SMRT bus interchanges security level

Impressive how Today's reporter conducted a spot check on the security level of SMRT bus interchanges. I'm not sure whether it's within the legal limit, though. Imagine if there's a bad seed is to infiltrate Today & acts as its reporter, he/she sneaks around the bus interchanges doing the very bad things...like a signing of "Today's reporter (insert name here) was here!"

After the incident of the vandalised MRT train which went undetected and unreported for two days, Singapore's public transport system is now undergoing a comprehensive review as announced by the Public Transport Security Committee last Friday. One question which has been raised: Should this include making bus interchanges less open and more of a hard target? Assuming this is even practical. Currently, train depots are designated as protected places.

A spotlight has been thrown on this issue after MediaCorp checked out four bus interchanges in the early hours of the morning last Friday, and found the interchanges easily accessible, with the doors of the buses at one of them - the Yishun bus interchange operated by SMRT - left completely open.

Responding to MediaCorp's queries on its findings, SMRT Buses vice-president Kang Huey Ling said: "SMRT is committed to making our public transport network safe and we take Today's findings seriously. Besides a comprehensive review of all our security we have implemented tighter security SOPs on all our premises, and this includes regular audits checks to instil discipline on all staff."

At the Yishun bus interchange at 4am last Friday, MediaCorp had walked unchallenged into and around the interchange and found more than 30 SMRT buses with their doors open. These buses were also left unattended before drivers began arriving after 4.40am to start their shifts. Asked why these bus doors were left open, Ms Kang explained yesterday: "The buses were being aired".

Were the doors supposed to be left open?

Ms Kang said: "To further tighten security we have reiterated to cleaners that cleaning of buses should be done one at a time, and after completing each bus the doors should be closed."

Unlike train depots, which are wire-fenced, the Yishun interchange's bus park is secured by a combination of wire fencing, shrubs and hedges. At one stretch, the physical barrier consists only of a fence made up of a few planks and ropes, and extends upwards to under a metre in height.

Ms Kang said "there (are) security personnel" at the Yishun interchange who perform periodic patrols and a night parking assistant who carries out preparation for service the next day, including random checks on the buses. However, MediaCorp was only approached when a driver arrived for work at around 5am, an hour after the reporter had been there.

"We note that one of our Service Leaders had spotted Today's reporter and had requested for identification," said Ms Kang.

This appears to be the norm - earlier on Friday, security guards at Pasir Ris and Hougang bus interchanges also sought identification when the reporter neared the parked buses. SBS Transit's parked buses at these interchanges had their doors closed.

No guards and parked buses were however observed at Sengkang bus interchange operated by SBS Transit between 2.30 to 3am. SBS Transit spokeswoman Tammy Tan explained: "In interchanges where we have buses parked overnight, security guards are deployed to ensure the safety and security of the premises and the buses. In particular, they will make sure that no one breaks into the buses or tampers with them. In interchanges which do not have any buses parked overnight, security guards are not deployed." And this was the case with the Sengkang Interchange.

However, one temporary retail booth at Sengkang had its door left open and unlocked. "We have since reminded all our tenants to ensure that their booths are locked when they are unmanned," Ms Tan said.

Member of Parliament Dr Lim Wee Kiak, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, told MediaCorp that in light of the recent vandalism case, it is understandable that the public takes a keener interest in security of public transport.

However, he cautioned against an over-reaction and pointed out that public bus interchanges are quite accessible and open. "It is not possible to protect them (buses) like military vehicles which may translate to higher costs for the commuter."

While these incidents served as reminders to review public transport security, Ms Ng Sue Chia - who specialises in transport security research at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies - pointed out that an array of measures had been introduced over the last few years to improve transport security. For example, more cameras have been installed at bus interchanges and train stations.

For SMRT's buses, Ms Kang said its drivers conduct "thorough checks" before the start of the first service each day. "Service leaders have been trained on how to look out for suspicious-looking items left unattended in the bus, and must report any irregularities to their supervisors immediately," she added.

MP Mr Lim agreed that public transport serves as soft targets for terrorists, and more should be done to enhance the security, but he asked: "The issue is how much is enough ... Are current measures sufficient?" He has filed a parliamentary question on public transport security for the Transport Minister to answer at the next sitting of Parliament.

From Today, "SMRT tightens security at bus interchanges".

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