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Transport planning is an unenviable task of balancing the needs of commuters with the efficient use of resources. While unprofitable and underutilized bus routes have been curtained in the past, the recent move to amend Services 22, 65, 66 and 506 has struck discord with residents of Ang Mo Kio, Serangoon, Bukit Batok, Bukit Timah, Bedok and Tampines, with members of the public calling for a stop to these arrangements.
As announced on 22 November 2021, Bus Services 22 and 506 would be amended to terminate at Eunos and Serangoon respectively. Bus Service 65 would be amended to cover lost sectors of Service 22 between Tampines Regional Centre and residential blocks along Tampines Avenue 4. In addition, Bus Service 66 would be shortened to Beauty World, removing its Beauty World – Bedok sector.
Prior to the opening of the Downtown Line, residents of Bedok and Tampines Towns have long relied on a combination of the East West Line, Circle Line and other major trunk bus services to travel to and from the city and residential towns in the Northern and Western regions of Singapore. As commuters have been used to having direct bus options, public reactions to these bus route cutbacks were overwhelmingly negative, as seen from reactions to the Facebook posts from SBS Transit over the route changes to Bus Services 22, 65 and 506, as well as from Tower Transit Singapore over the route change to Bus Service 66.
On the same day when the amendments were first publicised, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) published posters on their Facebook page and Instagram account regarding the planning of bus routes and why bus routes are amended from time to time, indicating an indirect hint of the rationale behind the route changes due to take place as part of the Downtown Line Stage 3 bus rationalisation.
Our take on Service 506
Reasons for retaining Service 506
Many residents of Bukit Batok and Bedok Reservoir rely on Service 506 as the most direct and fastest option between the Eastern and Western regions of Singapore. The loss of Service 506 will mean the loss of a direct bus service between the East and West. Despite charging higher fares as an Express service, most people see the higher fares as a worthwhile expense with the benefit of a direct bus link between the far ends of the island.
For Bukit Batok and Bedok Reservoir residents, alternatives offered to Service 506 involve transferring to Service 5 at Jln Toa Payoh, or Service 59 at Lor 6 Toa Payoh, or transferring to the MRT for “long haul travel”. However, the need to transfer between multiple bus routes or between bus/train is an added inconvenience to Bukit Batok and Bedok Reservoir residents. This also increases travel time to destinations in the East and West of Singapore. It should also be noted that travelling along the East West Line and Downtown Line between the eastern and western regions of Singapore requires passing through many major MRT stations the City, which increases overcrowding on both MRT lines.
Reasons for amending Service 506
1. Availability of existing public transport connections
The Eastern region of Singapore already benefits from relatively strong public transport connections. Apart from alternative rail connections via the Circle Line (which bypasses the City), several full-day bus services like Services 5, 59, 966 and 985 offer direct connections between the East and West, such as Bedok Reservoir, Toa Payoh, Bukit Panjang, Bukit Batok, Eunos and Marine Parade.
Currently, LTA’s approach to building up the public transport network revolves around the hub and spoke model, where the rail network forms the backbone of the public transport network, and feeder bus services connecting these transport nodes with residential estates. This concept allows more origin and destination pairs to be served, by transferring between different modes of public transport (bus or train) that can be maintained at high frequencies.
2. Duplicity of existing bus routes
Service 506 is fully duplicated by other bus routes along key sectors of its route, such as:
By using other trunk bus services plying the expressway to the City, destinations served by Bus Service 506 can be reached from Bedok Reservoir with 1 transfer, or from Bedok North / South with two transfers at most.
3. Ridership decline post-DTL3
After the Downtown Line (DTL) Phase 3 opened on October 2017, there was a sharp decline in ridership for bus services that run parallel to the MRT line.
The low ridership is evident from ground observations, with only small numbers of passengers taking Service 506 along the PIE express sector between Bedok Reservoir and Toa Payoh. Furthermore, most passengers do not travel beyond Bedok Reservoir, and are thus travelling along sectors duplicated by Service 25, 45 or 46. The LTA would have access to accurate ridership data through farecard information when passengers tap in and tap out on the card readers when boarding and alighting.
On the other hand, Services 5, 8 and 59 remain well patronised after the opening of the Downtown Line, and thus were not earmarked for rationalisation.
6. In line with bus rationalization efforts over the years
The rationalization of Bus Service 506 is in line with LTA’s past efforts to rationalize bus routes following the opening of new rail lines. For example, many bus services along the Serangoon Road corridor were curtailed or withdrawn following the opening of the North East Line in 2003.
However, rationalization efforts in recent years have been far less aggressive, with measures limited to reducing the number of high-capacity buses on MRT-duplicating bus routes, as was the case for the Downtown Line Stage 2 and 3.
Main Article: Rationalisation of Bus Service Operations (2019-2021)
Route amendment to Services 22 & 65
The route amendment to Service 65 is necessary to bridge lost bus connections between Tampines MRT and Tampines Ave 4 with the route amendment of Service 22.
However, the amended Service 22 heavily duplicates existing Service 61 between Ubi Ave 2 and Eunos, which already experiences low utilisation along the specific sector. As a result, the amended Service 22 is expected to suffer from similarly low demand between Eunos and Ubi. Moreover, Service 63/63M already operates at a much higher frequency, making it more favoured as a connection between Eunos and Ubi. This situation mirrors the amended route of Service 76 to Eunos via Sims Ave/Geylang Rd in 2016, which heavily duplicated the routes of Services 24, 28, 154 and 155.
One alternative is to amend Service 22 to serve Ubi Ave 3, connecting the factories along Ubi Ave 3 to Eunos MRT station. This amendment will help to alleviate the high passenger demands of Services 58 and 137, and reduce its route duplication with Services 61 and 63/63M.
Another alternative is to extend the route of Service 22 to Bedok, replacing the deleted sectors of Service 66 between Ubi Ave 2 and Bedok. However, alternative bus services such as Services 60, 87 and 228 already offer connections between Bedok Reservoir Rd and Bedok, while residents and workers along Ubi Ave 2 tend to prefer travelling to nearer MRT stations such as Ubi, MacPherson, Eunos and Paya Lebar to transfer to the MRT.
Route amendment to Service 66
The last amendment involves curtailing Service 66 from Jurong East to loop at Beauty World, removing the Beauty World – Bedok sector. This route amendment is most easily justified given its duplication of the current Downtown Line and other bus services along Dunearn Road / Bukit Timah Road, Little India, MacPherson Road / Estate, Ubi Avenue 2 and Bedok Reservoir Road. The amended Service 66 calls at Bus stop 42079 (Opp Pei Hwa Presby Pr Sch) for easy transfers to southbound bus services.
One criticism of this move is the reduction of connectivity between Beauty World, Little India, MacPherson Estate and Bedok, but these sectors are also covered by Services 65, 67, 170 and 228.
Alternative bus routes are:
This article first appeared on landtransportguru.net
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