MRT Countdown Timers May Or May Not Be Useful To Commuters, But Could They End Up As Ad Space?


Could New Video Panels On Trains Serve Commercial Purpose?

If you haven’t heard about the “cool” new features on the SMRT trains by now — this video is for you.

The video shows the interactive LCD display boards that have been added to the new wave of 45 C151B trains that were put into use a fortnight ago (April 16). Among the features that were included in the new trains is the countdown feature, which warns passengers 3 seconds in advance that the train doors are closing.

The addition of the LCD panels and features like the train countdown have drawn much attention from Singaporeans, who took to social media platforms like Twitter to swan the new features.


While there have been both supporters of the innovations and those who feel that they are a waste of money, it is important to first analyse and digest this feature, to understand both its functionality and shortcomings.

SMRT Active Route Map Information System (STARiS) 2.0

This makes up a huge chunk of the $195 million upgrade that SMRT announced in 2012. Then chief executive Saw Phaik Hwa rationalised the deal it by saying that the poor design of the train signalling system played a hand in causing the disastrous train breakdown of 2011.

SMRT explained in a Facebook post that the STARiS would make commuting a lot easier for passengers, as it would display places of interest near the upcoming station. It would also display the layout of the next station, allowing passengers to plan their exit route beforehand.


Most noticeably, it was the new countdown feature that attracted attention, as it warns passengers when the doors are closing.

Its purpose is probably to make it safer for commuters by ensuring that they don’t get hit by the train doors on their way out.


But this begs the question —  Are all these new gimmicks worth their exorbitant cost?

Why Pay For This?

As train fares have soared over the years, with plans afoot to hike them even further, train efficiency, however, has not really been experiencing the same alarming growth.

With a 40% increase in major disruptions over the span of just one year, it really becomes a little silly that SMRT has actually spent so much on fancy new features when the trains cannot even function properly.


Moreover, it seems a little illogical to have the countdown on the inside of the train. In theory, passengers in the train are supposed to alight first, before those waiting at the station platform can board the train.

This means that people in the train have plenty of time to disembark and would not really need a timer to tell them when the doors are closing

In fact, this feature would be a lot more useful if it were displayed at the station platform, to those who are rushing to board the train, so they can decide whether they have enough time to make a mad dash for the train.

Ad Space

However, the powers-that-be in Singapore never do anything without thinking it through. That is probably the case with these panels too.

It’s probable that these panels might be turned into space for advertisements in the future — after all, ads in video form are more expensive than the current static ads that we now see on trains.

Advertisements in video form on public transport isn’t unheard of in Singapore. If you are a little older, you would remember these small television sets on SBS buses.


Aside from playing rather humorous episodes of Just For Laughs, these TVs also screened advertisements. Maybe one day the STARiS will also be used to play ads when the train is between stations?

In fact, with location-based advertising technology, SMRT can put one over SBS and feature more premium ads that are relevant to the location that the train is reaching. For example, while nearing Esplanade MRT station, the panel could screen ads about restaurants near the Esplanade.

Of course, if there is more ad revenue generated, you would expect commuter fares to decrease, right?

However, with warnings that a fare hike is coming, Singaporeans have a right to be disgruntled over these new features, as now SMRT has a way to justify the fare hikes — by citing these premium features as benefits that Singaporeans enjoy.

Other Side Of The Coin

However, we obviously cannot discount the fact that these features alone cannot be held responsible for rising transport fares. SMRT shareholders also stand to gain from increasing fare prices. As they hold onto the stock for monetary gain, their focus is not mainly on the commuter experience but more so on revenue.

Moreover, we also cannot overlook the background work that has been put in towards improving the train system. SMRT has been doing regular maintanence works to prevent more major disruptions from taking place.

It is also pertinent to note that without having insider information like cost breakdowns and financial records, we cannot blindly assume that the fare hikes are directly linked to the introduction of this new technology.

Win-Win Situation

Ideally, a portion of the ad revenue that may be generated from these LCD panels can be used to subsidise transport fares.

Singaporeans will be appeased if prices go down and commuters’ experience improves. The balance revenue can be used to boost the company’s financials, which works in favour of the shareholders too. This would clearly be a win-win circumstance.

Will these LCD panels be well-used by the public? And will be used to screen ads?

We can only wait and find out.

Featured image from Twitter




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