Home big read The Big Read: The romance and practical appeal of bus rides, and the special place they hold in Singaporeans' hearts

The Big Read: The romance and practical appeal of bus rides, and the special place they hold in Singaporeans' hearts

The Big Read: The romance and practical appeal of bus rides, and the special place they hold in Singaporeans' hearts
Last month, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) reversed its decision to withdraw bus service 167, following an outcry from commutersThe incident reflects the continuing appeal of buses despite the proliferation of MRT lines and an expanding rail network  Bus commuters and enthusiasts said they are drawn to buses for a variety of reasons — from the direct connectivity and convenience they provide, to an appreciation for different bus modelsLTA said the rationalisation of bus services would be “an inevitable process” as Singapore develops its land transport systemWhile rationalisation is unavoidable, how changes to bus services are implemented and conveyed to the public are key to how they are received, said transport analysts, MPs and commuters

By Deborah Lau Published December 8, 2023 Updated December 9, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE — For 24-year-old Glenc Soh, travelling by bus is much more than just a way to get to his destination. It is also his passion.

He had developed a profound love for buses as a child, as his parents would often take him out on bus rides from Ang Mo Kio, where they live.

“My parents often took me to Toa Payoh on (bus) service 88 and Chinatown on service CT8. I love taking the double-decker buses on service 88 and would often choose the front seat on the upper deck, probably because of how nice the view was from up there.”

Years later, buses continue to play a big role in Mr Soh’s life, and he has even turned his passion into his livelihood.

The private bus driver told TODAY: “If I have the time to spare, I would definitely choose the bus (over travelling by MRT) as there would be a high chance for me to be able to get a seat and enjoy the passing scenery. It is also more relaxing than a train ride.”

Mr Soh belongs to a community of bus spotters, transport enthusiasts passionate about spotting models of buses on the roads.

In its annual report for 2021/2022, LTA noted that bus rationalisation is “an inevitable process” as the country grows its land transport system. According to the authority’s website, there are currently more than 300 bus services plying the island.

In the case of bus service 167, LTA said that it had seen more commuters shifting their travel to the MRT since the third stage of the Thomson-East Coast Line opened in November 2022. This meant ridership for parallel bus services, like bus service 167, “dropped significantly” and there was a need to reduce duplication and “reallocate finite bus resources”.

In 2020, changes were also made to some bus services plying Bukit Panjang, as ridership for these bus routes — which ran parallel to the Downtown Line — dropped sharply since the opening of the MRT line’s second phase in December 2015.

And it is likely that more bus services will be rationalised over time, given the Government’s plan to ensure eight in 10 households will be within a 10-minute walk of a train station by 2030.

Transport analysts told TODAY that the opening of new MRT lines could lead to a shift in commuters’ travel and usage patterns — with some riders opting to shift their commute from bus to MRT. 

Some degree of rationalisation would hence be necessary to prevent duplication and to not waste resources, they added.

Yet, while the public may understand that this needs to be done, Members of Parliament (MPs) and bus commuters interviewed by TODAY said that the impact and inconvenience of such rationalisation ought to be minimised.

This could be done through a gradual phasing out of the bus service as opposed to a complete withdrawal following a notice period, or having the authorities consult affected commuters on the proposed changes, prior to finalising and implementing them, they added.


Singapore adopts a hub-and-spoke model for its public transport network, relying on buses or Light Rapid Transit to serve as feeder services, bringing commuters to MRT stations or bus interchanges.

Under this model, the rail network would remain as the “backbone” of the country’s public transport system, given its higher speed and capacity.

There are no official statistics on the number of bus services that have been rationalised.

According to the Land Transport Guru blog, which was set up by self-professed “transport enthusiasts”, more than 30 bus services were rationalised between 2019 and this year. This includes the withdrawal of night and leisure bus services, and changes to the operating hours of express bus services like 12e, 851e, and 960e. 

Responding to TODAY’s queries, an LTA spokesperson did not provide figures but said that the authority “periodically reviews and makes adjustments” to Singapore’s bus network in response to “new developments and changing travel patterns”.


Commuters who regularly travel by buses told TODAY that a main draw for them is the convenience of the direct connectivity that buses provide to their destinations, even if it may sometimes translate to a longer travel time.

For senior citizens like Ms Rita, travelling by MRT means possibly having to walk from the train station to her destination after alighting, if it is still located a distance away. 

Additionally, travelling by MRT means she has to go through the station’s gantry before making her way to the platform, which could be rather cumbersome, she said. 

In other instances, these bus journeys not only provide point-to-point connectivity, but could even be quicker than their rail alternatives, due to the availability of express buses plying the route.

This is the case for Mr Lam, who has the option of an express bus that goes directly from his home to his workplace.

Agreeing, 26-year-old Naz Farihin said: “Usually, I would go by the most convenient way, but not many know that a 100 per cent bus (journey) can actually be the fastest way to get around, like from Sengkang to the airport via (bus service) 110 or from Woodlands to Sengkang via (bus service) 161.”

For Mr Naz, it began when he was five years old — when his father used to bring him out for “joyrides” around the island, by bus. Going on these trips amplified his love for buses, as he gained exposure to the different bus models and service routes.

This eventually led him to pursue a career in the industry — starting off as a bus captain for public buses, before progressing to the role of an operations support officer with a private bus company, that he holds today.

Mr Jemond Lee, 22, told TODAY that he became intrigued by buses as a child, after his aunt frequently took him to Chinatown from his home in Choa Chu Kang, on bus service 190.

“In those days, there were ‘bendy buses’ deployed on service 190 which was the highlight of my trip to Chinatown, as ‘bendy buses’ were very fun to ride, and … (it) felt like riding a ‘rollercoaster’ over the bumps on the road,” said Mr Lee, a private bus driver. 

‘Bendy buses’ refer to articulated buses — single-deck buses that comprise two or more sections linked by a pivoting joint.

In the process, some bus services may “inevitably offer redundancy” to the MRT system for at least part of their routes, said Associate Professor Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).

“However, the main aim of these bus services should be to connect routes poorly served by MRT, rather than to provide redundancy per se,” he said. 

Buses should not completely replicate the rail network like a parallel rail service, he added. 

To prevent duplication and the wastage of resources, some rationalisation of parallel bus routes would be inevitable when a faster MRT alternative is made available, said transport engineering consultant Gopinath Menon.

Yet, at the same time, some duplication should be “tolerated” for commuters who still prefer to travel by buses because bus stops are closer for them to get to, or if they are making short trips, he added.

In deciding which bus services should be rationalised, Mr Menon said a main factor could be the number of passengers that the service carries per day.

“It may not be desirable to get all (these) bus passengers on the MRT, which is crowded during the peak periods,” he said. 

Additionally, the availability of such duplicated popular bus routes could also prove useful in the event of an MRT breakdown. 

Ultimately, “reasonable choices should always be given in any public service” including public transport, said Mr Menon. 

For SUSS’ Assoc Prof Theseira, a guiding principle in planning the public transport network lies in balancing the cost of its operations with the service quality offered to the public.

“You want to try to provide good services to as many commuters as possible, but you eventually run into routes which are relatively expensive to operate, and which only make a small difference in service quality, for a small number of commuters,” he said. 

“These are the routes which are prioritised for service rationalisation. Now, these routes might be very, very important for those commuters. But from the system perspective, they end up costing a lot and deliver relatively little on the margin.”

In Singapore’s case, what the authorities are also gradually working towards is “redundancy in terms of the high capacity MRT system, rather than redundancy in the form of bus services that parallel the MRT lines,” said Assoc Prof Theseira.

For example, the growth in new MRT lines mean commuters in the north now have two ways of reaching town by MRT — via the North-South and Thomson-East Coast lines — and can use one if the other is down, he added.

“The reason (for building redundancy through the MRT network) is that the MRT system is far better positioned to accommodate the commuter volumes resulting from one line being disrupted, than the bus system is,” he said. 


While rationalisation is unavoidable, how changes to bus services are implemented and conveyed to the public are key to how they are received, said transport analysts, MPs and commuters.

Ideally, the authorities should announce the proposed changes to bus services and routes, and consult affected commuters, before finalising and implementing the changes based on these feedback, they told TODAY.

The LTA spokesperson said that prior to adjusting bus services, it would carry out a review to “assess the impact (of the change), and ensure alternatives remain available to commuters”. Stakeholders are also consulted on their feedback and suggestions.

After the adjustments are implemented, the authority would continue to “monitor the situation closely” and make further adjustments where necessary, the spokesperson added.

Dr Lim, the Sembawang GRC MP, noted that while LTA conducted “some public consultation” before announcing the proposed changes to bus service 167, he believes that more could have been done prior to its actual implementation.

For example, the authority could have announced the proposed changes and collected feedback from existing commuters, before finalising them.

This would give LTA a better understanding of how commuters may react, while also allowing the latter more time to provide their feedback and make the necessary adjustments, Dr Lim added.