Controversy over Bus 700 withdrawal and Bus 171 & 972 amendment

Transport planning is an unenviable task of balancing the needs of commuters with the efficient use of resources. While unprofitable and underutilized bus routes have been curtained in the past, the recent move to withdraw Services 700/700A and amend Service 171 and 972 has struck discord with residents of Bukit Panjang, with members of the public calling for a stop to these arrangements.

Since 2009, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had took on the role of being a centralised bus planning agency; a role which was further strengthened in 2016 with the advent of the Bus Contracting Model, allowing it to take control over service levels. LTA’s role as a centralised bus planning agency ‘allows it greater flexibility to respond to changes in bus service levels’.


Latest Updates

Mitigation Measures were announced on 13 August 2020 (see below).

To provide sufficient time for bus operators to implement the above mitigation measures, we will defer the changes to Services 171, 700 and 972 from 16 Aug to 30 Aug 2020.. (13 August 2020)


The amendment

As announced on 3 August 2020, Bus Service 700/700A would be withdrawn, and Service 972 would be amended to cover lost sectors of Service 700 between Whitley Road and Scotts Road. In addition, Service 171 would be shortened to Bukit Panjang, removing its Bukit Panjang – Marina Centre sector.

Prior to the opening of the Downtown Line, residents of Bukit Panjang Town have long relied on bus services to travel to and from the city, with full-day bus connections such as Service 190 (Choa Chu Kang – Kampong Bahru), Service 700/700A (Bukit Panjang Temporary Bus Park – Shenton Way / Temasek Avenue), and 972 (Bukit Panjang – Orchard Road) with express sectors via the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) and Pan-Island Expressway (PIE).

It is understood that these amendments were planned to take place in 2015 or 2016, in tandem with or shortly after the opening of the Downtown Line Stage 2.


3 August – Public Reactions

These amendments were first announced in a press release by SMRT on Monday, 3 August 2020, two weeks ahead of the bus service withdrawal. Public reactions to these bus route withdrawals were overwhelmingly negative, as seen from reactions to its Facebook post. Most discontent was directed to the withdrawal of Service 700/700A over the amendments to Service 171 and 972.

Several Bukit Panjang residents wrote to their Member of Parliament (MP) regarding their feedback for these route changes shortly after. Responses from MP for Bukit Panjang Mr Liang Eng Hwa, as well as MP for Holland-Bukit Timah Mr Edward Chia Bing Hui were shared on their respective Facebook pages within 24 hours of the press release for the bus service changes. They expressed their disappointment towards LTA for pushing ahead with these amendments, a fairly rare occurrence.

Like all of you, I am very disappointed that LTA has decided to go ahead with the withdrawal of Svc 700/700A & changes…

Posted by Liang Eng Hwa on Monday, 3 August 2020

Many residents have reached out to me on their disappointment regarding the discontinuation of bus service 700/700A and…

Posted by Edward Chia Bing Hui 谢秉辉 on Monday, 3 August 2020

Minister of Transport’s Response

Netizen Khairul Haziq shared a response he received from Minister of Transport Ong Ye Kung regarding the controversy on Facebook, in which the changes were necessary to prevent the Downtown Line and Bus Services to be “over capacity and under used, costing millions every year”.

Earlier I wrote an email to MPs of Bukit Panjang and Zhenghua explaining why residents of Bukit Panjang needed these…

Posted by Khairul Haziq on Monday, 3 August 2020

4 August – Authorities’ Statements

LTA responded to the ‘public concern’ over the controversy on the next day, 4 August 2020, justifying the decision to withdraw Service 700 / 700A as well as shortening Service 171.

We are aware that there is some public concern arising from the withdrawal of Bus Service 700/700A and the route changes…

Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Tuesday, 4 August 2020

LTA highlighted that ridership fell over 30% and 50% respectively for Bus Services 171 & 700/700A respectively in 2016 after the Downtown Line Phase 2 opened in December 2015.

With LTA collecting fare revenue and paying operators a service fee to operate bus services as part of the Bus Contracting Model, these services have been subsidised through public funds due to low ridership. In its statement, LTA revealed that the subsidy to maintain Service 700 comes up to $5 million a year. The subsidy could be justified if the bus service is the “only transport option in the area”. However, with the Downtown Line as an alternative transport option, adjustments to the bus services in the area had to be done to “exercise prudence in the use of public funds”.

A follow-up post by Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport:

Residents from Bukit Panjang have been writing to Ministry of Transport, Singapore to reflect their concerns on the…

Posted by Chee Hong Tat 徐芳达 on Friday, 7 August 2020

In the post, Chee highlights that the subsidy to maintain Service 171 and 700/700A comes up to $14 million a year. This implies that Service 171 is subsidized to the tune of S$9 million a year. He adds that LTA had been engaging the local grassroots advisers on this matter since 2016.

In addition, it was disclosed that the Downtown Line is subsidized $60 million a year, for the stretch between Bukit Panjang and the city. However, rail lines are financed under the New Rail Financing Framework and will not be a subject of focus in this article.

8 August – Meetings among MPs and LTA

A further update came on 8 August following a meeting between Chee Hong Tat, Land Transport Authority officials, and MPs of Bukit Panjang (Liang Eng Hwa and Edward Chia).

Had a good meeting with Grassroots Advisers Liang Eng Hwa and Edward Chia Bing Hui 谢秉辉 earlier today. I also spoke to…

Posted by Chee Hong Tat 徐芳达 on Saturday, 8 August 2020

Grateful that Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Transport and the MOT/LTA team dropped by to understand…

Posted by Liang Eng Hwa on Saturday, 8 August 2020

Together with Mr Liang Eng Hwa and grassroots leaders, we had a detailed discussion with Senior Minister of State for…

Posted by Edward Chia Bing Hui 谢秉辉 on Saturday, 8 August 2020

In these posts, the concerns relating to Bus Service 700 and 972 were acknowledged:

  • Service 700: Residents along Petir Road still prefer to have a direct bus service from Petir Road to town, especially during peak hours.
  • Service 972: Route amendment will increase travelling time, but there was also a need to cater to the commuting requirements of other residents staying in Bukit Timah and Dunearn Road

13 August – Announcement of new plans

My colleagues and I had a follow-up meeting with Grassroots Advisers Liang Eng Hwa and Edward Chia Bing Hui 谢秉辉 to…

Posted by Chee Hong Tat 徐芳达 on Wednesday, 12 August 2020

In the post, changes to the original plan was announced, and the implementation date was now deferred to 30 August 2020 instead of 16 August 2020.

  • Express 971E to be converted into a Trunk Service 971 and amended to ply along Petir Road. Operating hours during weekday peak hours to be extended.
  • Planned amendment of Service 972 to Newton MRT Station scrapped due to residents’ feedback
  • New Service 972M to be introduced, to ply the planned Service 972 amended route via Dunearn Road / Bukit Timah Road and Scotts Road.
  • Peak hour frequency enhanced for Service 973.

In Summary

  • The LTA has outlined financial prudence as its primary consideration for the withdrawal of Service 700/700A
    • Service 171 subsidized by $9 million a year
    • Service 700/700A subsidized by $5 million a year
  • Ridership of Service 171, 700 declined after the opening of the Downtown Line Stage 2
    • Service 171 declined by 30%
    • Service 700/700A declined by 50%
  • Alternative public transport routes exist for all affected sectors
  • MP’s discussions with LTA were focused on:
    • minimising the additional travelling time due to service diversions
    • continuing to offer residents at Petir Road a direct bus service to town during peak hours

Continued on Page 2:
  • Our thoughts on each route amendment
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of each move

19 thoughts on “Controversy over Bus 700 withdrawal and Bus 171 & 972 amendment

  • 13 August 2020 at 6:13 PM
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    See only 5000 sign petition they all already shaken..Hahaha continue subsidies..

    Reply
  • 11 August 2020 at 9:22 AM
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    On all suggestions here:

    700/A:

    700 should NOT be amended to serve Senja, Fajar, Jelepang etc. These areas are currently served by 920, 922, 971E, 972/A and 976. Adding 700/A will not help it any better because 971E and 972/A is still more favoured to the CBD and likewise to 920, 922 and 972 being more favoured to Bukit Panjang.

    While 700/A catchment in Bukit Panjang is rather very limited and small in area, they are already heavily duplicated with numerous CBD bound services such as 190/A, 960 etc.

    However, I feel there is only 1 viable option to expand its catchment areas. Instead of duplicating huge chunks of 162/M and 167/e between Newton and Shenton Way, 700 can be amended to Kampong Bahru from Newton via Paterson Road, Great World City and Outram Road instead. This sector rather more unique and relatively not served as much as the former.

    Another solution is to renumber and rebrand 700 as a Weekday Peak Hour Express service charging express fares. This is to maintain profitability of the service and yet still maintain the current connections. As seen from 971E, I do not see why 700 is unable to be an Express service as well. If need be, more sectors can be skipped. 700A will, however, still be withdrawn.

    700/A’s demand has been massively hit by the introduction of the DTL. Demand has fallen by 50% as mentioned by LTA. Personally from my observation, there is generally barely less than 10 pax onboard during off peak hours while only fully seated during peak hours. This is in addition to the poor frequencies that 700/A already operates on. This is unacceptable given such a waste of resources to keep 700/A running.

    To those who suggested to introduce a 972M to replace 700/A, I do not agree with your suggestions as:

    Firstly: there will be massive duplication with existing 920, 922, 971E, 972/A and 976.

    Secondly: Gali Batu Ter is not open as of now.

    Thirdly: The route will not be popular with residents residing around areas such as Senja, Segar and Jelepang etc. Residents will still opt to take 972/A instead of 972M. Intra-town demand in Bukit Panjang is also expected to be rather weak as well.

    Lastly: 972M will bring confusion to Bukit Panjang residents as some people will confirm think that 972M will go to Bt Panjang Int, but in actual fact it does not. As the route is fundamentally not the same, it should not be numbered as 972M in the first place.

    171:

    The truncation of 171 to loop at Bukit Panjang from Yishun is justified. Given massive duplication of the DTL between Bukit Panjang and Newton, and Promenade and Bencoolen, it does not make for commuters to be taking 171 especially with the DTL. Furthermore, many existing services that duplicate the DTL already exist. Some great examples are 67 and 170/A which duplicates the DTL between Bukit Panjang and Rochor, essentially the WHOLE DTL Stage 2, of which also do not see decent demand coming from nearby developments. Hence, even with 171 being shortened, it will make little difference to commuters along that truncated stretch considering the numerous amount of duplicative services.

    While looping at Bukit Panjang is rather a little awkward, 171 could be potentially extended to terminate at Gali Batu Ter to provide a terminating point for 171. Another potential extension in the future is having 171 amended to terminate at Tengah Int, serving the newly developed Tengah New Town.

    972/A:

    While I support the amendment of 171 and withdrawal of 700/A, I do not really support the amendment of 972/A to replace the unique deleted sectors that are currently shared with 171 and 700/A. While it may provide commuters around that affected with a more frequent service, it will bring uproar to Bukit Panjang residents owing to the unpredictability of the Newton Circus jam massacre. Traffic lights there are atrocious, short and with high traffic, traffic jam delays are not favourable with these residents. Furthermore, 972/A was introduced to supplement 190/A, I feel that it is still best for another service to take its place instead.

    While the only potential services are 105 and 132, since 190/A will obviously not be in the running for this, I feel that amending 105 would be the better option. This will also help to provide this Bukit Timah stretch with a new connection to Toa Payoh MRT. 132 currently serves numerous schools and receives generous demand from these institutions. Amending 132 would cause commuters to be more displaced and considering the poor frequencies of 132, it is not the best service to be amended.

    To further improve the current reliability of 972/A, 972 should be further extended to terminate at Marina Ctr Ter. This is so as to provide 972 with a terminating point for the bus captains to have a rest and toilet break before their return trip to Bukit Panjang. With this extension, 972A will be withdrawn.

    Conclusion:

    Bukit Panjang residents are already way too pampered with so many CBD trunk routes to popular destinations such as Orchard, Chinatown and Marina Centre. These residents ought to be ashamed to demand for 700/A to be reinstated, especially if most of these residents are irresponsible knowing that they are not going to take 700/A in the first place.

    In such an instance, with dismal ridership currently on the DTL, I feel that Bukit Panjang residents should be more forced to commute via the DTL instead.

    Bukit Panjang residents should look at other towns as an example, such as Punggol, which does not even have a single bus service to the CBD, apart from 666 which is only to Shenton Way during Weekday Peak Hours. Despite all this lack of connectivity, residents in Punggol still have to suck up and use the overcrowded NEL to commute instead.

    If Bukit Panjang residents further complain, please have LTA teach them a lesson and cut 190/A, 960 and 972/A from the CBD and force these entitled residents to take the DTL and experience what people living in Punggol etc. are experiencing… I don’t care if DTL is going to be overcrowded or what not, like what the NEL is facing already. If Bukit Panjang residents continue to act this way, why not you residents pay the $5 million instead, since they NEED IT so badly.

    Reply
    • 12 August 2020 at 3:48 PM
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      You have to understand that Punggol and Bukit Panjang are two totally different situations. For Bukit Panjang, their LRT system isn’t even working properly, compared to the much better crystal movers in Punggol and Sengkang. As for the DTL, it is built severely undercapacity, with not much room for expansion, as they are currently running peak frequencies already with only 3 cars. Furthermore, the DTL in the city doesn’t even serve Orchard Road, which is served by 190,700,972, requiring an out of station interchange in Newton compared to the direct ride down on the NEL, which has 6 cars to better serve demand. So with you saying that the residents there being “pampered”, you clearly do not see the whole picture here.

      Reply
      • 13 August 2020 at 12:42 AM
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        Yes, I understand that the Bukit Panjang LRT is pathetic and hopeless. Even with or without it is honestly not going to make a difference for Bukit Panjang residents.

        DTL was never catered for high capacity usage. Neither do I expect it to have high demand anyway owing to the vast number of landed and private areas that DTL2 serves. DTL runs at 2-3 min frequencies during peak hours, but still is not used to to its full potential. This shows that there is still room for improvement to gather more demand for DTL.

        I understand that DTL does not serve Orchard MRT in particular. However, you need to understand that sometimes you have to suck up to it. It isn’t that difficult to make a transfer between the DTL and NSL. I know that it is an unpaid link, but its not that troublesome. Many commuters are already used to the unpaid link transfers at Newton.

        I would like to clarify that the NEL serves Orchard Road, but it does not serve Orchard MRT directly either. Because of this also end up North-East residents have to make a transfer at Dhoby Ghaut MRT too… And the transfer is much further as well, especially the NEL way deep down at Basement 5 at Dhoby Ghaut MRT…

        LTA is already trying to inculcate the habit of MRT – Feeder Bus Service kind of trips for commuters in other towns. I certainly do not see why Bukit Panjang cannot do the same. After all, its not like 190/A, 960 and 972/A are removed also.

        But most importantly anyway, the main contributing factor is the poor location of Bukit Panjang MRT and the lack of public transport methods to transit out of Bukit Panjang town.

        I also do not understand why people are complaining about keeping 700/A as an alternative to the CBD in the event of DTL disruption. At least services such as 190/A, 960 and 972 exist for Bukit Panjang residents to provide the quick connection and alternatives from the DTL. At least use your brains and spare a thought for residents such as those at Punggol. If NEL breakdown, then Punggol residents have no alternative bus services to the CBD at all, unlike at Bukit Panjang…

        If Bukit Panjang residents still insist on keeping 700/A, I would like to propose to LTA to have the Bukit Panjang residents themselves subsidise the cost of operating 700/A which is $5 million, to give them a taste of their own medicine. It is certainly disappointing to see such residents not sparing a thought for other residents in Singapore who also fork out taxes which is part of also keeping 700/A in operation.

        Reply
      • 13 August 2020 at 12:01 PM
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        Agreed that Punggol and Bukit Panjang are two totally different situations.

        DTL is just one line that has not been prepared for a higher capacity of passengers.

        You may want to teach BPJ residents a lesson whatever you want…….but bear in mind you are making a huge gamble and that might backfire……rmb DTL still has a huge record of train disruptions over the past 3 years

        Reply
        • 13 August 2020 at 3:09 PM
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          I would like to counter argue that the DTL has improved over the years unlike other MRT lines such as the EWL which still see breakdowns more often.

          At the end of the day, I know that we cannot fully rely on the MRT to bridge the connection, but at the same time we need to optimise bus resources.

          But anyway, a decision has already been made in regarding to the amendments. A new 971 will be a trunk route plying an extended and slower route of 971E. This is in view of the poor demand that 971E currently faces as well. However, I am uncertain if 971 will face the same fate as 128 in the future. Enough said, even with a compromise, people will still complain about 971 not being a full day service and for not operating on weekends. These residents should be already thankful that a compromise has been made.

          On the other hand, I think that introducing a new 972M to ply the proposed amended 972 route is a good initiative. I am just skeptical on the frequency of 972M. Furthermore, I am worried that people are unwilling to ride 972M even if it arrives before 972.

          Reply
        • 13 August 2020 at 10:37 PM
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          There is a minor problem with 171’s withdrawal in the city area. With the service cut shot, there will be day time link between the Marina/Suntec area and the Newton/Scott’s area as coupled with the withdrawal of 700A, the only link left, 162M only runs in the evening. If they wanted 972/M to cover 700, they could extend it to loop around Suntec on a full time basis.

          Reply
          • 13 August 2020 at 11:32 PM
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            I agree with your point….
            IMO, with the adjustments of the BP Services, alternative buses fleet from Scotts Road to Shenton Way/Marina Centre Area should be adjusted. These are the buses that covers Service 700/700A routes

            Svc 162: Covering Sectors for Service 700 (From Scotts Road to Shenton Way)
            Svc 162M : Covering Sectors for Service 700A (From Scotts Road to Suntec City/Esplanade Area)

            Svc 167/167e: Covering Sectors for Service 700 (From Scotts Road to Shenton Way)

            Svc 518: Covering Sectors for Service 700 (From Scotts Road to Suntec City)

    • 12 August 2020 at 7:48 PM
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      I like your last few paragraphs…

      I agree that Punggol does not have any buses to go to Shenton Way or even Orchard and require to rely on the NEL.

      Reply
  • 10 August 2020 at 8:41 PM
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    In an ideal world a transfer stop a la TPE Punggol Road would be built along PIE near Eng Neo, and 972 extended to Shenton Way covering 700’s lost route. This opens up one-stop opportunites from various points in Bukit Panjang to the city, eg 966 > 190/960/972 from Petir Road to Orchard / Marina Centre / Shenton Way, and even provides new connections, eg to 52 or 506 for points further East.

    Reply
  • 10 August 2020 at 3:55 PM
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    I have send a feedback to LTA of the bus servie 972 and 700
    suggestion:
    For service 700 it can be withdrawn as it will be replace by 972M.
    For bus service 972 it still can amended to Bukit Timah / Dunearn road for the lost sector of steven road it will replace by 972M.
    For new bus service 972M it will operate form Gali Batu bus terminal to Bukit Panjang ring road it does not go to senja road and turn to jelapang road, After reach Bangkit lrt bus stop it will extended to pending and petir road than go to BKE by dairy farm road, After reach Whitley road it will go to Steven road than extended it to Suntec and terminal at Shenton way bus terminal or marina center bus terminal.
    They say they will review my proposal and hope they can accept it.

    Reply
  • 10 August 2020 at 11:50 AM
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    Just go ahead with the withdrawal of 700/700A..We like to complain a lot like there’s no tommorow when the reality the service is losing more money.972 should stay as it is,171 too.What they can do is make 971E a full weekday service and renumbered as 971.

    Reply

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