Commuters happier with trains and buses having fewer people during circuit breaker, survey shows

SINGAPORE – Fewer people on, and increased cleaning of, trains and buses during the circuit breaker period made for happier commuters this year.

An online survey conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU) of about 7,500 people showed “substantial increases” in commuter satisfaction scores from May to July, compared with the same period last year.

While the MRT system scored 66.1 points in the second-quarter survey last year, its score rose to 73.4 this year.

Satisfaction with public buses likewise went up from 68.9 per cent to 74.4 per cent in the same period.

This is despite scores registered in June and July – after the circuit breaker ended – gradually reverting to 2019 levels.

Presenting the results on Tuesday (Sept 29), Mr Chen Yong Chang, head of research and consulting at the SMU’s Institute of Service Excellence, said that with more people returning to work, commuters are asking for more.

“Some respondents are asking for higher service frequency, more traffic controllers, limiting the number of passengers per cabin as trains and buses become more crowded post-circuit breaker,” he said.

“To be fair, there a limit to what operators can do because the crowds have to come back. The Government may do more to encourage measures like flexible work arrangements.”

Whereas factors like cleanliness were most important in May, more perennial concerns like service reliability and accuracy of travel information are now also returning to the fore of commuters’ considerations, Mr Chen added.

It will take a while more before the new normal for consumer satisfaction stabilises in a post-pandemic world, he said, and more conclusions can then be drawn.

As for the air sector, the huge reduction in flights due to the coronavirus made the results for airports and airlines more insignificant.

The lack of tourists meant results collected this year were not comparable with last year’s, with only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents surveyed.

Still, the SMU survey found that 85.6 per cent of respondents are willing to fly within a year of air travel restrictions being lifted, and that 39 per cent are willing to fly within a month of flights being allowed to resume.

Their top destinations: Australia, Japan, Malaysia and China.

Mr Chen said that, with more flights grounded and the travel situation unpredictable, airlines may have to focus more on service and branding rather than the flights themselves to be “best poised to capture pent-up demand when passenger numbers rebound”.

These include the redesigning of the customer journey from check-in to landing – to incorporate the wearing of personal protective equipment, for instance – to make it suitable for a Covid-19 world.

More immediately, airlines must ensure the ease of refund and the quality of their interactions with customers to retain their loyalty.

He said: “This is especially important because the dynamics keep changing. Passengers will remember good service during this confusing period, and will choose the airline again when recovery comes.

“Otherwise, they may no longer choose the airline again.”

When the land and air sectors were compared, people gave Changi Airport the highest rating at 8.08 points on a scale of 10 when it came to perceptions of efforts to keep customers safe from Covid-19.

Train operators got the lowest rating, at 7.06 points.

Ms Neeta Lachmandas, the executive director of SMU’s Institute of Service Excellence, said: “This is not surprising. Flights have not returned to pre-Covid-19 levels and the airports remain empty while the trains are more crowded after the circuit breaker.

“When we enter crowded spaces, we all have a voice in the back of our heads that asks, ‘Is it safe?'”

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