Tan Kin Lian / Senior Writer

The Ministry of Transport is introducing a new fare system for public transport that is based on distance rather than the number of transfers. This will reduce one obstacle in the use of public transport, namely the high cost when several transfers are involved.

I hope that the change in system does not cost a large sum of money, as this will eventually be borne by the commuters through higher fares.

A simpler way is to increase the current rebate on transfers. This does not require a massive change to the fare computation system that needs to be installed on all the buses and train stations.

Feeder service

For a long time, commuters have complained about the long waiting time and the long traveling time to get a feeder bus to the train station.

Actually, feeder services are operated in only a few towns in Singapore. A large bus is used to operate this service. It has to take a winding route covering many streets in the town, to pick up sufficient passengers to collect enough fares to pay the operating expenses – leading to long traveling time.

For most parts of Singapore, there is no feeder service. The commuter has to take a bus service that happens to pass through the train station and the destination. This is usually a service that is intended to serve a larger part of Singapore. As this is a specialized service, it has a long waiting time of 7 to 15 minutes, depending on the time of day. If the bus does not keep to the schedule, the waiting time is longer.

If the bus is crowded, the commuter has to wait for the next bus, adding to the waiting time.

Mini-buses

A better system is to use mini-buses that serve an area of 1 or 2 km around a train station and bus interchange. There can be several services to serve different parts of this area, to reduce the traveling time. As the capacity of the mini-bus is small, there is no need for the mini-bus to make many stops to pick up sufficient passengers. This will reduce the traveling time.

With more mini-buses serving the commuters, the waiting time will also be reduced considerably. An accepted waiting time for a feeder service should be 3 to 5 minutes.

Many Singaporeans long for the old days, when “pirate taxis” offer a convenient low cost service in the rural parts of Singapore. These vehicles pick up and drop passengers anyway along a designated route. It is our “old day” version of the feeder service that I am now proposing.

Hong Kong

This service has been successfully operated in Hong Kong and other cities. A Singaporean friend sent this e-mail to me.

Hi Uncle Tan. I have just read your article on improving the Singapore transport system. I have been living in Hong Kong for almost 4 years and noticed that a few of your recommendations are actually live examples here, for e.g. the minibuses, trams and express buses….

I must say that the Hong Kong transport system is very good. Of the two offices I used to work in, scheduled buses brought me to work with door-to-door convenience… minibuses gave me short traveling time at a fraction of what a taxi ride would cost.

And the express buses are great…. not to mention the cheap trams (at less than SG 40 cents) which give you the ease of hoping on and off along the main arteries in Central….

And there is one more thing that I should add… something that was not in your article…. condominiums here have their own shuttle bus services… they are affordable and provide express transport for residents who live further away from the main centre of activity such as Central.

My baby is one year old and I decided to move to Lantau for its open spaces and greenery… the distance is long… (i am almost at the HK airport) …but the shuttle bus brings me to work within 45 minutes … when i was living in Mid-levels… it was even better… no more than 30 minutes… and if its winter… i could even use the escalator…which is free!

Express bus

I wish now to talk about the express bus service that I have proposed. An express service makes only a few stops along the journey. This will reduce the traveling time considerably. The express bus does not have to make many stops to pick up individual passengers, as this function can be left to the feeder service.

When I was in New York twenty years ago, I learned that there are express trains that stop every 3 to 5 stations and local trains that stop at every station. This reduces the traveling time for people taking the express train. A commuter can take the express train for most of the journey and switch to a local train for the final leg. As the transfer is made on the same platform, it is quite convenient for the commuters.

Some of the express bus services can operate on the same routes as the train to offer an alternative to the commuters. This will increase competition and spur the train operator to improve its customer service, such as providing more frequent trains and avoid over-crowding. They can serve as a backup to the train service in the event of a breakdown or accident involving the train.

Other express services can connect the towns directly and offer a shorter traveling distance for the commuters.

Transfers

It is important that the transfer should be made at the same platform or involves a short walking distance. The feeder bus should bring commuters directly to the train station or to the boarding point of the feeder bus.

I hope that these suggestions, which are simple and relatively inexpensive to implement, can improve the public transport in Singapore considerably.

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