There are not many people who would see this in the hallway of the MRT (that’s our subway system) and think, “sure, I’ll make a special trip to find the MRT gift shop:”
But I have an unusual fascination with the “Thoughtfulness Bunch” — Move-In Martin, Stand Up Stacey, Bags Down Benny, Hush-Hush Hannah, and Give Way Glenda have been with us since we first arrived in Singapore — and I thought it might be fun to track down a souvenir of one or more of these guys and their terrible hair.
It turns out that the Land Transport Authority gift shop is not a very popular place — the guard at the gate didn’t even know that it existed. He sent me to the Land Transport Authority Gallery, which sounded so much more exciting than a shop — my first trip to a public transportation museum!
The LTA Gallery is pretty small — everything fits into about five rooms — and looks like it was curated sometime in the early 1990s, when someone was just getting excited about putting little, hard-to-see TV screens all over the place. It’s not exactly an easy museum to follow. But you can pick up interesting tidbits here and there.
The museum takes a look at cars and taxis and trishaws (what we would call pedicabs today), buses and bicycles, and the LRT (our baby light rail system) and the MRT. Fun facts include:
- One of the first public bus systems in Singapore started in the early 1920s and was called the Mosquito Bus (probably for the crazy way it wove in and out of traffic).
- Singapore almost didn’t have an MRT (for which it is now justifiably famous); in The Great MRT Debate of the late 1960s, many public planners preferred the creation of a giant public bus system instead.
- When they built a tunnel for one of Singapore’s expressways, the KPE, they dammed the Geylang River, diverted it, built the tunnel, and then moved the river back where they’d found it. I’m amazed by engineering projects like that.
You can see a few model MRT trains at the gallery:
This is the MRT train — the Blue Line — that goes to my neighborhood:
And they have bus posters, where you can see what Prescott and I take to and from school every day (on a good morning, we get the double decker version):
I also learned a lot of acronyms. The Land Transit Authority (LTA) loves acronyms, especially if they have three letters. First of all, there are Singapore’s expressways: The KPE, SLE, BKE, PIE, ECP, TPE, AYE, MCE. And of course we have the LRT and the MRT.
Then there are the ways in which Singapore controls private cars, which include the COE, VQS, ALS, RPS, and ERP, the IU and the RZ and the AZ (two letters!), and the PARF (four letters!). Basically this means that we have a Vehicle Quota System, put in place to manage vehicle ownership, and an Electronic Road Pricing system, which is a fancy way of saying that we have tolls. There are no toll booths — every car has to have an Individual Unit thingy that gets zapped by Singapore’s equivalent of EZ Pass readers (which are located both on expressways and on downtown roads). As for managing the number of vehicles on the island, every car has to have the famously-expensive Certificate of Entitlement, and the government began offering a discount reward for getting rid of old cars (the Preferred Additional Registration Fee) as early as 1975.
I’m continually fascinated by the level of planning here in Singapore. They are always thinking many decades out as they figure out what do to with the small amount of land here (and how to get more of it — Singapore has increased its land mass by 22% since 1965). The gallery had one scale model to show visitors (of which I was the only one on a Saturday afternoon) how tunnels and flyovers work to preserve land space:
If I were a Singapore planner, I might add an overhaul of the LTA Gallery to my to-do list (though I might be involved with more important projects, like how to guarantee Singapore’s water independence from Malaysia). The gallery could use a good curator. I would also open the gift shop on weekends. Sadly, I left without the Move-In Martin pen that I’d been coveting. But I did get to visit with Singa the courtesy lion:
Singa is now retired as a mascot, but the Thoughtfulness Bunch has picked up where he left off.
I should add that while I was somewhat disappointed with the LTA Gallery, I continue to be amazed by Singapore’s public transportation system. It is remarkably clean, efficient, and odorless. I still wish that the buses had a schedule (they just show up as traffic allows, which makes sense but is irritating from a planning perspective). But overall, it’s pretty great. And I love the display of rider drawings that’s posted at the Beauty World MRT stop: