Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Babies cannot drink on MRT trains?!

I was watching the 9.30 news (which is supposed to really be news, and is nothing like The Noose!) and saw a news story about there being fewer people being caught eating and drinking on MRT trains.

You can find the web story here. But frankly, it does not convey the true absurdity and ridiculousness of the rule. The news clip did.

The clip showed an SMRT inspector asking at least two different adults, each with a baby or toddler in a pram who was suckling from a milk bottle (although one of them appeared to be drinking water not milk), to essentially cease and desist. In fact, the inspector was asking at least one of them to get off the train and go with him to the station staff room, where the baby could drink "in comfort".

WHAT THE...!??

Come on. Surely that has got to be absolutely ridiculous and uncalled-for. First, you are talking about babies and toddlers drinking out of milk bottles -- the risk of leakage or spillage is pretty low. Second, you are asking them to get off the train to go with you to your staff room, just so their babies and toddlers can drink -- that's got to take at least 30 minutes, if not more! Third, well, you are talking about babies and toddlers!

The SMRT inspector was, to his credit, very polite and patient. But still!

There is a Latin phrase called "reductio ad absurdum", meaning "reduction to the absurd". To quote Wikipedia, it is "a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence". Well, SMRT is certainly taking its rule against eating and drinking on trains to its absurd conclusion.

My wife felt that this showed how Singapore is so much about binary states and dichotomies: "yes/no", "right/wrong", "black/white". There is little or no discretion or common sense employed, when rules are being enforced. She's clearly right, of course. (You might say that, yes, of course I would say that!)

But my own takeaway from the clip, was about how Singapore rule-makers frequently make rules that punish the innocent majority, for the infractions of a small minority.

In this case, it was a small minority of commuters who were eating and drinking on trains and generally being anti-social and inconsiderate. Well, crack down on them! But SMRT clearly went overboard and is punishing everyone for the actions of a few, instead of focusing its enforcement efforts only on those few.

The web story also noted that most of the "offenders" were secondary school kids eating bread and drinking water. Hardly the most offensive of conduct. Indeed, I wonder how many of the 143 so-called offenders were caught for sucking on a lozenge, which ranks right up there for absurdity, next to telling parents to take their babies and toddlers off the train so that they can get a drink out of milk bottles.

What a joke and waste of time, effort and money this whole thing is.


rrrett said...

how embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

Things like this make me embarassed to be Singaporean.

Cruiset said...

One day, they will disallow breast feeding cos that's drinking too. :(

shibuyume said...

well, considering that they are actually making "plans" and committing resources to "solve a problem", i guess it is, to a very warped extent, commendable.

but it makes me wonder why SMRT tries this hard to solve the "food and drinks" problem, rather than solving the "crush load" problem. The recent jurong east incident is a prime example.

so yet another uniquely singaporean thing, is that we excel at coming up at "solutions" that punish the majority, because of a lack of commonsense in execution/implementation, and more so, that such things are often an overwrought heavy-handed approach over trivial offenses, while clouding the real problems at hand.

and these real and severe problems are being nicely hidden from the news (agenda setting/priming), while no real solutions are being crafted/executed, nor were there resources dedicated, because they are swept under the carpet and deemed "not a problem".

~XDavinX~ said...

Trust me, next they'll fine us for drinking saliva on the MRT. It might drip and spill, and viola - saliva on the floor is more unhygienic than spilling tap water on the floor, therefore ban.

Absurd, alright.

Tsz San said...

Well basically the government doesn't trust the poeple, therefore you have policies that doesn't take into account the common sense of the ave person but rather punish the majority for wad the minority does.

it goes back to the whole lee kwan yew racialist / elitist view of the world....where the state is run by intelligent / morally upright elites that must impose its order on the less intelligent / morally upright rest of the population that can't be trusted to save themselves.

Farinelli said...

I am in full support of not having drinks and food on board because soft drinks and stuff like burgers will seriously make a mess on the floor if dropped or spilled. But the most plain or mineral water is create a dirty patch if idiots step over it.

I always feel that one reserves the right to at least take care of their own basic need for adequate hydration, and am prepared to argue for it.

Van Van said...

totally absurd!!!

Chee Wai Lee said...

I've felt this way about Singapore bureaucracy and governance for years now.

There are no grey areas and no flexibility built into how things are run.

Unfortunately, I feel (I have no proof) that this has resulted in a vicious cycle - the bureaucracy cannot trust Singaporeans in general to not exploit the system, hence creating the draconian rules which in turn result in Singaporeans going all out to exploit the system whenever possible. I feel like it has gotten to the point where I don't think we can introduce an "honor system" in Singapore where people can be trusted to do the right thing under most circumstances.

Kenneth said...

Even at airports, with the risk of terrorism at its height, exceptions were made for liquid in baby bottles. Mothers were asked to drink the liquid to show that it was indeed milk or water. On London Underground ( bearing in mind that LU is 100 years old in places and therefore not a model underground system) there are frequent p.a. announcements advising passengers to carry water with them for their health and safety.

roque said...

A friend shared your blog post on FB and below was what I commented:

"I don't think the SMRT staff did anything wrong. Let me try to explain.

The liability as laid down by the law is a strict one, i.e. no intention is needed to prove the offence, the mere act is sufficient. The burden is thus on the offender to prove that he has a good reason for doing so, perhaps the baby is hungry or a diabetic is going into hypoglycemic shock. If he is unable to discharge it, he should bear the consequences.

In other words, it should be up to the offender to explain why he had to break the law, and not up to the staff to determine at first instance whether the offender ought to be sanctioned. We must not forget that the law applies equally to everyone, including babies and toddlers.

Necessity does not make an act a non-offence, it just makes it excusable. Whether or not something is an offence should be black and white. There is a need for laws to be certain so that people can regulate their own behaviour. The law is well entrenched and well established. SMRT has also clarified on numerous occasions that this includes plain water and sweets. So there can be no misunderstanding: if you eat or drink, no matter what you consume or for what reason you consume, you unfortunately fall foul of the law.

The question then shifts to whether or not you should be sanctioned. If you have a good reason, I strongly believe no SMRT staff will issue a fine.

Furthermore, we also ought to ask ourselves: If we know drinking and eating are not allowed, no matter how ridiculous this law may be, have we taken adequate steps prior to boarding the train? If we didn't, perhaps it might not be fair to criticise the staff. Have we given the law its due regard, or do we take it upon ourselves to decide what the law ought to be? If we subjectively consider a law unjust, is it right for us to disregard it?

Consider also the converse of what was shown in the video: if the staff had turned a blind eye to eating and drinking, it would be he who would be at fault, a dereliction of his duty.

At the end of it all, the staff was merely giving advice and reminders. I think a balance in enforcement ought to be struck, and I think what the SMRT's staff did is a perfect example."

Mr. Siew, you are a lawyer so please correct me if my attempt to analyse this issue from a legal perspective is incorrect.

I wish to add that I think people's frustrations with the law are misdirected at the SMRT staff. I may be wrong but I think they are 2 related but nevertheless separate issues.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Shhhhh, I think the SMRT is very proud of how they enforce their rules. Amazingly efficient and mechanical. Keep it up.

May I suggest they employ robots to do the job. Much cheaper and no need to worry about being human beans and human sensitivity.

Siew Kum Hong said...

@Chee Wai: I think your point has quite a bit of merit.

@roque: In law, there is a class called jurisprudence, which means the theory and philosophy of law. In jurisprudence, they teach a theory called "positivism", which essentially refers to an approach of describing the law as it is. In my day-job as a lawyer, that is what I do a lot.

However. When I analyse a law as a commentator/blogger/activist, I don't stop there. I can't stop at simply describing what it is and what it does and what the consequences of contravening the law might be. I have to go on and question whether the law makes sense in the first place.

And I would actually argue that all lawyers, when they put on anything other than their lawyer hat, and in fact all citizens, are duty-bound to do that. We have to question whether laws make sense. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. I think in this case, the general weight of public opinion is one of disagreement.

Where your analysis stopped short, was in not thinking about the harm that this particular rule sought to address, and whether the rule that has been instituted was correctly calibrated or was in fact overly-broad. The real concerns are around cleanliness, and perhaps even smells, resulting from eating and drinking. A proper rule would directly attack those concerns, and no more. @Farinelli's comment, which I agree with, is premised on this distinction.

But in Singapore, too often, laws and rules are drafted too broadly instead of being limited to the harms being addressed. And the authorities do this, because they can. Because they can. And responses like yours perpetuate that state of affairs.

sacredmarket said...

There is no right word or thing to say about this bull shit. Our country has been reduced to law and process driven.

People who are hired to work will just quote that it is a management decision.

So many times, i have been told, this is the rule and accept it. How much should we accept? Where is the quality of life? Is that all we are, process and law?

Life in SG is already a struggle with all the fines, fees, laws and process we have to manage. Now i got to get off the train to feed my kid! Go screw yourself! Wankers!

CT said...

I read somewhere, one time there was this diabetic lady whose blood sugar level dropped suddenly and was about to faint. She was caught eating a sweet and was reprimanded and told to spit it out. Even when other commuters vouched for her since they witness her condition.

HH said...

This is one of the reason for the falling birth rates.

singapore man said...

Hahaa....i was laughing at the news also when it was shown, it is "Uniquely Singapore" in all its context. Things really need to change for the better...

star said...

be prepare, you will get sue by LKY and SMRT , becos you give this type of comment ...

Article14 said...

Hi there...
I believe that the following regulation might clarify matters somewhat:

Regulation 14 of the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations
14. No person shall –
a. consume or attempt to consume any food or drinks while in or upon any part of the railway premises
except in such places as are designated for this purpose by the Authority or its licensee; or
b. consume or attempt to consume any chewing gum or bubble gum while in or upon any part of the
railway premises.

Note that consumption or attempt to consume is an offence. The baby cannot be charged for an offence as the concept of 'doli incapax' would apply. In our Penal Code, a child below 7 is incapable of committing an offence.
The parents cannot be liable as they did not consume the milk. They were only feeding the child. There is no provision preventing feeding of children.

The enforcement officials do not know what they are enforcing.

Kaffein said...

I agree with you - it is such an absurd situation that shouldn't even happen. It was totally uncalled for. Time and again, I have shared that the process structure and its policies are there to support the people. Not the other way around.

Do you remember the McDonald fiasco about the 12 Zodiac animal figurines and the decision to 'barbeque' the piglet? Exactly. It's much ado about nothing at all. Why kick up a fuss? Just because you don't want people to dirty the train doesn't mean you use a 'one-rule rules all' type of mentality and penalise those who fail to keep it.

The staff should focus their effort to go after the REAL offenders who litter and give little thought to people around them. Instead of targeting infants and toddlers who drink, they ought to:

- Hound those who 'pretend' to sleep in priority seats
- Tick off those who Sit at doorways and blocking passage
- Warn those blaring their mobile MP3 songs (not ringtones mind you), thinking everybody appreciates it
- Help those really in need expecting mothers, aged, etc and getting them seats

Gee is a little heartware difficult? All it takes is a little common sense (I find it quite uncommon these days) and a bit of compassion. We claim to be first class and a developed nation. But our thought processes are far from it. We need a serious change and I believe it starts at the top.


Xtrocious said...

This is a very real problem that we face in almost every facet of our society - the strict adherence to rules (even stupid ones)...

But can you really blame them when the top (management and whatnots) do not give any leeway or empowerment for their subordinates to make decisions based on common sense...

Of course, on the other hand, I have found cases where it was the pure indifference (laziness or fear of being reprimanded) on the part of the subordinates that resulted in them carrying out seemingly mindless orders and not exercising discretion...

This is a personal experience encountered recently at Fusionpolis where I was invited by MDA to attend a conference...

I turned up at the security counter and they asked for a photo ID...

Fine, I handed over my office staff pass with my photo, NRIC number and full name on it...

Response - sorry cannot, it's not a photo ID...

I was like - WTH - does the photo on my staff pass not look like me? Does it not have the pertinent details?

Apparently the only photo IDs they accept are NRICs, driver licenses and passports...

I have never encountered this problem before of using my staff pass to register at the security counter...

Hence I was quite adamant that I will not go back to get my NRIC...

The solution - they got someone from MDA to vouch for me...sigh

DK said...

This is really too much.

Bamboo Pictures said...

Someone should organise a picnic for pre-schoolers on the train. Since minors below 7 years of age are inculpable, it's the perfect protest.

Saud said...

I think the entire issue can be summed in a shoulder shrug and a lackadaisical 'so what?'

There are many arguments for and against this. You say MRT staff are like robots, I say, LTA charges their batteries.

We live in a society where we bravely hound from the digital sidelines but when we are in the thick of it, we do absolutely nothing.

If you can pull of sleeping in the train, so what if people think ure pretending? No ones going to do anything anyway.

Blaring your favourite Canto-Hindi hybrid pop song on your souped up mp3 phone? Why not. Not as if you're going to be stopped.

Hedonism powered by a culture of relative cowardice.

We can talk all we want, suggest civil and organised 'rallys' - I use that term lightly, but nothing is going to happen.

I also predict I'm going to get a lot of flak and heated commentary on this, but really . .'so what?'

I dont care. I just stumbled on this on my iphone, while eating a kaya bun, playing music sitting on the reserved seat on a train.


平幸蔡婉玲杰 said...

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Anonymous said...


zhouzi said...

Almost 10years ago, I was at City hall and was summoned for sucking a lozenge(hack). The summon said that I refused to comply with lawful order (???) despite the fact that I had informed the stationmaster that I had a medical condition and offered to show him the doctor's letter. Subsequently I had to write in to prove it and the summon was quashed.

Anonymous said...


Daniel said...

the no food/drink rule on trains, not even plain water, is just an indication of a more entrenched shortcoming of Singapore society. I remembered visiting my friend in Melbourne (who incidentally had migrated there), and was astonished that there were no ticket barriers or turnstiles in their subway stations. It came almost as a total culture shock. I asked my friend if transport was totally subsidized in that city or even Australia as a whole and he pointed out the ticket machines to me, and explained that commuters were required to buy tickets on their own conscience, with only ticket inspectors on some trains to serve as deterrence against free-riders. While there would definitely be individuals who do not feel socially or civilly obliged to purchase their own ticket, I was justifiably very impressed that these were few enough for the train authorities to operate such a free-and-easy, turnstile-less system.
In Singapore's context, this would be totally impossible, simply because NOT ONE PERSON will feel obliged to contribute. We don't think about the bigger picture, about how if we all can be more enlightened and socially aware, we might not need a society so tightly bound by stifling rules and laws. It's always about how I can be the first in line, how I can be the fastest, how I can buy the same thing at the cheapest price. I,I,I.. No, Apple didn't start the whole I-whatever craze, WE did.
Over the years, the government has been trying valiantly, but in my opinion, futilely, to change Singaporean mindsets and behaviour, with such campaigns as the Courtesy Movement and the Gracious Singapore schemes, and now they have even more on their hands as newer immigrants from other cultures that do not already possess similar social values flood our little island fast and furiously.
The situation clearly will never improve in the foreseeable future, and the only solution, as obviously concurred upon by the government, is the continued enforcement of ever more draconian laws and rules on the premise that the population simply cannot police and maintain order among themselves.

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The Pariah said...

Almost a decade ago, there was a saga involving a mum breastfeeding her baby on MRT trains.

Some prudish Singaporeans agreed with SMRT, claiming that it was "exposure" and "obscenity" lol.

The Pariah,

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