Last Saturday (8 Aug), newly appointed Senior Minister of State (SMS) for Transport Chee Hong Tat and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) team held a meeting with the Bukit Panjang Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as Bukit Panjang residents to discuss “possible mitigation measures” regarding the recent changes made to bus services 171, 700, and 972.
This came after Bukit Panjang residents voiced their displeasure towards the sudden changes to the bus services in the area.
This meeting was brought to public attention after Mr Chee and the LTA broadcast on their Facebook pages on Saturday.
Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Chee said that they had a “useful discussion on the possible mitigation measures” during the meeting with the grassroot advisors Liang Eng Hwa as well as Edward Chia Bing Hui and some Bukit Panjang residents – all of whom shared their views on the changes to the bus services.
As a result of the discussion, he highlighted some concerns from the residents, noting that the impact of the route amendment on travelling time is the main concern for bus service 972.
“At the same time, Advisers and residents acknowledged that there is also a need to cater to the commuting requirements of other residents staying in Bukit Timah and Dunearn Road,” he added.
As for bus service 700 in particular, Mr Chee pointed out that while residents along Petir Road can take bus service 973 to Hillview MRT station and transfer to Downtown Line (DTL) “with the same fares and similar total travelling time”, there are a handful of residents who still prefer to have a direct bus service from Petir Road to town, especially during peak hours.
Expressing his understanding of these concerns, the SMS assured that his team will “do their best to find possible solutions”.
He went on to say that the Ministry of Transport and the LTA will “work with the Advisers over this long weekend on the mitigation measures”.
“We will assess the options based on their effectiveness in addressing the above concerns, as well as their financial impact to ensure that public funds are used prudently to benefit as many commuters as possible,” Mr Chee wrote, adding that the update on the mitigation measures will be provided this week.
At the same time, the LTA stated on its Facebook page that it will be reviewing the options raised to propose mitigation measures which will “strike a balance between prudent use of public funds and maximising the benefits for as many commuters as possible”.
It was announced by SMRT earlier that 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 from 16 August onwards.
The route of service 972 will also be amended to serve Bukit Timah/Dunearn Road, Newton MRT, and Scotts Road.
Given the arising public concern on this matter, the LTA reasoned that this bus service adjustments were necessary due to a sharp drop in bus ridership as well as a need to exercise prudence in the use of public funds.
Mr Chee on Friday (7 Aug) also reiterated the reasons given by the LTA, citing the significant drop in ridership on buses running parallel to DTL since the start of its operation in December 2015.
“This is not surprising as the MRT system is designed to carry much larger numbers of commuters than buses, especially for longer journeys across the island,” he explained.
Given that LTA cited “prudence in spending public funds” as the key reason for changes, Mr Chee also highlighted that DTL operations nowadays is subsidised by the Government with public funds, which is about S$60 million a year. This applies to the stretch between Bukit Panjang and the city.
He continued, “Meanwhile, lower ridership on the buses meant Government also have to provide higher amounts of subsidies to continue operating these services. Before COVID-19 started, $14 million of subsidies are needed every year to keep S171 and S700 running.
“So the recent changes announced by LTA is to exercise financial prudence in the use of public funds. We need to optimise the allocation of limited resources to benefit as many commuters as possible living in different parts of #Singapore.”