Residents question decision to cease operations and amending bus services at Bukit Panjang

"We need to balance the needs of different groups of commuters, while taking into account the availability of alternative travel options, and the burden on taxpayers," said LTA

From 16 August onwards, the bus services 700 and 700A will cease operations while the route of service 171 will be shortened – which it will operate from Yishun bus interchange and loop around Bukit Panjang MRT station.

The route of service 972 will also be amended to serve Bukit Timah/Dunearn Road, Newton MRT, and Scotts Road.

This unexpected announcement by SMRT on Monday (3 Aug) has garnered some pushback. Residents and commuters criticised the sudden changes to the bus services without prior notice.

Given the arising public concern on this matter, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) took to its Facebook on Tuesday (4 Aug) to explain that this bus service adjustments were due to sharp drop of bus ridership as well as a need to exercise prudence in the use of public funds.

“This has been a difficult decision for us as we are facing a tough dilemma to balance both the availability of bus services vis-à-vis the justification of public monies for which we are entrusted with,” it wrote.

According to the LTA, the ridership of bus services that run parallel to the MRT line has dropped significantly since the opening of Downtown Line (DTL) Phase 2 in December 2015.

In the first year after DTL Phase 2 opened, the ridership for service 171 has dropped by over 30 per cent while the service 700 has dropped by over 50 per cent.

The LTA revealed that the services 171 and 700 have been subsidised via public funds in order to keep them going, with up to S$5 million of subsidy a year for service 700.

“If this is the only transport option in the area, we can justify the public spending. But given that DTL is available as an alternative, we need to exercise prudence in the use of public funds, and hence have to make some adjustments to the services in the area,” it stated.

The LTA went on to say that it has been consulting with grassroots advisers regularly since 2016 to “explore ways to make better use of bus resources while addressing residents’ needs”.

As a result from these consultations, Service 973 was introduced in February 2017.

Noting that they “understand the changes have led to longer travel times for some residents”, the LTA however expressed the need to “balance the needs of different groups of commuters, while taking into account the availability of alternative travel options, and the burden on taxpayers”.

“We will continue to discuss with the grassroots advisers and hear out residents to explore mitigating measures. We also seek Singaporeans’ understanding that while we do our best, it will not always be possible to provide direct bus connections,” it added.

At the same time, a petition has been created on Change.org, appealing the LTA to retract the changes to bus service 700, 700A and 972. Initiated by Lee Jun Yang, a resident at Bukit Panjang.

The petition titled, Retract plan to discontinue Service 700/700A / Amend 972 to serve Bukit Timah / Newton has garnered over 1,600 signatures at the time of writing.

Netizens express their frustration regarding the sudden changes to the bus services

Following LTA’s announcement on its Facebook page, netizens were quick to pen their thoughts under the comment section of the post, expressing their discontentment about the “abrupt announcement”.

Some netizens denounced the authorities for making such an abrupt change without considering the needs of the residents and commuters in Bukit Panjang who heavily depend on the bus to work or schools.

 

Instead of consulting with the grassroot advisers, a couple of netizens suggested that the authorities should consult the residents and commuters instead, given that they use the bus service more frequently than the grassroots advisers.

Meanwhile, one netizen said that the authorities would not change their mind once they have made their decision, despite receiving numerous feedback from the public.A handful of netizens also pointed out that the justifications of using public funds is “uncool”, adding that public transport is not meant to make a profit.

To exercise prudence in the use of public funds, a few netizens suggested that there ought to be better alternatives, such as reducing the bus frequency instead of cancelling the bus service altogether.

One netizen described the LTA’s decision as “a step back in Singapore’s vision to car-lite”, adding that their decision contradicts what the Government has been encouraging – for members of the public to use public transport.

The netizen also called for the newly appointed Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung to look into this matter and do a proper reconsideration.

Another netizen, seemingly a Bukit Panjang resident, shared a screenshot of an email that was written to the LTA and the Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, proposing some recommendations on the public transport system.

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