Bus Services Enhancement Programme: Has it worked?

http//www.facebook.comphoto.phpfbid=453898477983965&set=pb.147670341940115.-2207520000.1348996931&theater.jpThe Bus Services Enhancement Programme is a partnership launched in 2012 between the Singapore Government and the local public bus operators (SBS Transit and SMRT) to significantly increase bus capacity and enhance bus service levels to benefit commuters (1). The scheme was first started in February 2012 with the Government’s somewhat controversial move of promising to spend S$1.1 billion over the next 10 years to fund the purchase of 550 SBS Transit and SMRT buses (2).

Recently, the new buses purchased under the BSEP launched by the Singapore government have been placed into service since Monday 17 September (3). In this article, our transport reviewer provides an evaluation on whether the programme has indeed met its objectives of “more frequent arrivals and less crowding” as promised (1).

Bus Service in focus:
Service 265 (loop service from Ang Mo Kio Depot to Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, via Ang Mo Kio Interchange) – a SBS Transit-operated route targeted for improvement under the BSEP (3).

Being a heavily-utilised feeder service (Townlink) that serves many schools and estates in Ang Mo Kio, there are many potential traffic choke spots which could cause delays in service frequency. The total journey time of approximately over an hour from the terminus is also comparable to that of a trunk service.

Being a “feeder” service, it is also subject to stricter criteria under the BSEP as prescribed by the authorities (1): 

  • The service frequency of trips should attain the rate of 95% within 10 minutes; and all remaining trips should attain a service frequency of 15 minutes during peak hours.
  • The passenger loading levels for improved bus service to be reduced to 85 per cent; from the current 95 per cent of licensed capacity.

One point worth mentioning is the fact that SBS Transit has used part of its funding from the government to purchase “award-winning, fully-low floor Mercedes Citaro buses” which aim to provide improved passenger comfort (4). One such bus purchased under this programme, SBS 6300 X has been deployed to this route during weekdays to help meet the prescribed service standards.

It has been over a fortnight since the improvements were implemented, and thus it is now time to take stock of the results and evaluate the effectiveness of this programme.

The test:

Punctuality:

SBS Transit has a five-minute arrival grace time for all its bus services. It uses the “timesheet” as well as the “Vehicle Location System” (real-time updates of the current location of the bus with respect to its schedule) to help its drivers adhere to the expected frequency.

On an evening peak-hour trip of service 265, the bus captain was kind enough to let yours truly view the timesheet and the Vehicle Location System (a “+” sign on the system screen indicates a early arrival; while a “-” sign indicates the opposite). The Vehicle Location System is a powerful tool that aids the drivers in adjusting their driving speed accordingly to meet any fluctuations in their trip.

A personal survey of the arrival timings of the bus service along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 2 (midway along the route) revealed that the majority (almost all) of the buses travelling both directions met the peak-hour frequency of 10 minutes per bus as prescribed in the online schedule; as compared to the previous situation where the buses would come at a frequency of 12-15 minutes instead.

Of course, the purportedly “good acceleration and braking” of the Mercedes bus as claimed by the bus captains did go some way to help clear those numerous traffic light junctions quickly (and meet the frequency requirement of 95% of trips achieving a 10-minute frequency during the peak period) as well.

Verdict: Target met.

Crowding:

http//www.sgbuses.comKnown as a “low-floor” bus, the aisle of the Mercedes Citaro is flush flat from the front of the bus to the back. This makes it especially friendly to elderly passengers who no longer need to climb steps to reach the back of the bus (5).
Indeed, with a fully-low floor bus being placed into service, commuters were noticeably more inclined to move towards the rear of the bus as compared with the “low-entry buses” (where there are steps after the bus exit) that currently form the bulk of the service 265 fleet; thus maximising saloon space.

Moreover, with an additional trip in the schedule, the usual heavy demand for the route along crowded sectors such as at Ang Mo Kio Interchange, as well as the bus stops along Ang Mo Kio Street 54 and Avenue 2 during the morning and evening peak were somewhat dispersed, thus relatively reducing the passenger load along the route.

Despite the improvements there were still some instances along the route during morning peak hours where commuters were forced to wait 10 minutes for the next bus due to the bus being packed to the door upon arrival at the bus stop.

Verdict: Target generally met, but with room for improvement.

Overall:

In conclusion, the BSEP has somewhat met its promised objectives of “more frequent arrivals and less crowding”; although the latter still needs some improvement. Nevertheless, I have personal confidence that as more buses ordered under the BSEP commence service in the upcoming months, they will provide the transport operators with more capacity to gradually solve the issue of overcrowding on their bus routes.

For those interested in trying out the Mercedes Citaro bus on service 265, you can try catching it at the bus stop opposite Ang Mo Kio Police Division Headquarters, near Yio Chu Kang MRT station (Bus Stop Code 55309) every weekday at approximately 0727, 0842, 1536, 1701 and 1832 hrs (according to the timesheet provided by bus captain).

References:
(1) Land Transport Authority. (2012). Bringing You More Buses, Better Rides. Available: http://www.publictransport.sg/content/publictransport/en/homepage/bus-service-enhancement-programme-bsep.html. Last accessed 30 Sep 2012.
(2) Hetty Musfirah. (2012). Govt’s move to fund bus purchases sparks public concern.Available: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1184572/1/.html. Last accessed 30 Sep 2012.
(3) Loh, D. (2012). Govt rolls out S$1.1b bus improvement plan from Monday .Available: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1225759/1/.html. Last accessed 30 Sep 2012.
(4) SBS Transit. (2012). SBS Transit to Add 1,000 More Buses At A Cost of $433m – Close to 90% of Fleet Will Be New By 2015. Available: http://www.sbstransit.com.sg/press/2012-07-09-01.aspx. Last accessed 30 Sep 2012.
(5) SBS Transit. (2010). SBS Transit Invests In Award-Winning Stepless Buses. Available: http://www.sbstransit.com.sg/press/2010-09-06-01-S.aspx. Last accessed 30 Sep 2012.

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