Quite some time ago, we took requests for new posts, and got some good feedback. Alli and I have been formulating these answer posts in our heads ever since, and I think it's time for me to sit down and spell out my thoughts on one of them: public transit.
Having lived here 6 months now and relying on public transportation every single day, I think I am now qualified to give a run-down and opinions.
The main arteries which disperse and dispense the residents from one place to another exist in the MRT system. This is the train, which alternates between above and below ground depending on location. There are 3 main lines at present: an East-West green line (connects to the airport), a North-South red line (including shopping Mecca Orchard Road along with our own residence), and a purple North-East line (perhaps most notable to us for its linkage to Little India and Mustafa). There is a fourth, yellow Circle Line under construction, about four stations currently in operation, which is sort of a bypass around the city center and should help thin traffic when completed. Also at the Northern end of the purple line are two light rail transit (LRT) systems, small pods that branch off of the central trains to reach smaller neighborhoods.
Next of course is the bus system, which in my opinion, you learn quickly is often as or more effective *if* you know what you're doing. This is where having a mobile data plan and a GPS-equipped phone come in real handy. People often say that you can travel between just about any 2 locations on the island by taking 2 buses (and using a modest amount of self-propulsion on either end), which holds pretty true.
Each weekday, I journey from home to work by walking approximately 5-7 minutes, boarding the North-South MRT line, traveling 7 stops, changing trains, traveling 2 stops, and walking approximately 5-7 more minutes. The entire journey is completed in between 35 and 40 minutes, depending on whether I hurry any. The change of trains ups the ante on annoyance, but it's actually not bad at all, as this particular transfer is arranged such that I walk directly across a platform to board a train that 99% of the time has arrived exactly when mine did. Pretty efficient.
I have been on the train to work anywhere from about 6:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.-- my goal is to leave by 7:50 each day, ensuring arrival by 8:30, but I've slipped a bit and am averaging the 8:40 departure. I have never found the train ride to really push my limits on personal space during that window.

(this photo was taken during off-peak hours)
Now Boston deserves credit here, because riding the Green line right after a Red Sox game will compete with the pushers in Tokyo any day, but while the average person here is sure to respect and appreciate personal space much less than your average American accustomed to making all of their trips in cars (SUVs), I am very rarely physically touching anyone during my ride. Alli and I have decided from seeing other obvious expats on trains that we are likely helped by our relatively average stature. I can appreciate that if you are over 6'4" or 250 lbs you might not agree with my perspective.

The trains and stations are modern, impeccably clean (you get fined for eating, drinking, smoking, littering), and safe. There are many security cameras covering all conceivable angles. Most of the more centrally located stations (all of the underground ones) are air conditioned, have escalators, have monitors at station entrance and by the doors announcing when the next train will arrive, and have double doors so that no one can possibly enter the tracks prior to train arrival (I do kind of miss watching the mice play on the tracks in Boston).

There are also clear signs announcing that you should first allow people off of the train before you attempt your boarding. Unfortunately these signs are written in English and fail to reach the target audience. There is modest compliance with this effort, and I do my part daily with an extra elbow or two for the guy who tries to walk around me to enter the train while I allow people to get off. I also find some daily amusement at my simple cross-the-platform transfer, where a good 40-50% of people rush across the platform thinking they might just barely catch the train. I shuffle slowly behind them and the doors always stay open for plenty of time (same logic applies for those trying to rush onto the train before people have gotten off). Finally, with regard to safety, there are videos played in the stations and on the trains to remind you that terrorists seek to kill you and you should be vigilant of this fact, see photo below (click to expand so you can read). I'm not really sure how I feel about that daily reminder.

I believe there have been only 2 delays to affect me personally in this daily journey, both of which cost me less than 10 minutes. Although, as you get further away from city center, trains do go out of service sometimes, forcing you to get off and wait for the next. That's always annoying.
My other pet peeve is standing on a crowded moving train, when people will get up from their seats and try to excuse themselves past you, forcing you to let go of your handrail, so that you practically fall as the train comes to a stop, despite the fact that you are arriving at a very busy station where 90% of the occupants also disembark, making the extra effort to be the first one off of the train completely unnecessary.
I don't have anything personal to say about people giving up their seat, but I'd say it happens with an average regularity. The end seats are all marked as priority seats with instruction to give these up for elderly or pregnant. On a crowded train of course that is initially ignored (if you don't take it someone else of equivalent lacking need will), but if there is someone quite obviously pregnant someone usually gets up-- often a woman, but still, someone. I hate sitting in the end seats because I then constantly survey the crowd to make sure someone is not quietly cursing me, then I realize I'm looking primarily at women's stomachs to identify any bulges, and then I feel kind of awkward about the whole situation.
I guess there's not as much to say about the buses, once or twice I have seen them become crowded enough that a bus driver would not pick up further riders, but they are usually fine. They are also air-conditioned, clean, and pretty reliable. There are two bus stops that are closer to our home than the MRT, so depending on our destination, it's often a prime choice.
I pass my time on the MRT in any number of ways, all of which depend on the iphone. First there is regular music listening. Then there is my Straits Times app, which includes a page dedicated to the online forum. I believe reading this gives me some insight into the local mindset-- it's funny because people write to the paper to complain about poor service they got at a restaurant the night before, or to thank the cab driver that picked them up in the rain. They also get into long-winded back and forth discussion/arguments about why English isn't spoken better or how the rising costs of home-ownership squeeze the middle class. It's like reading a small town newspaper's letters to the editor. When I think to sync with my computer, I'll have the latest podcast of NBC nightly news, a good 25-30 minute viewing, or one of a few NPR broadcasts, or Real Time with Bill Maher. I was trying for a while to learn some Mandarin by listening to podcasts, but my brain sometimes gets tired of learning and requests that I allow it to relax. I did use this time more productively to finish reading the Bible (somewhere around a 4 year journey, but who's counting?), and there's a few games to play as well: Flight Control for the iphone fans.
All in all, the public transit is not all bad. I mean, I do have mixed feelings; I won't pretend that being able to hop in a car at your leisure, on your schedule, drive in a comfortable atmosphere of your choosing (music, temperature, company), arrive and park steps away from your destination-- isn't great, or that I don't miss it. We all know that just isn't possible for everybody though. I do feel like a missing element of the equation when people talk about public transit is the time factor. Like I said, up to 40 minutes to, 40 minutes from work, every day. That's about 7 miles of ground covered, and a taxi can do it in 14 minutes (provided the majority of the population keeps taking the MRT...) Each Sunday I play soccer with a local team in various locations on the island, and it is rare that the trip takes less than an hour. All of that does wear you down sometimes, and come Saturday, you may just want to sit on the couch and blog rather than go anywhere that requires being on a bus or a train. On the positive side though, relying on the public transit forces people to stay as mobile as possible. Even when I'm not getting much real exercise, I am probably walking a collective mile each day, and I think that shows sometimes when you see an 80-year old man jogging to catch a bus.
If we were planning to live here permanently, I think I'd want to look into owning a car, but they are taxed heavily to discourage their use, making them very expensive, and we don't even have it on our radar. Right now I feel like it's one more thing to give us just a little bit of cred when we meet a local, who quite often has stereotyped us at first glance-- we probably live in a condominium, where we, or rather *my* parent company, pays $8-10,000 per month, we either own a car or have a driver, Alli stays home to raise our 3 kids-- well, Alli shops at Louis Vuitton while the maid raises our 3 kids-- and so on. It's kind of nice to disagree with each of those statements and not fit into the stereotype on first pass.
When we are running late, or really tired of the more public of the transit options, or it is too late for the MRT or buses, we do occasionally take a taxi. They are also ubiquitous and efficient, many of them modern Toyotas with functional seat belts. Even if the cost of owning a car was no concern, I wonder if taking a taxi everywhere would not still be cheaper and faster, once you consider the multi-level pay-per parking lots and the lines going in and out of them. I haven't attempted the math on that, so if anyone wants to call me out on it, be my guest.
I hope I've covered all of the potential curiosities on this topic; please let me know if not. The bottom line of it all is that it's just another way to get around, there's positives, there's negatives, and you can probably adapt pretty easily to be content with the means.