TL;DR – Online vigilante is real. And it’s scary.
There was this post uploaded by Facebook user Fareen Salauddin over the weekend about a SMRT bus captain refusing to continue the operation of bus service 969 over a fare disagreement with a passenger. The post has since been removed, but here’s what the original post said,
“Driver went on STRIKE, did not want to continue the journey and all of us had to change to the next 969 bus. Waste all of the passenger’s fare and time.. Just because 2 small kids(4YRS OLD & 2 YRS OLD) who was forced to pay bus fare but the driver can’t tell how much is the fare in ENGLISH. If you can’t speak English well… at least know the basics. You can’t come to our country & expect us to speak your language. Brainless.
And as for you SMRT.. Number 1, please send your FOREIGN drivers for a basic English Speaking course to interact with passengers who can’t speak in Chinese. Number 2, please revise your “Child Bus Fare” requirements.. now year 2017 going 2018 already.. All children below 7 years are tall already.. So please uh..
Last pic is one of the 3 kids that have to pay for the bus fare.. as measured, she is only 86cm..”
Apparently, the bus captain, who is from China, wasn’t able to communicate properly in English with the passenger.
SMRT had subsequently posted on its Facebook page that it is looking into the incident.
A lot of netizens criticised SMRT for hiring PRC drivers and not ensuring that they have the requisite proficiency in English. Some netizens even launched into the usual anti-foreigner tirade.
But there is another side to this story. Another passenger who was on the same bus posted the following on Facebook:
Passenger was out to be difficult
It started off with a fare dispute between the father and the bus captain near Khatib.
The bus captain thought that the boy is taller than the height limit to take the bus for free. That’s well within the responsibility of the bus captain. The bus captain thus requested the father to pay the fare for the boy. The father refused. He also insisted that the driver communicate with him in English.
One of the passengers offered to help translate what the bus driver was saying for the father, but the father told the passenger not to translate. The father insisted it’s the driver’s job to communicate with him.
As pointed out, SMRT should have put in more effort to raise the standard of English of its drivers. However, by turning down other passenger’s offer to help him translate what the driver was trying to convey, the father was obviously trying to be difficult. If the father had let the other passenger translate for them, they could have resolved the entire issue.
Is English proficiency everything?
It’s one thing to be able to communicate in English the fare you need to pay. It’s another thing altogether to be able to communicate in English why a child isn’t eligible to ride for free. The standard of English needed for the latter is much higher than the standard of English for the former.
In fact, there is probably a good number of Singaporeans who wouldn’t have the standard of English to proficiently explain fare policy. For instance, those of the older generation who may not have the same access to education as we do. And we aren’t just talking about those in the pioneer generation. Even some of those who are in their fifties might not be able to properly explain bus fare policies in English, although they probably can speak simple English like how much fares are.
And that’s important. More than 50% of Singaporean bus captains are older than 58. That means that there is a good chance that a Singaporean bus captain might not have the standard of English to be able to properly explain bus fare policies in English. Are we saying that those bus captains are all not qualified to be bus captains? What’s the most important skill that a bus captain should have? Language proficiency? Or the ability to drive safely?
In other words, yes, it’s fair to expect bus captains to tell you the fare you need to pay, and whether the bus goes to a certain place. But I think we can cut them some slack when it comes to explaining fare policies and telling someone they need to pay full fare.
Don’t be too quick to judge
Maybe the people and sites who first shared Fareen’s post didn’t know the full story. Most of the people who commented probably don’t know the full story. But surely you would wonder if there were other Mandarin speaking passengers who could have helped?
Let’s take this as a lesson that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. After all, one day, we may be the one who is wrongly judged.
Online vigilante is real. And it’s scary.