Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Irate Motorist

“Nice. Wonder how much extra we will collect today,” wondered Alex with a smile on his face, as he sipped from his cup of coffee.
     It was 7.10 am on a Tuesday, and Alex – who monitors traffic in a huge room full of computer screens – had just seen a 16-wheeler come to grief, with a flat front tyre, on Lane 5 of the Benjamin Sheares Bridge.
     “Maybe they’ll give us a better bonus,” quipped his colleague, Genie, as she typed in some words that would soon appear on the signboards on the East Coast Parkway : “Veh Breakdown... Ln 5”.
     Near Marine Parade meanwhile, Geoff and wife were on their way to work on a route they had taken for 6 years since their daughter started schooling.
     For four of those years, when their girl’s school started in the morning, they would leave home early, in good time to avoid traffic congestion charges on the ECP.
     Today, they were comfortably early. The school holidays had started and there were a lot fewer cars on the ECP towards town.
     Geoff’s high spirits crashed as the car approached the Tanjong Rhu flyover. In front of him was a jam that stretched over and beyond the flyover that rose like a hill before him.
   “Oh no, not again!” he said. “They must be smiling again.”
     It always upset Geoff to think that thousands of people wake up early in the morning and get going early to avoid congestion charges – only to be caught have to pay, through no fault of theirs.
     Sometimes, he would imagine an evil Alex and company, praying that there would be an accident somewhere, which would slow traffic and catch a few extra thousand people under their gantries.
     Sometimes, he’d get angry with the motorists involved in an accident.
     “Idiots. No one is injured and they’re just standing there arguing. They should just move their cars to the side and let us get on with it.
     “They should fine these people, for all the inconvenience they’re causing the rest of us.”
     But that thought is usually quickly cancelled: “And who would it benefit to fine them? Not the additional 1,000 motorists who'd each have to pay $1; but Alex and company.
     “And anyway sometimes its just bad luck – that truck driver didn’t ask anyone to spill nails on the road.”
     “You know”, he said to his wife, “gantries and computer sytems are stupid. They come on at the prescribed time, charge the programmed rates and switch themselves off when they are supposed to.
     “But those traffic monitors. They know what is happening. They can see it all happening. And yet they do nothing. Can’t they just get the system to come on 10 minutes later because of an unforeseen accident?”
     Beep. The car passed the gantry. The device in the car showed a balance that was $1 less than before (another irritation ­– too often in these traffic and parking systems, you’re not told how much is deducted; only how much value you have left – but that is another story).
     Geoff had taken about 12 minutes to  get to the gantry when, on an ordinary day, it would have taken two.
     He looked across to the car on his left. It was a Toyota Wish, driven by a long-haired, bespectacled woman and said: “I wonder whether she woke up early to avoid charges too; and how she feels about all this.”

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