Saturday 28 April 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 9

SMRT's customer service support team under scrutiny
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Apr 2012

The standby customer service support team activated during last December's train disruptions came under scrutiny on day nine of the Committee of Inquiry.

It was revealed that the teams did not go through any formal or structured familiarisation training of the train stations they were assigned to.

The response time of some teams also came into question.

Standby customer service teams were mobilised via SMS and phone calls once the Rail Incident Management Plan was activated on December 15 and 17 to help in crowd control at bus bridging points.

There were 14 of such teams assigned to different zones along the rail system, with 194 members from different departments of SMRT.

One team leader, Sito Wai Kong, who has been with SMRT since 1985 was asked about the standard operating procedures when they are being activated for emergencies.

He said his team was originally assigned to about five stations along the East-West line, including Simei, Tanah Merah and Tampines.

But they were deployed to City Hall and Raffles Place stations to help out during the incident.

This led committee chairman District Judge Tan Siong Thye to question why Mr Sito's team was assigned to stations they were unfamiliar with.

Mr Sito said he did not have time to bring his team to familiarise themselves with the stations they were assigned to.

He added that the team had not gone for any refresher courses since being formed in 2008.

Mr Sito was also asked about the improvements that are currently being looked at.

He said SMRT is considering expanding its customer service teams to better deal with prolonged or multiple incidents.

Another concern raised was the time that some teams had taken to respond to such incidents.

Customer service team leader Eng Wee Jin said it took his team members an average of one and a half hours to arrive at City Hall station where they were deployed.

It took Mr Eng himself one hour to get down to the station while the last team member arrived two hours later.

Three out of Mr Eng's 14 team members also did not turn up on the day.

Mr Eng said this was because some of them were overseas, while another had baby-sitting problems.

He added the Rail Incident Management Plan did not give a time frame for members to arrive, but were only told to respond as soon as possible.

This was a different case at Dhoby Ghaut station.

Service Operations Manager Ramli Rahmat said the Customer Service Team leader arrived within 15 minutes after the Rail Incident Management Plan was activated as he had received a call to head down to the station even before the Rail Incident Management Plan was activated.

His team members were also able to arrive shortly after, as some were working in SMRT's main building which is near the station.

The committee also heard from the station manager at Toa Payoh station, Phillip Lim, who was present during the December 17 incident.

When asked what improvements he would like to see, Mr Lim said he would like the customer service team to be more familiar with the station and its vicinity so that they would be able to give assistance more immediately.

Mr Lim also recounted how he had to deal with difficult and demanding commuters on the morning of the December 17 disruptions. He described the situation as chaotic.

The Committee of Inquiry will continue to hear from more customer service team leaders and members, as well as service operation managers, going forward.

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