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As announced on 3 August 2020, Bus Service 700/700A would be withdrawn, and Bus Service 972 would be amended to cover lost sectors of Service 700/700A between Whitley Road and Scotts Road.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

  • 9 August 2020 at 7:21 PM

    I think for that matter, even though bus and train operators have been losing money due to COVID-19 from April 2020 to June 2020, they will think of better solutions – like removing cash payment from buses and installing protective screens.

  • 9 August 2020 at 11:32 AM

    972 should retain its route (no amendments needed). This service is meant to complement 190’s loading.

    171 is justified to cut to Bukit Panjang loop

    To retain 700/700A, LTA can consider the following options:
    – Convert to only serve during morning and evening peak
    – Amend to serve Senja (Blk 617) which currently served by 922 and 971E (morning peak), Saujana which currently served by 920, Fajar, Bukit Panjang Ring Rd and then continue down original route (Bukit Panjang Temp Park > Senja > Saujana > Fajar > Bukit Panjang Ring Rd > Bangkit > followed by original route)

  • 8 August 2020 at 7:12 PM

    I think point no. 3 on amending Service 700/A to expand its catchment area is viable option LTA can consider to appease the residents. Instead of amending it to the northern part of BP, how about rerouting 700/A to serve Yew Tee while complementing 190 at Keat Hong?

    Route suggestion for 700/A: BP Temp Bus Park/Gali Batu Ter > Woodlands Rd > Stagmont Ring > CCK North 6 > CCK St 52 > CCK North 5 > CCK Way > CCK Road > Bukit Panjang Road > (Continue its original route to Senton Way/Temasek Ave)

    Since Yew Tee lacks public transport accessibility to CBD area compared to Bukit Panajng as YT only has NSL and it doesn’t have a direct full-day bus service alternative to CBD unlike BP, 700/A can be amended to fill the gap. Furthermore, this amendment will also alleviate the loading on 979 as YT residents can take 700/A directly instead of taking 979 to transfer to DTL/190 at Bukit Panjang when heading to CBD if they don’t wish to take NSL.

    My prediction is that there won’t be any outcome out of this as LTA had maintained their stance on the service 14 amendment controversy 2 years ago, so won’t be surprised if LTA decides to go ahead with the rationalisation plans for DTL2. But my fingers are crossed since MP had openly spoken out against the amendments and there are ongoing discussions with LTA /MOT unlike the service 14 saga 2 years ago when there wasn’t a single word from the MP.

  • 8 August 2020 at 5:54 PM

    A fairly balanced article on the pros and cons of withdrawing service 700/A. Personally, I would like to see 700/A’s route extended to replace parts of 972’s route to the west of Bukit Panjang which is really too circuitous. 972’s intra-town route in BP is also duplicated quite heavily by 920 & 922, so I doubt residents will be too peeved about that. The amended 700/A can also serve Saujana Rd residents, who currently only have 920. The new 700/A route can serve Senja Rd > Saujana Rd > Bangkit > Pending > Petir Rd, and the new 972 route can skip the merry-go-round along Senja Rd. Senja Rd residents already take a long time to reach BKE via Jelapang, Segar and Fajar, so although there is a detour to Petir Rd, by skipping the northern parts of BP, the journey time will likely be comparable. However, Petir Rd residents will be very less likely to get a seat on 700/A given that they’re just before BKE, but at least the increased demand will help to keep the route in service

    As for 972 in the city area, it is in my opinion a really insensible decision to retain a connection between Whitley Rd and Scotts Rd, regardless of whether 700/A is withdrawn. If LTA can suggest that Petir Rd residents can take 973 to transfer to DTL, why can’t Whitley Rd & Dunearn Rd commuters transfer to Orchard via NSL at Newton? Furthermore at Whitley Rd, Stevens MRT will provide a direct connection to Orchard via TEL within a year or two. Are there really more passengers commuting between Whitley Rd, Dunearn/Bukit Timah Rd and Scotts Rd, compared to between BP and Orchard Rd? It is simply not worth preserving this frivolous connection along a small section of the route at the expense of so many BP residents taking 972 in terms of additional travelling time AND bus fare

  • 8 August 2020 at 5:19 PM

    Suggestion / alternative take:

    – Improve the route catchment and frequency of 971E. Depending on demand, can amend it to Pending Rd / Petir Rd + stop along Stevens Rd. This gives resemblance of old 972 route during peak hours. Can trial this for some time before deciding whether should add weekend timings or even convert to full-day trunk service.

    – 960 should stay, as the only service to connect middle Petir Rd to downtown via express.

    The lost link between Dunearn Rd (along SCGS-ACS) and Orchard is essentially the main issue. LTA wants it covered (after 171, 700 loss) but BPJ residents don’t want 972 to cover it. Though I don’t see likelihood of 105, 132 or 190 being amended.

    • 8 August 2020 at 10:41 PM

      Instead of withdrawing Bus Services serving around the North-Western section especially in Bukit Panjang, LTA should 1) Increase the frequencies [especially for off – peak hours to about 4 to 7 mins] for the low demand of serveral bus services to better meet commuter demand in the future 2) Additional double decker buses to more feeder bus services 3) Amendmends of bus Services from Bukit Panjang to Woodlands, Canberra and Downtown Core areas to benefit more commuters.

      • 9 August 2020 at 1:04 PM

        Well, everyone wants new bus services and links, but someone needs to pay for them (BC salary, fuel, maintenance), right? LTA already said there is over-provision of buses to the point where they need government subsidies. Increasing frequency for already low-demand services makes it worse. So the point is to cut duplicates but preserve singular links of high demand. That’s why the only remaining issue left is to patch the Petir Rd – CBD link.

        Bt Panjang still has 178/187/960/961/963/966 to Woodlands and 67/75/170/190/960/961/971E/972 to the CBD. It is already well served compared to other places like Yew Tee and Yishun interior.


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