Published: 10 October 2020.
Having secured the Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package along with a further extension of the Bulim Bus Package in a combined bid, the next 11 months will be interesting times for Tower Transit as it gears up to take over SMRT’s bus operations in Woodlands, Sembawang and Yishun.
This article will address some things to expect ahead of the handover, and potential developments over the next 11 months.
Tower Transit in 2021: At a glance
|Contract Title||PT217: Bus Contracting – Bulim and Sembawang-Yishun Bus Packages
Awarded to: Tower Transit Singapore
|Bus Package||Bulim Bus Package||Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package|
|Bus Depot||Bulim Bus Depot||Mandai Bus Depot|
|Bus Interchanges / Terminals||• Jurong East Bus Interchange
• Bukit Batok Bus Interchange
• Venture Drive Bus Interchange (Future)
|• Sembawang Bus Interchange
• Yishun Bus Interchange
• Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal
|Bus Services||41, 49, 66, 77, 78, 79, 96, 97, 97e, 98/98M, 106, 143/143M, 173, 177, 183, 189, 282, 284, 285, 333, 334, 335, 653, 657, 941, 944, 945, 947 & 990||167, 167e, 169, 171, 656, 663, 825, 853/853M, 854, 854e, 855, 856, 857, 858, 859/859A/859B, 882, 883/883M, 963, 963e, 963R, 965, 966, 969, 980, 981, N1 & N2|
|Projected Fleet size||324 buses||409 buses|
|Bus Fleet||• Alexander Dennis Enviro500
• MAN A22 (Euro V)
• Mercedes-Benz Citaro
• Volvo B9TL (Wright)
• Yutong E12
• Yutong E12DD
|To Be Confirmed|
|Commencement Date||30 May 2021||5 September 2021|
Takeover of new Mandai Bus Depot
Tower Transit will be the first operator to set up shop in the new Mandai Bus Depot, which was completed in 2019. The new depot, with a capacity of at least 550 buses, would be handed over to Tower Transit for outfitting in October 2020.
As part of the awarded contract, several bus services might see dual-depot arrangements (buses deployed from both Mandai & Bulim Bus Depots) to save costs on dead mileage.
SBS Transit also practices this for cost savings as part of their bid for the Bukit Merah Bus Package, where several long-distance bus services have buses launched from other bus depots under its negotiated contracts. In addition, some buses not part of the Bukit Merah Bus Package are garaged and launched from Ulu Pandan Bus Depot.SBS Transit Bukit Merah Bus Package arrangements (Click to expand)
Bukit Merah Bus Package services – Ulu Pandan Depot (Full Control):
• 95, 120, 121, 122, 123/123M, 131M, 160/160M, 170/170X, 195, 201, 272, 273, 400
Bukit Merah Bus Package services – Ulu Pandan Depot (Partial Control):
• 5, 16/16M, 93 (shared with Bedok North Bus Depot)
• 57, 131, 145 (shared with Ang Mo Kio Bus Depot)
• 198 (shared with Soon Lee Bus Park)
Takeover of Bus Interchanges
Following the loss of its bus operations in the Yishun and Sembawang region, both Yishun and Sembawang Interchanges will no longer be served by any SMRT bus route. Both bus interchanges will continue to host SBS Transit bus routes, in the form of twelve Seletar Bus Package services and Bus Service 117 respectively.
Under tender requirements, Tower Transit will operate and maintain these facilities, including all equipment and systems provided therein, as well as provide bus service information at these locations. In particular, it remains to be seen if the Land Transport Authority will modernize the largely ageing/temporary staff facilities at Lorong 1 Geylang.
Transitioning of Bus Services
Drawing from the experience with the first two packages which involve operator changes, the LTA will transition services in the Sembawang-Yishun bus package in multiple tranches starting from 5 September 2021. With a smaller number of bus services and vehicles in each tranche, the bus operator will be able to better address any teething issues during the transition period.
For comparison, the initial term for the Bulim Bus Package was transitioned over three tranches, and Loyang Bus Package over two tranches.
Reclassification of City Direct services
An updated list of bus services under both Bulim and Sembawang–Yishun Bus Packages released by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in their press release confirms the formal allocation of City Direct bus services to Public Transport Operator (PTO) control under the Bus Contracting Model. These services were initially operated by private bus operators to augment the resources of PTOs under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), and were gradually handed over to PTOs after their Private Bus Operator (PBO) contracts expire.
Bulim Bus Package:
- City Direct 653: Hume Avenue / Hillview Avenue ⇄ Marina Boulevard / Central Boulevard
- City Direct 657: Jurong West Avenue 1 ⇄ Marina Boulevard / Central Boulevard
Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package:
- City Direct 656: Canberra Road ⇄ Shenton Way / Anson Road
- City Direct 663: Yishun Avenue 6 ⇄ Shenton Way / Anson Road
Reorganised Night Bus network
The inclusion of bus services N1 and N2 within the Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package bus service list hints at a likely reorganization of the Night Bus network in Singapore. Back in 2016, both NightRider NR1 & NR2 were part of the bus services announced under the Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package, operated by SMRT under a negotiated contract.
To facilitate driver training, Tower Transit is expected to lease some of these new bus models in the months leading up to the transition date in September 2021. This was also the case for previous bus packages.
Bus Service 825 operates a full fleet of electric BYD C6 midibuses. As of October 2020, SMRT Buses operates 4 of these buses solely for Bus Service 825, leased from BYD (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.
To facilitate charging for the BYD C6 buses, charging stations were installed at Ang Mo Kio Bus Depot, where these buses are garaged. Similar charging stations might be installed at Mandai Bus Depot in order to consolidate bus operations at Mandai; otherwise, Tower Transit might have to seek alternative arrangements involving off-site charging of these buses.
To meet LTA requirements for high-capacity buses, MAN A24 articulated buses are deployed on Bus Service 858 owing to height restrictions within the basements of Changi Airport Terminals 1, 2 & 3. Among all bus services within the Sembawang-Yishun Bus Package, only Bus Service 858 mandates the use of articulated buses, making Tower Transit rather likely to absorb these buses.
Most (17) of the 25 Volvo B5LH buses currently leased to SMRT Buses are deployed on Service 859 / 859 / 859B which are part of the Sembawang-Yishun Bus Package. These buses are likely to remain and be handed over to Tower Transit as well.
Following the handover of Bus Service 944 to Tower Transit under the renewed Bulim Bus Package (taking effect in May 2021), it remains to be seen if SMRT’s Yutong E12 buses (currently deployed to Service 944) will be transferred to Tower Transit. The charging stations for these buses are located at Bulim Bus Depot. As of this article’s publication, SMRT’s Yutong E12DD buses have also yet to enter service.
Bus Operations at AMDEP
Bus operations at SMRT’s Ang Mo Kio Bus Depot (AMDEP) will be significantly scaled-down after the transition to the Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package. Nearly all bus services are being transferred to Tower Transit—except Bus Service 110, City Direct 652 and City Direct 670 which are being operated under a negotiated contract basis. However, AMDEP is unlikely to close down in the near future, as SMRT Automotive Services’ maintenance facility (which services SMRT Taxis among other vehicles) is also located at the depot.
In addition, the fate of Yishun Temporary Bus Interchange remains unknown. The facility is used for the overnight parking of Ang Mo Kio Depot buses—no longer required after a shift to Mandai Depot.
Similarly, Seletar Bus Depot is also used for the overnight parking of SMRT Ang Mo Kio Depot buses.
Depot Open House
As with previous years, it is expected that an open house event will be hosted at Mandai Bus Depot in the months before September 2021. However, amid COVID-19 restrictions preventing large-scale events, it remains to be seen if such an event will still be hosted.
Previously hosted depot open house events are:
- Bulim Bus Depot: A Bulim Carnival Day
- Loyang Bus Depot: Go-Ahead Singapore Bus Carnival
- Seletar Bus Depot: Seletar Bus Depot Carnival
- Ulu Pandan Bus Depot: Ulu Pandan Bus Depot Carnival
Other initiatives by Tower Transit include:
- Increasing paternity leave for its male employees to three weeks
- Installation of 360° camera systems in all its buses to help its Bus Captains stay safe on the roads
- Programmes to promote inclusivity at the Jurong East Bus Interchange
- Training all frontline staff in selected modules of the Level 1 WSQ Certificate in Service Excellence
Of particular interest is the expected installation of Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) onboard all its buses. While newer buses have ADAS systems fitted as standard, individual bus operators have also retrofitted such systems to older buses; in particular, SBS Transit equipped all its buses with the Mobileye collision alert system at considerable cost.
The exact model of 360° camera system planned for installation remains unknown. However, one such 360° camera system (Surround View Camera System) was previously trialled on the 3-door MAN Lion’s City SD (SG4002G) and SBS3337K (Tower Transit Volvo B9TL).