By Teh Jen Lee
SHE was feeling giddy and decided to suck on a sweet while riding on an MRT train.
For doing that, she was slapped with a fine after she was caught by an SMRT officer.
Since last Wednesday, SMRT has been giving out immediate fines to those caught eating or drinking in trains and stations.
A RazorTV reporting team tagged along with two SMRT officers on patrol. Two commuters were caught and fined for eating.
Madam Bibi Zaina Mohamed, 48, a housewife, was given a notification of offence for eating a sweet while she was on the train.
It is not yet known how much exactly she will be fined, but first-time offenders who are caught eating are usually fined $30 by the Land Transport Authority. Penalties can go up to $500.
Though Madam Bibi Zaina explained that she took a sweet because she was feeling giddy and thirsty, SMRT officer Roger Foo felt a line had to be drawn.
Mr Foo is one of SMRT's 500 station employees who make rostered patrols throughout the day.
He told RazorTV: 'Everyone can tell us that they are thirsty or they have to take sweets because they feel giddy.
'Everyone will start doing that. How are you going to put a stop to that?'
The other offender was 14-year-old Crystal Tan, who was eating unsalted peanuts from a packet in a plastic bag.
The Secondary 2 student, who takes the MRT twice a week, claimed she did not know that fines would be issued without prior warning.
'If they had warned me, I would have stopped. I was eating because I was bored,' she said. 'I didn't dirty the train, I was very careful not to spill anything.'
She claimed that she does not eat frequently on the train - there was only one other time when she ate a sweet.
Her parents have told her that she will have to pay the fine with her pocket money. Her weekly allowance is $30.
Crystal feels that SMRT is too harsh in handing out immediate fines.
'Even drinking plain water on the train is not allowed. I don't see the reason for that,' she said.
But SMRT's recent crackdown comes as a result of more commuters being fined for eating and drinking over the years.
From 276 in 2006, the number has jumped annually. Last year, a record 626 commuters were fined.
Before the crackdown, SMRT used to give warnings and fine only those who were recalcitrant. But from last Wednesday till Tuesday, SMRT has issued 242 notifications of offences.
Pictures of commuters eating - some slurping bowls of noodles - appear daily on Stomp, The Straits Times interactive portal.
SBS Transit, which runs the North-east Line, said it will continue to give warnings for now. (See facing report.)
SMRT runs the North-South, East-West and Circle lines.
But is SMRT being too harsh for fining commuters who suck on sweets?
An SMRT spokesman told The New Paper: 'If our officers catch you consuming a sweet, you will get a notification.'
Many netizens and commuters feel that SMRT is too strict.
Mr Kam Leong Kiat, 33, an IT worker, said: '(Eating sweets) is like taking medicine. Some people need sugar in their blood, as long as they don't spit it out. It's not something that will cause a mess.'
Miss Cherie Ho, 28, a corporate communications executive, agreed.
She said: 'If it's food that can scatter and attract pests, I understand, but having a sweet in the mouth should be fine.
'As for water, if you're not allowed to even take a sip, it would be an uncomfortable experience especially if it's a long journey, like from Pasir Ris to Boon Lay, which takes a long time.'
Miss Ho also wondered: 'If someone eats a sweet before going into the MRT station, does this mean they have to spit it out?'
But shop owner Mark Chai, 41, feels that SMRT is doing the right thing.
'Otherwise, there's no point in setting rules but allowing this and that,' he said.
'Most journeys are only half an hour to an hour. I'm sure people can endure not drinking.
'If you are sick and need to take medication, you can approach the staff. But if not, and you're caught, you deserve it.'
Need a sweet? Ask staff first
SBS Transit, which runs the North-east Line, will continue to give warnings to commuters caught eating on trains and in stations.
Ms Tammy Tan, the company's vice-president for corporate communications, said: 'We have customer service officers who patrol our trains and their presence do serve as a deterrent against eating or drinking on board.
'They will continue to warn passengers who are caught violating this regulation and those who refuse to comply will be issued with a notification of offence.'
The New Paper asked SMRT if there will be exceptions for certain cases. For instance, what if a commuter has to take his medication?
'Passengers who need to take medication, including lozenges for sore throat, may approach our station staff for assistance,' a spokesman said.
'Special arrangements can be made for these passengers to take their medication within our station premises. Similarly for people who need to eat something for health reasons or caregivers who want to feed their children.'
What about drinking plain water?
The spokesman said: 'Although a liquid may be clear, it is not possible to tell if it is plain water or flavoured.
'Besides, like all other liquids, when spilled onto the floor, it could result in puddles that could cause passengers, for example, children and the elderly, to slip.
'Also, when spilled onto seats, it could dirty passengers' clothing, bags and other personal belongings.'
This article was first published in The New Paper.