Bus transport in Singapore
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Bus Transport forms a significant part of public transportation in Singapore, with over 3.9 million rides taken per day on average as of 2016. There are more than 300 scheduled bus services, operated by SBS Transit, SMRT Buses and Tower Transit Singapore. The newest bus operator, Go-Ahead Singapore started operation from 4 September 2016. There are also around 4,600 buses currently in operation.
When Singapore first gained independence in 1965, the public transport system was inadequate to cope with the population, while the buses were old and slow. Furthermore, the system was beleaguered with frequent problems such as poor management and substandard services and quality.
The main bus operator was the Singapore Traction Company (STC), plying routes in the city area. Apart from that, there were many small and individual Chinese private bus companies, each plying a small part of the rural and fringe areas of the island, with only a few routes each. Therefore, a simple journey from the East to the West of the island could involve several bus transfers, and could last a few hours aboard noisy and rickety buses.
As Singapore Traction Company had a 30-year monopoly and had no direct competition, its services were usually substandard, while the small Chinese bus companies also had a shortage of resources and funds. Moreover, many bus companies had labour problems. There were quite a few cases of labour unrest. In the late 1950s, the situation deteriorated. Militant bus workers, manipulated by communist-controlled unions, resorted to strikes in a demand for better work conditions and pay. These work stoppages plagued the entire bus system into chaos.
A famous bus strike was the Hock Lee bus riots on May 12, 1955, where workers from the Hock Lee Amalgamated Bus Company began to go on strike. They were members of the Singapore Bus Workers' Union (SBWU) and were protesting against bad working conditions, long working hours and a low pay. Students from the Chinese Middle schools even came to join and support the strikers. The situation was so bad that in 1955, the Chinese bus companies were hit by a total of 57 strikes. In 1956, the 'Great STC Strike' lasted 146 days. The strikers crippled the country's transport system. The chaotic conditions usually left the commuters in a lurch.
It was in the early 1970s that government stepped in to reorganize the bus system. Many small bus companies were amalgamated into three larger bus companies, namely the Amalgamated Bus Company, Associated Bus Services, and the United Bus. They were grouped into three regional sectors. The STC continued its monopoly on the central area of Singapore.
Notwithstanding the reorganization, bus services still did not improve much. There were still frequent breakdowns, overcrowded buses, and irregular fare and route structures. During this time, the protectionism of the STC by the government was also removed. The STC could not cope with this new environment and closed down its operations due to large financial losses.
In 1973, The three main bus companies were merged into a one single organization. The new company formed from this merger was the Singapore Bus Service (the predecessor of SBS Transit), which came into operation in November 1973. It was hoped that this would create economies of scale and ultimately improve bus services.
The government mooted the idea of a second bus company in the early 1980s. The idea was to provide some degree of competition to SBS. Therefore, Trans-Island Bus Services (TIBS) was formed on 31 May 1982, as the second major public bus operator. Trans-Island started operations on 3 April 1983.
Ong Teng Cheong, the then Minister for Communications, remarked that "Each company will act as a natural impetus to enhance the performance and efficiency of the other in the spirit of healthy competition and in the process help bring about a better level of service."
In August 1994, the government announced the transfer of 17 SBS services to Trans-Island bus services. This was to help TIBS in its early years.
In 1999, the government announced the final transfer of bus services to Trans-Island bus services in exchange of SBS who had won the whole right of North East Line.
In 2001, Singapore bus service changed its name to SBS Transit Limited. This was to reflect its status as a multi-modal transport operator, as it had won the tender to operate the new North East Line and the Punggol LRT Line and Sengkang LRT Line.
In late 2001, Trans-Island became a subsidiary of the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (SMRT). Trans-Island Bus Service was renamed as SMRT Buses Ltd on 10 May 2004.
Plans are made to convert bus interchanges into being air-conditioned (Integrated Transport Hubs (ITHs)) as opposed to the current open-air. So far, eleven bus interchanges have been converted or are undergoing conversion. They include:
- Toa Payoh (2002)
- Sengkang (2003)
- Ang Mo Kio (2007)
- Boon Lay (2009)
- Serangoon (2011)
- Clementi (2011)
- Bedok (2014)
- Joo Koon (2015)
- Bukit Panjang (2017)
- Yishun (2019)
- Woodlands (2019)
- Choa Chu Kang (To Be Announced)
In April 2013, the Land Transport Authority announced that a new Bulim Bus Depot will be built by the authority itself. It will be located off Jurong West Avenue 2. It will be the first depot that LTA is developing and funding, as part of the review of the enhanced structural assistance that Government is providing the bus industry announced in Committee of Supply (COS) 2012. The depot is intended for SMRT Buses Ltd, to accommodate the additional buses that it is bringing in over the next few years. The operator’s existing bus depots and bus park are reaching full capacity, and the new facility is necessary to support the higher number of buses as the overall bus capacity is progressively increased under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP). Subsequently, announced by LTA on 29 May 2013, a new SBS Transit bus depot will be developed, the Loyang Bus Depot located off Loyang Avenue.
Bus Contracting Model
In May 2014, the Land Transport Authority announced a radical change to the bus industry, switching from a privatised model to a Bus Contracting Model in which bus operators bid for routes. LTA took over all operating assets, such as buses, bus stations, bus depots and fleet management systems. Commuters benefit from shorter waiting time and improved service levels. All bus routes were be bundled into 14 packages. The operators will bid for the package via a competitive tendering process, and if they win, they will be running the package for 5 years, with a 2-year extension for good performance. The LTA will lease the buses and infrastructure to the operators, who will be obliged to maintain them. All fares will still be maintained by the LTA for affordability.
In November 2014, the LTA put the first package up for tender, comprising routes from Bukit Batok, Jurong East and Clementi Bus Interchanges, supported by the Bulim Bus Depot. The tender was awarded to Tower Transit Singapore in May 2015. Subsequently, another foreign operator, Go-Ahead Singapore won the second tender in November that year, comprising routes from Punggol and Pasir Ris Bus Interchanges, and supported by the Loyang Bus Depot. The third package up comprising routes from Ang Mo Kio, Yio Chu Kang and Yishun Bus Interchanges, supported by the future Seletar Bus Depot was awarded to incumbent operator for the part of the package under SBSTransit. Currently, a fourth tender is open for bidding, comprising routes from Marina Centre, Buona Vista and New Bridge Road bus terminals together with Harbourfront and Bukit Merah Bus Interchanges, supported by the future Ulu Pandan Bus Depot.
As for the incumbent operators, they will continue to operate from routes that are not tendered out for durations ranging from two to ten years on negotiated contracts. Once these contracts expire, they will also be tendered out too.
Singapore's buses consist of single deck and double deck buses on routes operated by SBS Transit, SMRT Buses, Tower Transit Singapore and Go-Ahead Singapore, and articulated buses on routes operated exclusively by SMRT Buses.
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Singapore has many different bus services plying through the island. These bus routes are categorised accordingly:
- Trunk: Routes that ply between towns. (e.g. 969)
- Short Working Trip (SWT): Routes that operate short haul trips of trunk services which cater to high demand sectors of the entire route. (e.g. 240A)
- Feeder: Services that operate within a neighbourhood. (e.g. 803)
- Intra-Town (SMRT Buses) and TownLink (SBS Transit/Go-Ahead): Routes that consist of combined feeder services to provide links between neighbourhoods within the same town, and with the bus interchange and MRT. (e.g. 812 (Intra-Town), 358 (TownLink))
- Jurong Industrial Service: Routes that service the Jurong and Tuas industrial areas. Operated exclusively by SBS Transit. (e.g. 246)
- Express: Routes that stop at selected stops and generally run on expressways for faster travel between several towns. (e.g. 502, 506)
- Fast Forward: Routes providing faster travel between places where there is a high demand by calling at fewer stops of the main service. (e.g. 10e)
- NightRider (SMRT Buses) and Nite Owl (SBS Transit): After-hour services on Fridays, Saturdays and eve of Public Holidays. (e.g. NR1, 1N)
- Chinatown Direct: Routes that run from towns to Chinatown via the expressway. Operated exclusively by SBS Transit. (e.g. CT8)
- Cross Border Services: Services that will cross the Causeway or the Second Link into Malaysia. (e.g. CW1, CW2)
- Resorts World Sentosa Services: Services that run from various locations to Resorts World Sentosa. Operated exclusively by Tong Tar Transport. (e.g. RWS8)
- City Direct: Service connecting passengers directly to and from the Central Area. Operated exclusively by private operators, but public operators such as SMRT will be taking over some services. (e.g. 666)
- "Bus, rail ridership soars to new high". Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- "Go-Ahead Singapore begins bus services". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
- "Integrated Transport Hubs (ITHs)". Land Transport Authority. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- "New Bus Depot To Support Bus Fleet Expansion Under BSEP". Land Transport Authority. Retrieved 2013-04-23.
- "New Loyang Bus Depot to Support Bus Fleet Expansion Under BSEP". Land Transport Authority. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
- "SMRT to Operate City Direct Services 653, 656 and 657 from April 2017". SMRT. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
- Ilsa Sharp, (2005), SNP:Editions, The Journey: Singapore's Land Transport Story. ISBN 981-248-101-X