2016 has been an exciting year for Singapore’s Public Transport System. The most significant developments this year were in the public bus sector, when the introduction of the Bus Contracting Model led to many significant changes in the way bus services are run, and significantly more government oversight to ensure standards are being met.
Bus Contracting Model
The Bus Contracting Model was announced in 2014 to raise standards in the public bus industry for commuters by injecting competition through open bidding exercises. This year, 2 new bus operators, Tower Transit and Go-Ahead Singapore, started operations under the Bulim and Loyang Bus Packages respectively. We can look forward another potentially new bus operator as the authorities are reviewing the proposals after the tender for the Seletar Bus Package closed on 27 October.
Tower Transit – A new player in the bus industry
The start of Tower Transit’s operations on 29 May broke the decades of duopoly held by SBS Transit and SMRT Buses, heralding a new start in the public bus industry. Staff at the Bulim Bus Depot and Bukit Batok Interchange worked overnight to ensure a smooth transition. There were hiccups in the first few weeks of operation, when staff unfamiliarity and malfunctioning revenue service equipment caused irregular headways and unscheduled crossovers of buses between services. However, with time, the problems were ironed out and Tower Transit currently receives a high amount of positive press coverage for its excellent treatment of its staff.
Go-Ahead – A Rough Beginning
Go-Ahead started operations on 4 September as the fourth operator in the public bus industry, with much fanfare as the first bus leaving Loyang Depot for revenue service, SG1011A, was celebrated by Go-Ahead staff. Unfortunately, the fanfare was disrupted, with malfunctioning revenue service equipment and long headways on the first day of service.
The problems were exacerbated by a lack of manpower when a large number of Bus Captains left due to unhappiness over Go-Ahead’s interlining operating model. In September 2015, Go-Ahead subcontracted SBS Transit and SMRT drivers to drive its buses for two months, and contracted Tower Transit to run its employee bus services for a month.
The company’s managing director, Nigel Wood, also left his position shortly after operations started on November 4. Mr David Cutts, deputy chairman of GAS, is now running the company.
LTA “Our Bus Journey” Carnival
The Land Transport Authority also had the public in place for a glimpse into a future, showcasing two concept buses in its series of three bus carnivals titled “Our Bus Journey.” Visitors had a chance to tour the 3-door Alexander Dennis Enviro500 and MAN Lion’s City DD L mock-up buses and give their input on the future public bus fleet. Exhibitions about Singapore’s public bus industry were also aplenty, including writeups on its history and the future of the industry and hands-on activities. To liven up the atmosphere, there were also performances by local performing arts groups.
Various stakeholders in the public transport industry gathered at the LTA-UITP Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition (SITCE) held in October at Suntec City. The Congress aims to provide a platform for stakeholders to discuss innovative solutions for the various issues faced by the industry worldwide. An exhibition was also held, where the Alexander Dennis Enviro500 mock-up bus was featured. A new 3-door MAN A22 bus was also featured by ST Kinetics, hinting at a trial of the bus possibly being held by LTA next year.
New Buses with USB Charging Ports (Article)
In August, 10 Lush Green MAN A95s rolled onto the roads with USB charging ports. These buses were deployed on selected SMRT bus services and feature USB ports installed at every seat. USB charging ports first appeared on the 2 mock-up buses at LTA’s Our Bus Journey’s carnival, where the public were able to give feedback on features they desired in future public buses. We can look forward to more of the mock-up buses’ features in future buses, such as seats with headrests.
Fully Electric Bus on Trial (Article)
In November, a BYD K9 bus, a battery-operated electric bus, was put on trial by Go-Ahead Singapore on Service 17. This is a first for Singapore, with previous trials on alternative fuel buses only limited to diesel-electric and hydrogen buses. It is interesting to note that this particular unit, SG4001J, was first spotted in Singapore in 2015 at Nanyang Technological University, built to SMRT interior specifications. After which, it was sent to Jakarta for an exhibition, before being shipped back this year for Go-Ahead’s trial.
Buses with Wi-Fi on Trial (Article)
In April, 2 SMRT MAN A22 buses were equipped with Wi-Fi, in collaboration with IDA Singapore and M1. Commuters of Service 176 were able to surf the Net in the bus by connecting to the Wireless@SG network. The trial has since ended and all related equipment are removed from the buses.
Project Bus Stop (Article)
Launched on 18 August 2016, a new concept bus stop at Jurong East designed to “make waiting fun” demonstrates how ground-up energy and creativity can be harnessed for urban and social innovation. The bus stop features free Wi-Fi, charging ports, murals and greenery that has never before seen at regular bus stops around Singapore.
Trapeze Intelligent Bus System (Article)
As part of the transition to the Bus Contracting Model (BCM), LTA introduced the Trapeze Intelligent Bus System as part of a Common Fleet Management System (CFMS) for bus operators to manage their buses. The system is being progressively installed on all buses, and it can be identified by a large black tablet in the Bus Captain’s cabin. It displays timetable information and an Excess Wait Time (EWT) meter to allow the Bus Captain to maintain regular headways with the front bus, and allows communication between the Operations Control Centre and the Bus Captain.
Retired Bus Models
Several models of bus were retired this year as they reached the end of their lifespans, most notably being SMRT’s iconic Mercedes-Benz O405. The sole surviving unit performed its last revenue trip in late September 2016 on service 187. The O405, along with its articulated variant the O405G, was the backbone of SMRT’s bus fleet for many years, and was loved by commuters for its comfortable ride and good performance. SMRT also retired the remaining units of the DAF SB220LT. The DAF SB220 was found most frequently in the West, in towns such as Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang.
SBS Transit also retired several bus models, such as their 2nd batch of Volvo Olympian double-deckers. They were the last double-decker public buses in Singapore to use acrylic destination boards, with later models of Olympian being retrofitted with electronic destination displays. The Scania L94UB demonstrator, SBS2888T, was also retired from training duties having reached the end of its lifespan.
New Bus Services
As part of the Bus Service Enhancement Programme, the LTA introduced 9 new regular bus services and 7 City Direct services to enhance connectivity for commuters.
|03 Jan 2016||SBS Transit Service 382G/W|
|14 Feb 2016||SMRT Feeder Bus Service 805|
|29 Feb 2016||City Direct Service 666|
|08 Mar 2016||City Direct Service 667|
|15 Mar 2016||City Direct Service 668|
|20 Mar 2016||SBS Transit Service 134|
|20 Mar 2016||SBS Transit Service 150|
|22 Mar 2016||City Direct Service 669|
|29 Mar 2016||City Direct Service 670|
|24 Apr 2016||SMRT Bus Service 979M (Temporary Supplementary Route)
|15 May 2016||SMRT Feeder Bus Service 308|
|12 Jun 2016||SBS Transit Bus Service 46|
|17 Oct 2016||City Direct Service 671|
|23 Oct 2016||SMRT Bus Service 883|
|07 Nov 2016||City Direct Service 672|
|18 Dec 2016||SBS Transit Bus Service 127|
|18 Dec 2016||SBS Transit Bus Service 129|
Demise of Premium Bus Services
As part of the transition to the Bus Contracting Model (BCM), SBS Transit and SMRT have been withdrawing their Premium Bus Services (PBS) at an unprecedented rate, or transferring them to private operators. PBS were once a lucrative market – serving commuters in the heartlands who work in the Central Business District. Typically costing between $4-6 per person, it guarantees every passenger a seat and a fast ride to work and back home. However, ridership has slowly declined recently with the introduction of alternative services and City Direct services under the BSEP. The complete transfer and withdrawal processes are expected to be completed by early 2017.
Withdrawal of Peak Period Short Services
The Land Transport Authority has steadily been withdrawing the Peak Period Short Services (PPSS), in favour of additional trips being operated by the incumbent operators on the parent service / the renumbering and transfer of PPSS’s to the incumbents to be operated as shortworking trips. Previously introduced as a stop-gap measure in 2014 due to a shortage of buses, the influx of new buses has led to PPSS being unnecessary. Furthermore, PPSS’s suffered from consistent low ridership, and thus were not very economical to operate.
New Rail Financing Model (NRFF)
In September, SMRT had sold all assets related to its MRT and LRT operations to the Government under the NRFF. Under this agreement, SMRT will no longer bear the responsibility of buying or upgrading rail operating assets, allowing them to better focus on meeting the high service standards mandated for a more reliable MRT system for commuters.
Singapore-KL High Speed Rail
The agreement for the Singapore-KL High Speed Rail (HSR) was signed on 13 December 2016. When completed in 2026, travelling between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is expected to take only 90 min, ¼ of the time taken when travelling by road, or ½ the time taken when travelling by air. The Singapore terminus is expected to be built at Jurong Lake District.
C151A Train Issues (Article)
In July, FactWire News Agency, a Hong Kong-based news portal, revealed that SMRT has been shipping its latest C151A trains back to its manufacturer in China over cracks in the trains’ structure, leading to public outrage towards SMRT and LTA not being ‘honest and transparent’ with the issue, while the authorities reassured commuters that the defects were ‘not safety-critical’. The repairs are scheduled to be completed by 2019.
Two-Car Trains for Punggol-Sengkang LRT System
More than a decade after launch, commuters on the Sengkang LRT are finally given more breathing room during peak hours when SBS Transit started 2-car LRT train operations in January. The 2-car trains run during weekday peak hours at a frequency of 3-4 minutes. 2-car operations on the Punggol East LRT System also began on 5 December 2016.
Opening of Stations on Punggol West LRT System
Due to the development of Punggol West, stations on the Punggol West LRT System are being progressively opened, to provide residents with better connectivity. In 2016, Sam Kee and Punggol Point stations were opened. Of the remaining 2 stations, Samudera is expected to open in March 2017, leaving only 1, Teck Lee, still closed.