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Welcome aboard! November 1, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Site News.
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Hello! You have just hopped on to the Singapore Bus Page, my platform for news and comment on topics concerning my areas of interest – buses and other modes of public transport in Singapore.

In addition to regular updates on the latest happenings in the local public transport scene, I will be putting up occasional reviews on buses plying the roads of Singapore, including my rides on the many express buses shuttling between Singapore and various destinations in Malaysia.

From time to time, I will also be sharing my experiences onboard flights by various carriers in the region. Indeed, my interest in aviation and land transport complement each other well in my overseas travels!

I hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as I had penning them down. Any comments, including your personal experiences would be most welcomed!

See you again soon!

Hafiz BAM

UPDATE: New bus service AC7 from Yishun to JB December 17, 2010

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Following the bus service’s no-show on Wednesday and Thursday which left many confused, Advance Coach has clarified that it could not start operating from Wednesday 15th December as it did not receive approval from the Malaysian authorities earlier in the week as expected. However, the company has since received the relevant approvals and would commence service AC7 from today, Friday 17th December 2010.

They added that bus service AC7 will stop at ALL bus stops along the route, including the pair of bus stops outside Republic Polytechnic along Woodlands Avenue 9. Frequency is at 20 to 30 minutes. As with other cross-border bus services, the bus will wait at the post-immigration clearance bus bays for a reasonable amount of time before proceeding on to Kotaraya or Yishun. For further details, refer to the previous post and newspaper article below:

– Service AC7 will run every half hour from Yishun Interchange to Kotaraya Terminal

by Teo Wan Gek

A new bus service from Yishun to Johor Bahru starts today.

It is the third new cross-border bus route to be introduced this year, as part of a bilateral agreement to increase transit links announced in May.

The new service AC7, from Yishun bus interchange to Kotaraya Terminal in Johor Baru, will benefit Malaysian students and workers who travel daily to Singapore, and Singaporeans on daytrips to JB.

Premier bus operator Advance Coach obtained a permit to run the service from the Malaysian authorities on Wednesday.

Its managing director Neo Tiam Beng, 42, is glad for a chance to diversify his business beyond ferrying schoolchildren and workers within Singapore.

“Thankfully the two prime ministers are on good terms. If not, I would not have this business opportunity,” Mr Neo said.

He has invested some S$2 million in the venture and bought 10 new 44-seater buses.

The service will run every half hour from 5.45am tp 11.30pm. The entire journey takes 70 minutes and costs S$2.

When prime ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Razak met here in May, they agreed to increase the number of cross-border bus services with the addition of eight new routes, four from Singapore and four from Malaysia.

These routes are to connect Pasar Bakti (Kotaraya II) and Larkin in Johor to the Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) integrated resorts, Boon Lay, Yishun, Newton and Changi Airport.

Two of the Singapore services started in September and run from RWS and Changi Airport to Johor Baru.

Express coach operator Transtar Group provides these two services but has yet to break even. Its 22-seater buses are at 40 per cent occupancy.

Transtar executive director Sebastian Yao, 54, said: “The company has been bleeding for three months but occupancy is growing. Maybe in six months or a year, it will hit 75 per cent. I may consider getting a bigger fleet of buses then.”

None of the Malaysian services has begun operating yet.

Mr Yap believes that the Malaysian bus companies will jump in only after their Singapore counterparts build up demand for these new services.

“If it were me, I would do that too,” he said.

To further improve connectivity between the two countries, the two prime ministers had earlier agreed at the retreat to build a rapid transit link between Tanjung Puteri in Johor and Singapore by 2018.

SMRT has been operating service 950 from Woodlands Regional Interchange to Kotaraya Terminal since 2004.

SMRT Buses vice-president Kang Huey Ling welcomed the new service linking Yishun and JB. “We believe the new cross-border service would encourage more travel between the two countries, and this would be beneficial to all companies in the long run,” she said.

Yishun Ring Road resident Edwin Lim, 44, a taxi driver, said he would use the new service AC7. Previously he took a train to Woodlands and transferred to a bus.

He said: “It is so much more convenient and direct now. I am more likely to go to Johor Baru with the new service.”

– The Straits Times, Friday 17 December 2010, page A14.

Advance Coach launches new cross-border service AC7 to JB December 13, 2010

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Poster for service AC7

Poster for service AC7 at Yishun bus interchange. Courtesy of Muhd Faizal.

Private bus operator Advance Coach is set to launch yet another new cross-border bus service into Johor Bahru (JB), this time from Yishun bus interchange, effective Wednesday 15 December 2010.

Buses for the new service AC7 will depart every 20 minutes and will ply Yishun Avenue 2, Yishun Avenue 7, Sembawang Road (Sembawang Shopping Centre), Sembawang Way (Sembawang MRT station) and Woodlands Avenue 9 before calling at the immigration checkpoints and City Square Mall in JB.

A flat fare of S$2 is charged in Singapore. Payment by ez-link cards are accepted. In JB, passengers can opt to pay RM2 in cash, but those using their ez-link cards will still be charged S$2. At Yishun Interchange, service AC7 shares the boarding berth queue with SMRT services 171 and 812, near the passenger service counter.

Operating hours for service AC7:
From Yishun Interchange:
0545 – 2330 hours (Mon-Sat), 0600 – 2330 hours (Sun & P.H.)
From Kotaraya II Terminal:
0500 – 2350 hours (Mon-Sat), 0540 – 2350 hours (Sun & P.H.)

The launch of service AC7 marks the entry of Advance Coach as the latest player in the regular public bus service sector. It follows the earlier introduction of Transtar’s cross-border services TS1 and TS8 from Changi Airport and Resorts World Sentosa respectively.

SMRT launches second bus service duplicating MRT line November 5, 2010

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TIB469P on Express service 868 along Fullerton Road.

TIB469P on SMRT Express service 868 along Fullerton Road. Photo courtesy of Muhd Faizal.

Following SBS Transit’s service 128 (Yio Chu Kang to Shenton Way), SMRT introduced the second MRT-duplicating bus service in the form of Express service 868. Similar to most Premium bus services, Express 868 runs only in a one-directional route from Bukit Gombak to Suntec City on weekday mornings.

There are currently two trips, with buses departing the bus stop outside Blk 347 along Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 at 7:30 and 7:45 AM, bypassing the Bukit Batok Polyclinic and Toh Guan Road enroute before hitting the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) to get to Robinson Road one hour later.

Loads from Bukit Batok during the first month of operation have been light, with majority of the passengers boarding from Toh Guan estate instead. With Express 868, residents of Toh Guan now have two options to get to the CBD, with SBS Transit’s Premium 543 being the other. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them have migrated over from 543 to 868, given that both head to the same destination but with 868 charging a significantly cheaper Express fare!

Buses for Express 868 come under the purview of SMRT’s Kranji Depot.

Introductory poster and press release

Free shuttle buses to Changi Airport from Sengkang and Ang Mo Kio October 5, 2010

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In a bid to attract more weekend shoppers to the airport, Changi Airport is running free shuttle buses to Sengkang and Ang Mo Kio MRT stations on weekends and public holidays. Buses will come every hour between 11.30am and 10pm. For now, the shuttles have been scheduled to run until 27 March next year. The buses used are by Woodlands Transport, the company currently running the free Budget Terminal shuttle bus to Terminal 2.

For more information on pick-up points and timings, please refer to Changi Airport’s website.

Both Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) & Marina Bay Sands (MBS) IRs cease shuttle services September 11, 2010

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Buses to heartland and downtown areas stopped abruptly after directive by CRA

By Andrea Ong, Chong Zi Liang & Grace Chua

The two Integrated Resorts (IRs) ceased their shuttle bus services to both downtown and heartland areas yesterday.

At Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), the bus services ran as usual yesterday morning but stopped abruptly in the early afternoon, after the resort received a directive from the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA).

In it, the authority directed both IRs to “cease all their shuttle bus services with immediate effect”, apart from certain destinations spelt out in the law regulating casino advertising such as the airport and hotels.

Before the directive from the authority, RWS has said on Thursday that it was stopping the eight free shuttle bus routes which pass through heartland locations from 11pm tomorrow but would continue its services to Orchard Road and within the central business district.

That decision came after the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said it was investigating the free shuttle bus services. There have been concerns that the shuttle services were making it too convenient for heartlanders to go to the IR to gamble.

RWS said yesterday’s sudden cancellation could affect up to 4,000 people a day – the expected passenger load over the long Hari Raya weekend.

RWS’ vice-president of resort operations Noel Hawkes said the resort had been working with government agencies to ease congestion at the junction of Telok Blangah Road and Sentosa Gateway by providing bus services.

When RWS put together its transportation master plan, “that has always been one of our plans to have a heartland shuttle service, so that we would bring people here by public transport and avoid people having to take cars and jam up the junction”, he said.

Both IRs had to obtain approval from the Land Transport Authority for their bus routes.

Mr Hawkes also pointed out that the shuttle services were meant for visitors to the resort and not just for gamblers.

“The resort ia a huge place, the casino accupies 5 per cent of the total gross floor area,” he said.

The buses transported about 2,500 people to the IR each day and helped provide the critical mass od people for the resort to be a “vibrant, happening place 24/7”, he added.

Over at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), the only bus service that remained in operation yesterday was the airport shuttle. The airport and certain places frequented mainly by tourists are exempt from the CRA directive. Even before the directive, MBS had suspended at midnight on Thursday its paid bus routes serving Orchard Road and Outram, and its free shuttles to certain hotels. It did so “in cooperation” with MCYS, its spokesman said.

MBS “has never offered any free shuttle bsues to housing estates in the heartland” and its buses serve international tourists, its spokesman said.

Bus operators at a loss after sudden decision

Back on Sentosa, two of the five bus operators contracted by RWS yesterday expressed shock at the sudden cessation of services. They explained that as bus routes took months to plan, they would find it difficult to redeploy their drivers and buses.

Mr Sebastian Yap, executive director of Transtar Travel, said “This is very unfair to us. It’s too harsh to have a sudden change. I’m at a loss about what to do with my fleet now.” His company invested about $2 million in the RWS shuttle operation, purchasing 13 new buses and hiring 36 Singaporean drivers.

Mr Yap said he would try to redeploy as many of the drivers as possible, but some would probably be let go.

Mr Neo Tiam Beng of Transit Network Consortium hired 25 new drivers, both foreign and local, to ply the routes. His company bought nine buses for the IR operation at $200,000 each.  He said: “This is an IR, not just a casino. If we were ferrying people just to gamble, then as a Singaporean I will stop my service. But people are taking the bus with children, so how can they be gambling?”

He added that all 25 drivers he hired would probably be retrenched.

At the RWS bus depot, where the free shuttles usually dock to pick up and drop off passengers, posters announcing a “cessation of shuttle bus services” covered the giant notice boards that had previously displayed the schedules of the now-defunct bus routes.

Signs for queueing bays for the various heartland destinations were removed.

A few confused commuters, such as 56-year-old Tan Ah Leng,were spotted wandering in the depot. He and a friend had taken the shuttle from Ang Mo Kio at noon to the IR to shop.

“They should at least have stopped the buses tomorrow so that we can still take it back. How should I go back now?” the technician asked.

Madam Serene Tan, 52, took the shuttle with her husband and daughter, to look around the IR.

“How about the old folk? They will find it hard to get home now,” she said.

RWS said it will deploy about 100 staff around Singapore to let people know that the free bus services have stopped.

The above article was published in The Straits Times on Saturday 11 September 2010 pages A1 & A6.

Ministry probes free bus rides to RWS and MBS casinos September 9, 2010

Posted by hafizbam in Miscellaneous, Private operators.
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MPs raise concerns about Sentosa IR’s heartland shuttle

By Elgin Toh, Andrea Ong & Chong Zi Liang

The Government is investigating the free bus rides offered by the two integrated resorts (IRs) here.

The probe could have an impact especially on Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), which introduced free shuttle services between the resort and 12 HDB town centres a few months ago.

The investigation, announced yesterday by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), is to establish that Singaporeans are not being encouraged to go to the IRs’ casinos.

It comes amid protests from MPs like Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who told The Straits Times earlier that the free rides encourage Singaporeans in the heartlands to gamble at the casinos. He will raise the issue in Parliament.

When contacted about Mr Liang’s concerns, the ministry said in an e-mail reply: “We are investigating the provision of free transport by the IR operators.

“The IR operators will not be allowed to target the local market or provide incentives in any form for Singaporeans to patronise the casinos.”

Its move is in line with legislation introduced in 2006 to regulate casinos. The law, among other things, forbids casino advertisements in the mass media.

The National Council on Problem Gambling also views the free shuttle services with “great concern”. Its statement said it “disapproves of any marketing and promotion effort targeting Singaporeans and permanent residents to visit the casinos.

“We will work slosely with MCYS to address any possible social impact arising from casino gambling.”

Both IRs offer free shuttle services. The Marina Bay Sands goes between the resort and Changi Airport, as well as hotels in the Marina Bay area. The RWS buses are available at two spots in the Central Business District – International Plaza and Lau Pa Sat – as well as 12 HDB town centres, including Ang Mo Kio, Jurong East, Tampines and Bedok.

Most of its bus services run from 10am to 10pm on weekdays. On weekends, the last bus leaves for RWS at 2.20am.

Yesterday, The Straits Times went on 17 trips between 10am and 9pm, taking buses between RWS and HDB town centres in Choa Chu Kang, Tiong Bahru, Bedok and Bukit Merah. Most buses were 50-seaters.

On the day trips, one in seven commuters walked straight into the casino upon getting off the bus. At night, after the Universal Studios theme park closed at 7pm, two out of five headed for the casino, which Singaporeans have to pay $100 to enter.

Most of the 30 commuters interviewed said they came to know of the free shuttle after receiving RWS mailers in their letter boxes.

Among them was a 60-year-old retiree who took the 10am bus from Choa Chu Kang. He was bringing his family of six, including two grandchildren, to the Universal Studios theme park.

“We’re going because it’s my grandson’s birthday. I’ve never been inside the casino. The $100 fee is too expensive,” he said.

Teenagers and families with children formed the majority on the buses during the day, and were usually headed for Universal Studios or the food outlets. On the night services, the buses were half-full, mainly with workers.

Clerk Jeanette Chan, 45, who visits the RWS casino six times a month, said: “The buses make it really convenient as it stops at the indoor bus bay not far from the casino.”

Previously, she had to cross a road to get public transport home. “And when it rained, I got wet,” she added.

RWS, however, said a survey it did of 2,500 users of its free shuttle shows more than 60 per cent did not go to the casino. It also said that “we do not provide special casino incentives to Singaporeans.”

Six MPs interviewed whose wards are served by the free shuttle say the concerns over gambling ae valid. However, they feel people should keep an open mind as the free bus services benefit those who want to visit the other attractions on Sentosa.

Said Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tanjong Pagar GRC): “I don’t think it’s a big deal… if people want to go, they can easily make their way to the casinos.”

Like some of the other MPs interviewed, Mr Baey said none of his constituents had approached him about problem gamblers in their families.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said the shuttle to Sentosa should stop at 7pm when Universal Studios closes.

He added: “If the aim of RWS is to draw more to patronise the casino, then that is wrong.”


No Casino Incentives
“We started our free bus shuttle service following feedback and the age-old perception that Sentosa was too far and inaccessible… As a Singapore-listed company here for the long term, Resorts World does not, and will not, promote irresponsible gambling among Singaporeans. We do not provide special casino incentives for Singaporeans.”
– A Resorts World Sentosa spokesman

Keep Out Of Heartland
“I was very disturbed when I heard about the RWS free shuttles running from HDB town centres. With such convenience, more people in the heartland will be encouraged to gamble at the casino. I hope RWS does the right thing socially – they should voluntarily stop these services. They can run them from hotels or from Orchard Road. But I don’t think they should run it into an HDB town.”
– Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa

Gamblers Will Find A Way
“If buses run through the heartland, people who are weak in their determination might be tempted to take the free bus to the casino. But we have to look at the issue from both sides. Those who really want to go to gamble will make their way there regardless of whether theres is a free bus service.”
– Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Sam Tan

What Casino? It’s A Free Ride
“I’m not going to the casino. Actually, I’m not even going to Sentosa. I’m planning to spend the say in Tampines Mall. So I’m taking the free bus from home in Choa Chu Kang to Sentosa. I’ll then hop on to the next bus from Sentosa to Tampines. It’s my way of beating the rising bus fares.”
– A 48-year-old unemployed Choa Chu Kang resident who declined to be named

Have Free Bus, Will Visit
“I might come more frequently now because of the free bus service. I’ve been to the casino at Marina Bay Sands too, but I prefer RWS… For MBS, I still have to change trains and walk a long distance from City Hall MRT. It takes a long time and it’s inconvenient for me to go home. This bus takes me very near my house.”
– Factory worker Tan Chin Hock, 68, who took the bus from Choa Chu Kang at 1pm. He left at 9pm and said he won $2,000.

The above article was published in The Straits Times on Thursday 9 September 2010 pages A1 & A6.

Personally, I feel that these concerns over the free buses leading to a rise in problem gamblers are totally invalid. As MP Baey rightly pointed out, determined gamblers can easily make their way to the casino. The buses would just be facilitating his travel. The ST survey as well as RWS’ own survey shows that the majority of the bus commuters are not utilising the shuttle to get to the casino. Do we then penalise the majority?

What irked me most though is the short-sightedness displayed by the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports Mr Seah Kian Peng in suggesting the shuttle stops operating at 7pm once the theme park closes for the day. Perhaps he should do a little more research and learn that the theme park technically remains open till late to allow those who want to dine at its restaurants to do so –  minus the heat of the day.

The government cannot expect to have the best of both worlds. They chose to site a casino on the same premises as the theme park, each with their own totally different target groups of visitors. Isn’t that in itself a subtle way of enticing the unintended groups to gamble their lives away? For the benefit of everyone, keep the free shuttle bsues.