Civic mindedness on public transport

Picture credit: Land Transport Authority (2019)

The mention of the Thoughtful Bunch may or may not ring a bell for many Singaporeans, but what about the respective character mascots – Stand Up Stacey, Bag Down Benny, Hush Hush Hannah, Move In Martin and Give Way Glenda? Does it strike a chord?

With their ubiquitous and conspicuous appearances on trains and buses in Singapore, it would be hard pressed to have missed them – well unless, you’re a phubber with your eyes glued to your phone 24/7. Part of the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s initiatives to promote graciousness on public transport, the jovial and familiar mien of The Thoughtful Bunch were introduced with the intention of nudging Singaporeans into being more considerate and civic minded on trains and buses.

Picture credit: u/theresjustme on Reddit

With SMRT’s recent plastering of the signage reminding commuters to keep their legs to themselves (instead of comfortably resting on adjacent or opposite seats), it raises the inevitable question: are Singaporeans really so jialat in being civic minded on public transport? To answer this arresting question, Black Dot Research decided to launch an online poll with our panel of respondents. Here’s what we gleaned from the findings:

SG public transport lovin’

Consistent with survey findings from previous years which reveal a shift in Singaporeans travelling in private vehicles to public transport for their daily commute, it appears that the escalating costs of private car ownership and steady expansion of Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) networks have remained as the continual deterrents for Singaporeans’ preference of public transport. Out of the 84 respondents who participated in the poll, 43% took public transportation such as trains and buses daily, 19% utilized it 4 to 6 times weekly and 27% took public transport 1 to 3 times. Only a small fraction (11%) did not take public transport at all.

But why the disparity?

When asked about their perceptions on the importance of displaying and maintaining acts of civic mindedness on public transport, a substantial 70% of respondents rightfully felt that it was “Very Important” to do so.Yet, a sizeable chasm surfaced when respondents were tasked to rate the behaviors of fellow Singaporeans in terms of their civic mindedness on public transport. Only a paltry 2% found other Singaporeans to be ‘Very civic minded’, with a substantial majority (70%) lying somewhere in the middle of rating Singaporeans as ‘Somewhat civic minded’, and 7% finding Singaporeans ‘Not civic minded at all’ on public transport.

Is it just LTA, or is it just Singaporeans?

And the fact that the above findings still emerged despite an overwhelming 88% of respondents indicating that they did notice themed signages (recall: The Thoughtful Bunch) on public transport, yet with only slightly over half (51%) finding them to be ‘Effective’ or ‘Very Effective’; what exactly has gone wrong?

Nothing but the best

As with most self-report scales, respondents generally rated themselves positively for perceived negative social behaviors such as indiscriminate usage of public toilets, smoking outside designated areas, spitting, littering and placing feet on seats in front of them on buses; stating that they were a lot less likely to have committed it before in public.

Compared to commonly recognized acts of civic mindedness such as giving up seats to those who require it more, returning own trays and utensils upon completion of meals at food outlets, and moving in to make way for other boarding commuters, respondents rated themselves as being highly likely to have done it before in public, with at least 83% performing those acts of civic mindedness.

Self-praise is no praise

During the recent Singapore Bicentennial Conference organized by the Institute of Policy Studies, veteran diplomat Prof Tommy Koh lamented that Singapore is a “First World country with Third World people” in terms of the inadequacy of civic mindedness that Singaporeans displayed as citizens of a highly developed country. Towards this, we asked our respondents for their views on the potential efficacy of various measures to improve the civic mindedness of Singaporeans.

Over half (58%) felt that instilling mandatory civic mindedness curriculum in primary and secondary schools would be the most effectual way forward, with 29% choosing punitive measures such as implementing more penalties and fines, and 11% calling for increased visible signages on public transport and public areas such as shopping malls and neighborhoods. The appeal of conventional media (TV, radio advertisements) in inculcating civic mindedness had appeared to wane however, with only 2% indicating so.The way forward towards being a more gracious and civic minded society inarguably starts with its citizens, regardless of how this can be achieved: through education, visible cues, legislative measures or media. The picture of civic mindedness on public transport only paints a silhouette to a country’s overall levels of graciousness and courtesy, yet, it is not totally invalid. What is more significant is the ‘how’s to utilizing these findings to come up with solutions for gearing towards a “First World country with First World people” – as Prof Tommy Koh would have said it. What are your thoughts? Share them with us at feedback@blackdotresearch.sg.

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