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 discontinue 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’.
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 discontinued, 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 discontinuation. Public reactions to these bus route discontinuations were overwhelmingly negative, as seen from reactions to its Facebook post. Most discontent was directed to the discontinuation 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.
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”.
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 discontinue Service 700 / 700A, as well as shortening the route of Service 171.
We are aware that there is some public concern arising from the withdrawal of Bus Service 700/700A and the route changes…
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:
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).
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 along Dunearn Road / Bukit Timah Road (between Whitley Road & Newton Circus).
13 August 2020 – Announcement of new plans
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 was converted into a Trunk Service 971 and amended to ply along Pending Road, Petir Road and Dairy Farm Road from Monday, 31 August 2020. Operating hours during weekday peak hours to be extended. It was subsequently integrated into Service 972M and discontinued from Monday, 4 April 2022.
- 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. It was subsequently integrated with Service 971 and amended to ply along Pending Road, Petir Road and Dairy Farm Road from Monday, 4 April 2022.
- Peak hour frequency enhanced for Service 973.
The discontinuation of Services 700 & 700A, as well as the route cutback of Service 171 to loop at Bukit Panjang MRT, would still proceed as planned on the deferred date.
Revised Operator Posters
- LTA initiated bus service changes to Bukit Panjang:
- Discontinuation of Service 700/700A
- Route cutback of Service 171 to Bukit Panjang MRT; omitting Bukit Panjang – Marina Centre sector
- Route amendment of Service 972 to Newton MRT, covering lost sectors of Services 171 and 700/700A
- The LTA had outlined financial prudence as its primary consideration for the discontinuation of Service 700/700A and route cutback of Service 171 to Bukit Panjang MRT
- Service 171 subsidized by $9 million a year
- Service 700/700A subsidized by $5 million a year
- Ridership of Service 171, 700/700A 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:
- Discontinuation of Bus Service 700/700A and route cutback of Bus service 171 to Bukit Panjang MRT to proceed
- Express 971E to be converted into a Trunk Service 971 and amended to ply along Pending Road, Petir Road and Dairy Farm Road. Operating hours were extended during weekday peak hours.
- Initially proposed amendment of Service 972 to Newton MRT Station scrapped
- New Service 972M to be introduced, to ply the initially proposed amended route of Service 972 via Dunearn Road / Bukit Timah Road and Scotts Road
- Peak hour frequency enhanced for Service 973
- Implementation date of bus service changes were 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