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 are being worked out between MPs and LTA to minimise the additional travelling time due to service diversions and continue to offer residents at Petir Road a direct bus service to town during peak hours. (8 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As announced on 3 August 2020, Bus Service 700/700A would be withdrawn, and Service 972 would be amended to cover lost sectors of Service 700 between Whitley Road and Scotts Road.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

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

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

  • 10 August 2020 at 3:55 PM

    I have send a feedback to LTA of the bus servie 972 and 700
    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.

  • 10 August 2020 at 11:50 AM

    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.


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