Commuters are not selfish

Following my last blog article (see here), I decided to keep an eye out and see how commuters in our trains – particularly younger ones – behave towards those who are elderly and those with small children. Often, it is the inconsiderate commuters who get highlighted – especially online on websites like STOMP – and this leads us to think that most commuters are selfish and lack civic consciousness.

However, my experience over two days this week tells a different story. I am happy to report that from my observations and encounters, commuters are quite considerate and courteous when they see older folks. On Friday and Saturday – weekend days when the trains are more crowded – I encountered 10 incidences where younger commuters gave up their seats to older ones without hesitation.

The first incident happened at about 11.30am on Friday on my way from Hougang to Chinatown on the North-east Line (NEL). Two separate occasions where younger commuters immediately gave up their seats when elderly folks boarded the train. A few minutes after these, a third incident happened – a young lady offered her seat to an elderly man.

On Saturday morning, on my way from Hougang to Dhoby Ghaut (also on the NEL) at about 11am, a young Malay lady offered her seat to an elderly man. A young Chinese guy stood up and gave his seat to a couple with 2 small children, this prompted the young girl – unrelated to him – seated beside him to do the same. About 10 minutes later, another man and young lady gave up their seats to a grandma with her grandchild. A lady offered her seat to a man of about 60-years old but he declined. She bade him to sit but he said he was alighting soon and thanked her.

5 minutes later, another young Malay lady gave her seat to an elderly Chinese woman. Two more such incident happened several minutes later.

The trains were relatively packed and you could see the relief on the faces of the elderly folks when they were offered the seats. It can be quite a harrowing experience for some of them, having to not only jostle with more able-bodied commuters but also to physically withstand the movements of the trains. Not an easy thing for some elderly especially if they are not so physically strong.

What I also observed was that the younger ones gave up their seats without hesitation. And contrary to common perception, none of these pretended to be asleep.

I’ve always felt it unfair that the young especially have been singled out and criticised for being materialistic and uncaring, that they are selfish and self-centred, gazing at their own navels all the time. My experience with the young, however, not just in these encounters in the trains but also through the work I do with them elsewhere, tells me they are not narcissistic people. Certainly there are those who are – just as there are adults who think of no one but themselves. But it would be inaccurate and unfair to paint them all with the same tainted brush.

I decided to carry out my observations in light of the Public Transport Council extending the concessionary hours for elderly folks to travel on public transport to full day throughout the week. So, I am glad that there seems to be civic-mindedness among commuters towards those who may be in need. If more elderly folks do use public transport more often because of the concessions, I hope other commuters will spare them a thought.

We criticise the train operators for their lack of service or for poor service standards but lets not forget that we too have a part to play in this. While criticisms of trains being too crowded, fares too expensive and frequency of trains and buses do not meet expectations, are all perhaps valid, it is also incumbent upon us to do the little small things which could make travel on the trains and buses – in spite of the problems – a little more pleasant.

And if we the younger ones (well, I am still relatively young lar) feel our daily commute is a hassle, what about the elderly then?

So, do spare a thought for them.

A little does go a long way.

PS: If you’re one of those who give your seat up to the needy whenever you meet them, I thank you. 😉

HapPy NaTioNaL DaY!


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