SINGAPORE: SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek wants to achieve a "zero defect" attitude to regain public trust in the company.
He admitted it has been a challenging period since he assumed the role last October.
He said the company has to move from a "fire—fighting mode" and strive for a "zero defect" attitude.
He gave the public transport operator a B grade in reliability and availability and wants to bring this to an A grade as soon as possible.
Compared with other international transport operators, he gave SMRT a B+ in carrying capacity.
Laying out his vision and goals since he became CEO four months ago, Mr Kuek said on Thursday that SMRT is learning from its past mistakes and is committed to achieving an A grade as soon as possible.
Mr Kuek said: "As a company, what we are committed and determined to do is to get to an A or an A star, soonest and certainly over the next few years. Over the past couple of years, the company has got through a couple of bad patches, as a company we have resolved to learn all those past mistakes and we will benchmark ourselves with the best in class in the world.
"Basically the point I’m making is that we would not be giving ourselves a top grade, we will be saying quite clearly that we have room for improvement but we are not a D or an F."
To get there, SMRT will improve in five areas, including operational performance and customer experience.
The company aims to place commuters first and enhance their travelling experience by investing in more service ambassadors and improving station and interchange infrastructure.
Another key priority is boosting operational performance by ensuring the system is safe and reliable.
The company will do more to boost its capabilities in both trains and buses.
For example, new trains will be bought while older ones upgraded in the coming years. By 2016, the train fleet for the ageing North—South and East—West Lines will be increased to 163 trains, compared to the current 128.
Work to improve on the signalling system to allow trains to run at shorter intervals will begin in June this year.
4,000 to 5,000 worn out timber sleepers on the tracks of the ageing lines will be changed out over the next six months. A technical advisory panel will also be set up to provide support and advice on engineering aspects of the company.
As for customer service, Mr Kuek said every month, SMRT receives about 1,000 compliments, compared to 100 complaints.
One way to improve will be to grow the pool of service ambassadors.
As for staff welfare, there are plans to benchmark salaries to market standards and incentives aligned to performance.
The headcount of staff working with buses and trains will also grow by about 10 per cent this year.
As such, Mr Kuek acknowledged there will be pressure on costs and SMRT cannot rely on fare adjustments alone.
Despite criticism for pursuing retail opportunities, Mr Kuek said the operator will not de—emphasise its commercial business but keep it on "an even keel".
He said the commercial arm of the company makes up less than two per cent of the headcount of over 7,000 while the commercial business generates more than 50 per cent of the company’s profits.
He said SMRT will keep the commercial aspects stable and pursue opportunities where it can.
Mr Kuek said: "Our focus is to continue to keep our commercial business on an even keel. While we put in a lot of our management attention to raising operational performance, enhancing customer experience and improving on our workforce health, the rest of the lines of business will continue to develop as we have done in the past.
"As a listed company, it’s not tenable that the company does not go after growth, that continues to be, for as long as the company is structured this way. This is our mandate and our responsibility to the shareholders of the company, but everything is in finding the right balance. Sustainable growth is one important but not the only driver for the company’s strategies and growth going forward."
Mr Kuek said SMRT is currently discussing with authorities on the sustainability of bus and rail business.
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