Published: 10 October 2020. Last update: 23 Sep 2021.
Having secured the Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package along with a further extension of the Bulim Bus Package in a combined bid, the months leading up to September 2021 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 months leading up to both transition dates.
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 (Contract PT217A)||Sembawang–Yishun Bus Package (Contract PT217B)|
|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, 651, 653, 657, 941, 944, 945, 947 & 990
(663 from May – September 2021)
|167, 169, 171, 656, 663, 670, 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)
• MAN A95 (Euro 6) – 3-Door
• Mercedes-Benz Citaro
• Volvo B9TL (Wright)
• Yutong E12
• Yutong E12DD
|• Alexander Dennis Enviro500
• MAN A22
• MAN A24
• MAN A95
• Mercedes-Benz OC500LE
• Volvo B5LH
• BYD C6
|Commencement Date||29 May 2021||5 September 2021|
Note: The actual commencement date for Bulim Bus Package was changed to 29 May 2021 with the takeover of Bus Service 944 by Tower Transit on that day. The press release by SeaLink Travel Group Limited, which wholly owns Tower Transit Singapore Pte Ltd, stated it was on 30 May 2021 back in September 2020.
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, was handed over to Tower Transit for outfitting in October 2020.
As part of the awarded contract, Tower Transit has the option of implementing dual-depot arrangements for certain bus services (i.e. have buses deployed from both Mandai & Bulim Bus Depots) to save costs on dead mileage. However, this was not implemented in acutal operations from September 2021.
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 / Tower Transit 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.
Operator Changes for Bulim Bus Package:
- Service 944 – Operated by Tower Transit from 29 May 2021
- Services 653 & 657 – Operated by Tower Transit from 31 May 2021
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
In August 2021, the announced bus services to be operated by Tower Transit under the Sembawang-Yishun Bus Package included City Direct 670, which was not mentioned earlier.
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.
The awarding of the Sembawang-Yishun Bus Package would see several bus models being operated by Tower Transit Singapore for the first time, such as the Volvo B5LH hybrid bus, MAN A24 articulated bus, MAN A95 (Euro 6) double-deck bus, and the MAN A22 (Euro 6) single-deck bus.
To facilitate driver training, Tower Transit took in several buses in March 2021. The bus models are:
- MAN A95 (Euro 6)
- MAN A22 (Euro 6)
- MAN A24
- Mercedes-Benz OC500LE
- Volvo B5LH
Owing to height restrictions within the basements of Changi Airport Terminals 1, 2 & 3, MAN A24 articulated buses are deployed on Bus Service 858 to meet LTA requirements for high-capacity buses. 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.
The first MAN A24 (SMB8015R) was leased to Tower Transit in March 2021 for staff training and familiarisation. This would be the first articulated bus operated by Tower Transit in Singapore.
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 allocated to Service 859 and its variants, making it likely for Tower Transit to absorb these buses.
The first Volvo B5LH (SG3016Z) was leased to Tower Transit in March 2021 for staff training and familiarisation.
In March 2021, it emerged that Tower Transit would be taking over some Mercedes-Benz OC500LE buses from SMRT’s fleet, with the first unit (SMB9L) transferred to Tower Transit for staff training and familiarization. These OC500LE buses were registered between 2008-2009 and had already undergone mid-life refurbishment, thus granting them just 4-5 years left of their 17-year statutory lifespan.
Previously, in early 2021, SMRT sought Expressions of Interest for the Sales of Mercedes OC500 Buses and Citaro Buses, raising the possibility that the operator sought to dispose of its excess buses early. As detailed in our article, following the loss of the Sembawang-Yishun Bus Package and assuming only Government-owned buses are transferred to Tower Transit, SMRT Buses would have been left with an excess of roughly 190 single deck buses come late 2021.
The total number of buses to be transferred remains unknown at this point in time.
To facilitate charging for the BYD C6 buses, charging stations were installed at Ang Mo Kio Bus Depot, where these buses are garaged. Should Tower Transit choose to take in these buses, charging stations might be installed at Mandai Bus Depot in order to consolidate bus operations at Mandai; otherwise, Tower Transit would have to seek alternative arrangements involving off-site charging of these buses.
In September 2021, the operator logo on these buses were removed.
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 on 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 commercial 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 was initially expected that an open house event will be hosted at Mandai Bus Depot in the months before September 2021. However, amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, no depot open house will be held this time.
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 progressively retrofitted such systems to older buses.
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).