Official data shows the reliability of Singapore’s metro network has improved threefold in the past two years, but tell that to ordinary commuters in the Lion City and you are likely to get baffled looks. Ask the republic’s public transport officials, however, and they will tell you the public are not trusting the figures because of sloppy journalism. 

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in July said preliminary data showed trains travelled 393,000km on average before encountering a delay of more than five minutes in the first six months of this year, from an average of 133,000km in 2015.

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Singaporean commuters who spoke to This Week in Asia in the Lion City this week said their experience from daily commutes was not in sync with the data. “When you go home at 6pm or 7pm, at the back of your mind you are praying there is not going to be another signalling fault or track fault or train fault or door fault that is going make you late,” said one commuter. 

Despite the improvement in reliability, “major disruptions, which force commuters onto bus bridging services and/or make people late for appointments, still happen frequently enough that it’s part of many commuters’ experiences with public transport,” said Walter Theseira, a transport economist with the Singapore University of Social Sciences. “So the official statistics are not going to feel very relevant when a disruption happens to you personally,” he added. 

Khaw, an influential lieutenant of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and chairman of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), has previously slammed journalists for their reporting of train reliability and breakdowns. One of the key gripes of officials is that delays caused by the trial on one major line of a sophisticated new signalling system – which will allow the network to increase train frequency – are being perceived by the media and commuters as a consequence of poor maintenance. 

“They think it’s so easy, you know, like holding a pen and writing a few articles and get the signalling done. If it was so simple, they don’t need us. We can ask the reporters to run the train system,” the minister was quoted as saying in off-the-cuff remarks in July. 

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In a press conference on Monday, Khaw softened his tone, but reiterated his view that media reports on delays were less than perfect because of a conflation of delays arising out two major projects – the new signalling system, and overall upgrades to the entire network. Theseira said the media had been “reasonable and fair in covering rail reliability”. 

“As for the conflation of issues, if the minister means to suggest that the media – and the public – should draw a distinction between reliability problems due to re-signalling and reliability due to other engineering issues, I think that may be an unrealistic expectation,” he said. 

Dwelling too much on the difference “gives the inadvertent impression that the transit authorities are attempting to be selective with the statistics, which may hurt commuter confidence”.