Controversy over Downtown Line 2 Bus Rationalisation

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 Bus Service 700/700A and amend Bus Services 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

Further changes were made to bus services in Bukit Panjang from Sunday, 3 April 2022, as the route of Bus Service 972M to serve Pending Rd, Petir Rd and Dairy Farm Rd. As a result, Bus Service 971 will be discontinued from Monday, 4 April 2022. Commuters travelling to Shenton Way are also encouraged to transfer to alternative Bus Services 162 and 167 at Orchard Rd, or use the MRT instead.

With changes to 972M, 971 will cease. Separately, an express service option will be provided by a private operator. Some residents may remember this service from before 🚌.

The original planned amendment

As announced on 3 August 2020, Bus Service 700/700A would be withdrawn, and Bus Service 972 would be amended to cover lost sectors of Service 700/700A between Whitley Road and Scotts Road. In addition, Bus 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 Service 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 2020 – 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 Services 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 2020 – 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 2020 – 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 700/700A and 972 were acknowledged:

  • Service 700/700A: 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 2020 – 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 from Monday, 31 August 2020. 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.

The withdrawal of Services 700 & 700A, as well as shortening of Service 171 to loop at Bukit Panjang MRT would still proceed as planned on the deferred date.

Revised Operator Posters

In Summary

  • LTA initiated bus service changes to Bukit Panjang:
    • Withdrawal of Service 700/700A
    • Truncate Service 171 at Bukit Panjang; omitting Bukit Panjang – Marina Centre sector
    • Amend Service 972 to Newton, covering lost sectors of Service 171 and 700/700A
  • The LTA had 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
  • Revised bus amendments were announced that fulfilled the MP’s two objectives:
    • Withdrawal of Bus Service 700/700A, amendment of bus service 171 to proceed
    • Express 971E to be converted into a Trunk Service 971 and amended to ply along Petir Road. Operating hours extended to weekday peak hours.
    • Planned amendment of Service 972 to Newton MRT Station scrapped
    • 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.
  • Implementation date of bus service changes now deferred to 30 August 2020 instead of 16 August 2020

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

27 thoughts on “Controversy over Downtown Line 2 Bus Rationalisation

  • 21 December 2021 at 8:56 AM

    171 could have terminated at Gali batu Ter (or in tis case Bt Panjang temp bus park. Or so, just make bus 171 skip bt panjang entirely and have this instead: Yishun -> Ang Mo Kio -> Toa Payoh -> Orchard -> Marina Centre. That way 171 doesn’t duplicate the DTL

    • 5 June 2022 at 2:28 PM

      >doesn’t duplicate the DTL
      It’s gonna be the NSL, then.

  • 10 May 2021 at 8:59 PM

    Not really unfeasible the express service from Bukit Panjang to Bedok, will help cut travel times for servicemen booking out from army Campos nearby (stagmont, kranji and sungei gedong), can really help in getting them home faster

  • 15 August 2020 at 2:55 PM

    The fleet of 700 will be spread to 971,972M and aditional of buses for 973.
    Might as well retained 700 as a peak hour service 0630-0830 & 1730-1930 rather than wasting more resources.What is LTA scholars thinking?700 can renumbered as 977.

  • 14 August 2020 at 11:13 AM

    972M should be renumbered to 977 or 978 and extend to Shenton Way and go via Petir Road instead of just being a route variant of 972. If 976 or 978 can become a reality, during off peak hours, reduce the frequency so no wastage of resources.
    971E can just remain as it is.
    171 can merge with 180 to become a Yishun to Boon Lay service via Bt Panjang & Bukit Batok Road. Can deploy full double decks and increase the frequency. Alternatively, if merging is a bad idea, extend 171 to loop at CCK instead of just looping at Bt Panjang.
    Introduce a service from Bt Panjang to Changi Business Park or Upper East Coast or Changi Airport via East Coast and Bedok

    • 14 August 2020 at 10:33 PM

      To your suggestions:

      – 971, 972M: Not feasible. The main reason why 700/A was cut but 971 was not, was because the demand to Shenton Way is strictly during peak hours. Outside that there’s 162/167 and MRT. No reason for 972M to be underutilized during off-peak

      – 171 merge/extend: 180 operates as high frequency with full DD fleet. No way is it compatible with 171 BPJ-Yishun section. Extension to CCK unlikely given already large number of services plying BPJ-CCK. CCK-Mandai served by 927. CCK-Yishun served by MRT.

      – Service to east side: what for? Long routes such as suggested will definitely be prone to traffic delay and bunching. If run express, there won’t be enough demand to justify it. You already have DTL+EWL which do the job well enough. If you want exclusive services, get Grab.

      Better think twice before you make such infeasible suggestions


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