THE GREATEST foe of the Singapore taxi driver must be the MRT, the over- and underground railway that laces through the island. The masstransit system uses stored-value cards, just like Oyster on London's Tube network. But there are two twists that ultimately work to the traveller's advantage in Singapore. First, it is mandatory to buy a S$1 (£0.30) stored-value card, even if you are making only one journey. This means everyone pays the same low fares, as opposed to London's two-tier system (where visitors can pay cash, but such tickets are punitively priced at £4 for even the shortest journey in the central area - at least twice the Oyster fare). Second, at the end of your Singapore journey, a friendly notice lights up reminding you to claim your dollar back by inserting the card into any ticket machine.
British travellers are well looked-after throughout the trip, with station signs and train announcements in English. And the information provided goes way beyond the "Mind the gap" level. One evening I was on the platform at Chinatown station when the announcer warned that the approaching train was the last that offered a connection to Changi airport - a destination that required two changes of train to reach. Later, when I came to leave Singapore on a late plane, the recorded announcement warning this was the last train ended with a cheery "goodnight".
"Moving people, enhancing lives", is the slogan; and this network is so good that, on average this year, each citizen will make more than 100 trips (with another 75 journeys on the island's buses). Excellent public service? Yes, but with a difference. The enterprise that runs the system is a company quoted on the Singapore stock exchange, with very respectable earnings - and a fleet of taxis among its assets. The people who keep the Singapore MRT running are so well regarded that they have been asked to take charge of the £200m monorail that is being built to transport people around The Palm, the artificial island off the coast of Dubai.
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