S’poreans can do “rational discourse”and “reasoned and constructive debate”

In Political governance on 12/11/2011 at 6:32 am

Below are three letters to MediaCorp’s Voices that show how two S’poreans react when someone wants more rules to cure a “social evil”.

In the first, a man wants it to be made mandatory for transport companies to ensure that passengers occupying  “priority seats” give them up to elderly, pregnant women and disabled persons. And that students must “give up their seats to any adult passenger when all seats are occupied since students are paying a concessionary fare”.

Sounds like an extreme example of the traditional way of doing things that would make even Hitler, Mao or Stalin cringe. Make rules and force people into complying with these rules for some “greater good” as defined by the rule maker. And it ain’t only the government and its agencies. Think of the rules when it comes to set or “special offer” meals. I still have problems (admittedly less often nowadays) when I ask for a “diet” soda in place of the regular sugery stuff on the set or offer menu, even if I’m willing to pay extra.  In HK, this issue never arises if one is willing to pay a bit more.

There were two replies. One pointing out

— [E]ven if students are paying concessionary fares, this does not make them any less of a commuter … the elderly pay concessionary fares but are considered priority passengers. The amount of fare paid does not determine one’s commuting status.

[S]tudents have to keep track of whether all seats in the bus or train are full and, if so, they have to act on it. I am unsure as to how many students would then want to take a seat on public transport, given such “duties”. Also, would we fine students if this is to be mandatory?

While it is easy to complain about not being offered a seat, instead of shifting the responsibility to others, the question is whether passengers in need of one make the request.

The other I reproduce almost in full

… “Ensuring priority passengers get seats”  … and its simplistic solutions to the problem of priority passengers not getting seats.

One suggestion was for transport operators to be held liable for accidents if they did not find seats for these passengers. This would open a can of worms. Firstly, how would these passengers be identified?

Not all elderly people look their age, not all pregnant women show a bump and not all would choose to identify themselves. Would these unidentified passengers be allowed to sue transport operators if they get into an accident while standing?

In addition, SMRT staff, at the request of some priority passengers or otherwise, already do ask passengers to give up their seats.

Secondly, if a passenger were to refuse a seat, say, for the simple reason that he will be alighting soon, would transport operators still be held liable if there is an accident?

The letter writer also suggested that students, who pay concession fares, give up their seats to adults, who pay full fares. In the case of a pupil carrying a heavy bag and an elderly couple taking transport to a nearby park for a walk, who is more deserving of a seat?

More importantly, who has the discretion to judge which is the more deserving party? If a wrong judgement is made, and if any of these passengers get into an accident, who would be responsible?

Moreover, it is common to see a toddler or child below the height of 0.9m occupying a whole seat. Being free riders, literally, are they not less deserving of a seat compared to students, if we go by the writer’s argument?

We should not make a mountain out of a molehill by introducing drastic measures when the problem could be solved easily. The onus should be on priority passengers, responsible adults who can decide for themselves if they need a seat.

It does not cost anything to ask nicely for one or to enlist the help of transport staff to do so. And if rejected by one passenger, ask another. Someone giving up his seat is a bonus, not a right.

What the two replies show that S’poreans can engage in “rational discourse”, and “reasoned and constructive debate”, even when dealing with someone who hasn’t bothered to think through the implications of his ideas.

  1. I agree. People who calls for drastic laws over small matters like this, are simply incapable of managing their own life, and thus seeking help from the govt to meddle more.

    A simple & courteous request from the priority passenger is all it takes. Just speak out if you really need it and learn to overcome your shyness. If the passenger refused to give way, then ask another, or another until you have one. There’s nothing wrong with being rejected. And people shouldn’t begrudge it either when rejected (perhaps valid reasons or not). Passengers around can also assist to do the right thing, instead of just ‘fixing the kids”.

    So much talk for values and morals education. Yet some people think these are only for the young and students, that once they’re out of school, they are done and over with it. Well, they are wrong. Values & Morals are conducted and taught/learnt everyday by adults who won’t practice them in their everyday lives too. And the truth is that these are elements of a systematic pedagogical philosophy. They are manifestations of a model that sees children as objects to be ‘manipulated’ rather than as learners to be engaged. Take a lead and show by example.

  2. I think the letter writer to TODAY that you quoted exemplifies the 60.1% of Singaporeans that the PAP depends on for its power.

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