seems unable to fulfill its core role and functions as a national means of transport.
Yet, according to Chow, there is some sense that the SAF, with its experience in deploying large bodies of people resources quickly and efficiently, would be able to help ease the congestion during such incidents - LTA wants to avoid the chaos that resulted from the 7th July massive breakdown which left 250,000 commuters stranded during evening peak hours. Some commuters did not manage to go home until midnight that night, while some accounts revealed that many frustrated commuters simply walked all the way home.
However, despite the gravity of such massive breakdowns, there are some questions that every Singaporean should ask the LTA if and when it chooses to tap into the SAF during massive disruptions, even if they say that SAF mobilization is a "last resort":
Should public transport operators, which are private corporations, tap on national resource to help sort out their problems? Should they have to pay for the use of such resources? While the rail business has not been doing well and suffering losses, a profit-driven firm should have the financial wherewithal to hire more auxiliary police officers or private security firms to get the job done.
In any case, how far will military presence on the ground go in easing the commuter's grief and inconvenience? Commuters just want to know where to go, what buses to take and how to get their refunds. Such information can be simply presented in signs that commuters can refer to in the stations and hear from frequent public announcements, and by having enough staff - or even part-time marshals - on the ground. Soldiers aren't necessary.
Interestingly, ST writer Chow also cites defence analyst Ho Shu Huang, who says that "a train breakdown could become a crisis "if there are other untoward consequences, such as a stampede, civil unrest or if the train breakdown continues for days or weeks"."
In this case, Chow says, "it will then be justifiable for the military to support efforts to manage the crisis."