Over the past four decades, public bus services serving the Changi International Airport of Singapore have evolved significantly, ranging from 2 major bus plans by the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) in the 1980s, to the introduction of more direct bus services between major residential estates and the new airport between the 1990s and 2010s.
Changi Airport Bus Plan 1981 (22 Feb 1981 – 24 Jun 1983)
Prior to the official opening of Changi Airport on 1 July 1981, SBS proposed a series of special bus services that connected nearby residential towns, as well as the Central Business District (CBD), with the new airport.
Known as the Changi Airport Bus Plan of 1981, six bus services numbered in the 39x series were progressively introduced in early 1981, connecting the bus interchanges in Bedok and Somapah, as well as Changi Point Bus Terminal, with the Passenger Terminal Building (PTB) and the Changi Airport Cargo Complex (CACC).
Specifically, Somapah Bus Interchange was designated by SBS as an interchange for airport bus services due to its proximity to the upcoming Changi Airport and the availability of multiple trunk bus services to other parts of Singapore, including Bus Services 10 (Jurong), 11 (New Bridge Rd), 12 (Buona Vista), 14 (Bukit Merah) and 155 (Toa Payoh).
Bus Service 391 was the first Changi Airport Service (CAS) to be launched on Sunday, 22 February 1981, operating between Changi Point and Nicoll Dr (outside the upcoming CACC), as the road leading to CACC was still under construction at the time. It replaced Feeder Bus Service 213, which was discontinued on the same day.
Bus Service 394 was launched as the second CAS between Bedok and Changi Airport PTB on 3 May, followed by Bus Services 392 and 393 from Somapah to Changi Airport PTB and CACC respectively on 7 June. The final 2 CAS, Bus Services 390 and 395, were launched 2 weeks later on 21 June between Changi Airport PTB and Queen Street Bus Terminal, as well as between Bedok and CACC respectively.
Due to extremely low demand, Bus Service 394 was briefly converted to a peak hour service shortly after its introduction, before its reinstatement as a full day service days before the official opening of Changi Airport.
To complement the six SBS bus services, the Singapore Shuttle Bus (SSB), which was operating City Shuttle Services (CSS) at the time, worked with Scheme B bus operators – Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners’ Association (SBOA) and Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) – to operate four additional peak hour bus services connecting the residential towns of Ang Mo Kio (727), Toa Payoh (737), Kallang Basin (747) and Queenstown (757) with the new airport. An additional Airport Shuttle Service (767) was also operated by SSB between Changi Airport PTB and CACC, providing greater convenience for airport workers and other commuters travelling between both parts of the airport. A total of 90 buses from SSB and the Scheme B operators were deployed on the five additional services.
In November 1981, CAS Bus Service 393 was integrated with CAS Bus Service 395, forming an integrated Bus Service 393 between Bedok, Somapah and CACC.
Controversy surrounding Changi Airport Bus Plan 1981
Despite having multiple bus services serving the new Changi Airport from the first bus plan, there were teething issues with the operations of these bus services. Specifically, the supplementary airport bus services under SSB, SBOA and SSTA suffered from low ridership, which led to their appeal to the Registry of Vehicles (ROV) to reduce their frequencies, only about a month after their debut.
Subsequently, it was revealed in a Straits Times article published in March 1982 that the ROV had agreed to SSB’s appeal to reduce the number of buses deployed on the supplementary airport bus services due to low ridership. In addition, the article also mentioned that the airport bus services under SBS also suffered from low demand, with only 30 to 40% of the capacity being taken up by commuters on these services.
In April 1983, a further complaint was raised by a Pasir Panjang resident regarding the reliability for the SSB airport services to then-Minister for Communications, Mr Ong Teng Cheong. Responding to the complaint, the Minister had said that SSB will be stripped of the operating rights to these services if they did not improve their service levels.
SSB later responded to the Minister’s comments, insisting that they maintained the original service levels for their airport bus services, despite losing about $400,000 a year due to the unprofitability of these bus services. Instead, they placed the blame on the Scheme B bus operators for the reduction in service levels on the five airport bus services which were jointly run with SSB, claiming that the Scheme B bus operators “cut corners by reducing the frequency of buses when they found the bus services to be unprofitable”. At the time, SSB and Scheme B buses operated alternately on Bus Services 727, 737, 747 and 757, which led to service degradation when the Scheme B bus operators reduced the number of buses deployed on the bus services on their own accord, leading to regular commuters on these bus services being forced to wait for the next SSB bus.
In addition, SSB revealed that they had made several suggestions in July 1982, including:
- Fully taking over the operations of Bus Services 727, 737, 747 and 757 from the Scheme B bus operators, allowing for the full implementation of fixed time schedules.
- Setting up an additional bus interchange for its airport bus services, allowing the supplementary airport bus services to terminate at the bus interchange to improve their reliability. An additional bus service was also proposed to operate between the additional bus interchange and the airport.
- Implementing a through-ticketing system to ensure that commuters do not have to pay more when transferring between bus services at the proposed bus interchanges.
See Page 2 for Changi Airport Bus Plan 1983