Controversy over Downtown Line 3 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 amend Services 22, 65, 66 and 506 has struck discord with residents of Ang Mo Kio, Serangoon, Bukit Batok, Bukit Timah, Bedok and Tampines, with members of the public calling for a stop to these arrangements.


The implemented amendments

As announced on 22 November 2021, Bus Services 22 and 506 would be amended to terminate at Eunos and Serangoon respectively. Bus Service 65 would be amended to cover lost sectors of Service 22 between Tampines Regional Centre and residential blocks along Tampines Avenue 4. In addition, Bus Service 66 would be shortened to Beauty World, removing its Beauty World – Bedok sector.

 

Prior to the opening of the Downtown Line, residents of Bedok and Tampines Towns have long relied on a combination of the East West Line, Circle Line and other major trunk bus services to travel to and from the city and residential towns in the Northern and Western regions of Singapore. As commuters have been used to having direct bus options, public reactions to these bus route cutbacks were overwhelmingly negative, as seen from reactions to the Facebook posts from SBS Transit over the route changes to Bus Services 22, 65 and 506, as well as from Tower Transit Singapore over the route change to Bus Service 66.

On the same day when the amendments were first publicised, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) published posters on their Facebook page and Instagram account regarding the planning of bus routes and why bus routes are amended from time to time, indicating an indirect hint of the rationale behind the route changes due to take place as part of the Downtown Line Stage 3 bus rationalisation.


Our take on Service 506

Reasons for retaining Service 506

Many residents of Bukit Batok and Bedok Reservoir rely on Service 506 as the most direct and fastest option between the Eastern and Western regions of Singapore. The loss of Service 506 will mean the loss of a direct bus service between the East and West. Despite charging higher fares as an Express service, most people see the higher fares as a worthwhile expense with the benefit of a direct bus link between the far ends of the island.

For Bukit Batok and Bedok Reservoir residents, alternatives offered to Service 506 involve transferring to Service 5 at Jln Toa Payoh, or Service 59 at Lor 6 Toa Payoh, or transferring to the MRT for “long haul travel”. However, the need to transfer between multiple bus routes or between bus/train is an added inconvenience to Bukit Batok and Bedok Reservoir residents. This also increases travel time to destinations in the East and West of Singapore. It should also be noted that travelling along the East West Line and Downtown Line between the eastern and western regions of Singapore requires passing through many major MRT stations the City, which increases overcrowding on both MRT lines.

Reasons for amending Service 506

1. Availability of existing public transport connections

The Eastern region of Singapore already benefits from relatively strong public transport connections. Apart from alternative rail connections via the Circle Line (which bypasses the City), several full-day bus services like Services 5, 59, 966 and 985 offer direct connections between the East and West, such as Bedok Reservoir, Toa Payoh, Bukit Panjang, Bukit Batok, Eunos and Marine Parade.

Currently, LTA’s approach to building up the public transport network revolves around the hub and spoke model, where the rail network forms the backbone of the public transport network, and feeder bus services connecting these transport nodes with residential estates. This concept allows more origin and destination pairs to be served, by transferring between different modes of public transport (bus or train) that can be maintained at high frequencies.

2. Duplicity of existing bus routes

Service 506 is fully duplicated by other bus routes along key sectors of its route, such as:

  • Service 5: between Jln Toa Payoh and Jln Eunos / Bedok Reservoir Rd
  • Services 8, 59: between Lor 6 Toa Payoh and Jln Eunos / Bedok Reservoir Rd
  • Service 45, 46: between Bedok North Ave 3 and Upp East Coast
  • Service 25, 46: between Bedok South Ave 3 and Upp East Coast

By using other trunk bus services plying the expressway to the City, destinations served by Bus Service 506 can be reached from Bedok Reservoir with 1 transfer, or from Bedok North / South with two transfers at most.

3. Ridership decline post-DTL3

After the Downtown Line (DTL) Phase 3 opened on October 2017, there was a sharp decline in ridership for bus services that run parallel to the MRT line.

The low ridership is evident from ground observations, with only small numbers of passengers taking Service 506 along the PIE express sector between Bedok Reservoir and Toa Payoh. Furthermore, most passengers do not travel beyond Bedok Reservoir, and are thus travelling along sectors duplicated by Service 25, 45 or 46. The LTA would have access to accurate ridership data through farecard information when passengers tap in and tap out on the card readers when boarding and alighting.

On the other hand, Services 5, 8 and 59 remain well patronised after the opening of the Downtown Line, and thus were not earmarked for rationalisation.

6. In line with bus rationalization efforts over the years

The rationalization of Bus Service 506 is in line with LTA’s past efforts to rationalize bus routes following the opening of new rail lines. For example, many bus services along the Serangoon Road corridor were curtailed or withdrawn following the opening of the North East Line in 2003.

However, rationalization efforts in recent years have been far less aggressive, with measures limited to reducing the number of high-capacity buses on MRT-duplicating bus routes, as was the case for the Downtown Line Stage 2 and 3.

Main Article: Rationalisation of Bus Service Operations (2019-2021)


Route amendment to Services 22 & 65

The route amendment to Service 65 is necessary to bridge lost bus connections between Tampines MRT and Tampines Ave 4 with the route amendment of Service 22.

However, the amended Service 22 heavily duplicates existing Service 61 between Ubi Ave 2 and Eunos, which already experiences low utilisation along the specific sector. As a result, the amended Service 22 is expected to suffer from similarly low demand between Eunos and Ubi. Moreover, Service 63/63M already operates at a much higher frequency, making it more favoured as a connection between Eunos and Ubi. This situation mirrors the amended route of Service 76 to Eunos via Sims Ave/Geylang Rd in 2016, which heavily duplicated the routes of Services 24, 28, 154 and 155.

Alternatives

One alternative is to amend Service 22 to serve Ubi Ave 3, connecting the factories along Ubi Ave 3 to Eunos MRT station. This amendment will help to alleviate the high passenger demands of Services 58 and 137, and reduce its route duplication with Services 61 and 63/63M.

Another alternative is to extend the route of Service 22 to Bedok, replacing the deleted sectors of Service 66 between Ubi Ave 2 and Bedok. However, alternative bus services such as Services 60, 87 and 228 already offer connections between Bedok Reservoir Rd and Bedok, while residents and workers along Ubi Ave 2 tend to prefer travelling to nearer MRT stations such as Ubi, MacPherson, Eunos and Paya Lebar to transfer to the MRT.


Route amendment to Service 66

The last amendment involves curtailing Service 66 from Jurong East to loop at Beauty World, removing the Beauty World – Bedok sector. This route amendment is most easily justified given its duplication of the current Downtown Line and other bus services along Dunearn Road / Bukit Timah Road, Little India, MacPherson Road / Estate, Ubi Avenue 2 and Bedok Reservoir Road. The amended Service 66 calls at Bus stop 42079 (Opp Pei Hwa Presby Pr Sch) for easy transfers to southbound bus services.

One criticism of this move is the reduction of connectivity between Beauty World, Little India, MacPherson Estate and Bedok, but these sectors are also covered by Services 65, 67, 170 and 228.

Alternative bus routes are:

  • Services 67, 170: Between Beauty World and Newton
  • Services 77, 970: Between Beauty World and Bukit Timah (up to Sixth Ave)
  • Services 157, 174, 852, 961/961M: Between Beauty World and Bukit Timah (up to Adam Rd / Farrer Rd)
  • Service 65: Between Bedok Reservoir / MacPherson Estate and Little India
  • Services 60, 87, 228: Between Bedok and Bedok Reservoir

Continued on Page 2:
  • Parliamentary Question (PQ) filed by Member of Parliament (MP) Gerald Giam (Jan 2022)
  • Committee of Supply (COS) Debates over matters concering the Ministry of Transport (Mar 2022)

37 thoughts on “Controversy over Downtown Line 3 Bus Rationalisation

  • 7 February 2022 at 8:51 PM
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    Then introduce a new bus service to cover the lost sector of 61 from eunos to geylang bahru.

    Reply
  • 7 February 2022 at 7:03 PM
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    Now the residents at Bedok Reservoir want 22 back as a direct link from Bedok Reservoir to Upper Paya Lebar, 66 as a direct link from Bedok Reservoir to Bukit Timah, 506 as a direct link from Bedok Reservoir to Bukit Batok & Jurong East. I guess if possible, these 3 services will most likely end at Bedok Bus Interchange.

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  • 23 January 2022 at 10:11 PM
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    How about cutback 65 to Eunos & 22 continues its usual route from Ang Mo Kio to Tampines?

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  • 13 January 2022 at 7:30 PM
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    I was told about 22 being cut back to eunos not just because too duplicative, but because of 61 may be ask to cut back. I can suggest a new bus service 137M, a route variant of 137 to cover 61 from ubi avenue 2 to eunos, furthermore, “passengers at ubi avenue 2 prefer travelling to nearby mrt stations that are eunos, macpherson & paya lebar”. That is just my opinion.

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    • 7 February 2022 at 12:12 PM
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      If the plans for 61 are true, then yes it does explain well why 22 was rerouted that way. But in that case I don’t think 137M would be suitable since Eunos to Ubi Ave 2 is already served by amended 22. What’s needed would be something like amending 63 to serve 61’s lost sectors between Eunos – Geylang Bahru, and then extending 63M to loop at Aljunied or Kallang MRT. 33/80/EWL can take care of the Kallang-CBD link.

      Reply
      • 7 February 2022 at 7:06 PM
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        I do not think that 63 can handle the lost sectors of 61 as the fleet of 61 is a combination of double deck & single deck buses, while 63 is full fleet of single deck buses because of route limitations along Ubi Estate as part of the former 382 route from Eunos to Ubi Avenue 1, & Rumah Tinggi.

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        • 8 February 2022 at 11:33 PM
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          I don’t know the exact ridership data for 61 but I believe its most patronized sector is in the west side (somewhere btw Ngee Ann and Alexandra?), and the east side has seen declined ridership due to DTL3. So I think it should probably be fine if 61 is shortened to the CBD and 63 takes over along Geylang Bahru. 80 has DDs too and can take care of Aljunied – CBD.

          Worst case scenario if need be, find the most well patronized sector (amongst 61/63) on the east side, give it to 63M and run DDs on 63M. Let 63 ply the other sector.

          Reply
          • 11 February 2022 at 12:11 AM
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            63M has road limitations along ubi avenue 1. Please, 63M is a route variant of 63 that merges with 382.

      • 11 February 2022 at 12:13 AM
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        Had 61 been shortened from eunos the day 22 was amended to eunos, 22 may not be that empty.

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  • 9 January 2022 at 7:43 AM
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    could have just left 66 as it is and introduce service 66M.

    Reply

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