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More SBS Transit WAB services from December November 29, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Deployment Updates, SBS Transit.
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LATEST UPDATE:
SBS Transit has released its formal press release here.

The following eight SBS Transit bus services will be formally classified as wheelchair-accessible effective 3rd December 2009:

13: Yio Chu Kang – Bishan – Upper East Coast Road
15: Pasir Ris – Kaki Bukit – Marine Parade Road
36: Changi Airport – Marine Parade – Tomlinson Road
52: Bishan – Upper Thomson – Jurong East
54: Bishan – Thomson – New Bridge Road
57: Bishan – HarbourFront – Bukit Merah
291: Tampines – Tampines Street 83 & 33
333: Jurong East – Jurong East Street 32

The launch date has been timed to coincide with this year’s World Disability Day.

There is no formal press release by the company yet, though you can see this update here.

Eight more SBS Transit wheelchair accessible services October 18, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Deployment Updates, SBS Transit.
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Official press release from SBS Transit.

Official press release from SBS Transit.

The following SBS Transit routes will officially become wheelchair accessible bus (WAB) services from Monday 26 October 2009.

3 : Tampines – Pasir Ris – Punggol
27 : Hougang Central – Sengkang – Tampines – Changi Airport
34 : Punggol – Tampines – Changi Airport
53 : Bishan – Hougang South – Pasir Ris – Changi Airport
142 : Toa Payoh – Potong Pasir
293 : Tampines feeder service
358 : Pasir Ris feeder service
410 : Bishan – Upper Thomson Road feeder service

They join the other 22 SBS Transit services which are already WAB services:

2, 7, 12, 14, 21, 51, 64, 72, 76, 80, 123, 130, 143, 147, 174, 183, 185, 196, 198, 199, 232 and 268;

as well as 7 SMRT Buses WAB services:

171, 172, 189, 307, 811, 851 and 945.

Unlike wheelchair accessible bus routes in London where the whole bus fleet is as such once the route is converted to WAB, passengers-in-wheelchairs in Singapore still have to look out for the wheelchair logo decal to ascertain whether the bus they intend to board is meant for them.

Regular maintenance plus dual-depot controls and a relatively big fleet of non-wheelchair accessible buses still in operation can still mess up the WAB schedules from time to time, resulting in lengthened gaps between one WAB and another.

First Chinese citybus for Singapore: SMRT’s Yutong ZK6126 August 23, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Deployment Updates, Fleet News, SMRT, Something New, Transport Events.
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SMRT's Yutong citybus on service 854 turning into Yishun bus interchange. Photo courtesy of Muhd Faizal.

SMRT's Yutong citybus on service 854 turning into Yishun bus interchange. Photo courtesy of Muhd Faizal.

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a made-in-China public citybus serving the commuters of Singapore. With significant differences over the cost of each unit as compared to their European counterparts, it is difficult for bus companies to ignore the possibility of saving a few bucks from their bus purchases. In Singapore, there has been a growing number of local bus companies opting for Chinese coaches, with brand names like King Long and Yutong slowly becoming a more common sight on the roads. So the question then was, when will the first Chinese citybus be brought in?

The answer came in August this year, when Singapore’s second largest public bus company SMRT Buses, registered the country’s first made-in-China citybus, a Yutong ZK6126, on 18th August as SMB135E. As with common practice, newly registered buses usually took quite a while after formal registration to begin revenue service. However the company seemed eager to put this demonstrator bus on trial quickest possible, resulting in the the bus commencing its first official revenue service on service 854 only two days later on the 20th.

Ang Mo Kio Depot-controlled route 854 is a very busy service running between Yishun and Bedok via Yio Chu Kang Road, Hougang Avenue 3 and Jalan Eunos, and has been a long time competitor for SBS Transit’s service 25. The 854 itself has been a favourite in being the first to get a taste of new buses brought in by then TIBS, be it the ELBO Scanias or the Volgren Hino demonstrator TIB905Y.

The interior of the Yutong as seen from the entrance. Photo courtesy of Teo Wei Shen.

The interior of the Yutong as seen from the entrance. Photo courtesy of Teo Wei Shen.

Having taken many Chinese buses run by RapidKL myself, my expectations for the Yutong were never high. For instance, I had expected the bus ride to be very noisy and bumpy, and maybe a little stuffy – in line with the general public perception that all things made in China are never top-notch. But all those thoughts were banished the moment I took my seat on one of their leather seats which were wider than the usual Vogelsitzes. Almost every passenger taking a seat would produce this funny farting sound when they rubbed against it but nonetheless, the seats are more comfortable than they look. There was also rather reasonable legroom, though the whole experience can be improved if the seats were a little reclined.

The other most important aspect of a good bus ride I look after is the airconditioning. The Yutong is the first such citybus here to feature a single length series of aircon outlets which greatly helped to distribute the cool temperature across the whole bus. The idea is similar to the kind of experience you get onboard aircrafts. No more tissue paper stuffed aircon outlets! The only aircon outlets in the bus were found at the last row of seats; four on each side, but they proved disappointing. When I tried my favourite rightmost seat at the last row, only my legs were feeling cool from the more evenly distributed aircon from the front row onwards. And whatever the brand of aircon is, it sure is good. And I hope it lasts.

Interior of SMB135E as seen from the last row of four seats.

Interior of SMB135E as seen from the last row of four seats.

The other notable difference for this 29-seater bus is the last row of seats which were occupied by only four seats placed side to side, instead of the typical five, or the two-space-two arrangement in other Chinese citybuses by RapidKL. Whether the reason lies with the wider seats or accomodation for the engine whatnots I’m not too sure but if they could, they should have inserted that fifth seat.

The Cummins engine used was not too bad, powerful enough for the bus to speed and climb hills effortlessly during my ride. Suspension was surprisingly good, as I’m told the bus uses the air suspension system compared to leaf-springs commonly used for their coach counterparts here. Both doors however, were a little slow to open and close. But the rear plug door was a little irritating as it was squeaking (somebody oil the door please!) but it did not vibrate as much as other plug doors as the part of the mechanism controlling its movement was hidden underneath the wheelchair ramp. In addition to the usual SMRT “Doors closing” announcement when the doors were closing, a warning chime accompanied it as well, and this proved extremely annoying.

Illustrating the difference in electronic displays is the Yutong SMB135E on the right and the now familiar Mercedes Benz OC500LE SMB49X on the left parked at Bedok bus interchange.

Illustrating the difference in electronic displays is the Yutong SMB135E on the right and the now familiar Mercedes Benz OC500LE SMB49X on the left parked at Bedok bus interchange.

Aesthetically, the interior looks better than SBS Transit’s Scania K230UBs despite the dull brown leather seats accompanied with a few red coloured ones at the front. This could be mainly due to the green aircon strips at the sides, making up and maybe mixing well with the beige tones. The low ceiling warnings at the back was big and loud enough to attract attention. CCTV cameras have been installed, and so are EIGHT speakers throughout the length of the bus, whatever for I have not a single hint, since the recorded SMRT announcements do not seem to be any louder. Of the two ez-link card readers at the exit, the one on the left hand side was place a little too high, not good for short people like myself 😛

On the exterior, the greatest disappointment were the very small electronic displays, even though it was good enough SMRT did not opt for the typical calculator digits displays used by many mainland Chinese bus companies. Of something to note is that it is the first SMRT bus to have destination display at the offside, something which has been practised by SBS Transit for ages, but is the first bus in Singapore to have a number cum destination display at the rear as well. I’m quite pleased with the bodywork, especially the rear design and having glass windows all the way up at the sides (like the Mercedes Benz Citaros), but not too impressed with the front though, as something more creative could have been done to the area below the windscreen.

Offside view of the Yutong picking up passengers at Yishun bus interchange. Photo courtesy of Muhd Faizal.

Offside view of the Yutong picking up passengers at Yishun bus interchange. Photo courtesy of Muhd Faizal.

In conclusion, I am rather surprised with myself that I kinda like SMB135E. It is definitely far from the typical stereotypes of substandards for made-in-China buses even I had despite the areas that can be improved upon. And if SMRT thinks the same way as me, do not be surprised if this Mercedes Benz loyal customer switches to Yutong and probably other Chinese manufacturers for future fleet renewals.

I hereby give this bus a 4 out of 5 stars rating. At least for now.

For other reviews on this bus, do visit:

http://offservice.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/smrt-yutong-2/
http://thecoloursofmyworld.blogspot.com/2009/08/review-smrts-yutong-zk6126hgc.html
http://minibusgrp.com/?p=566
http://tws4793.t35.com/buses/p_sin_smrt/yutong_zk6126.html

Bedok revisited: a decade of bus-related changes June 24, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Deployment Updates, Miscellaneous, Random Shots, SBS Transit, SMRT.
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About a decade ago when I was still calling Bedok home, its feeder buses were operated with the non-airconditioned Alexander-bodied Scania N113CRBs well-known for their quiet engines. Green and white plated service 221 had Leyland Atlanteans. Services 7 and 14 which can get me to the Orchard Road shopping belt had just received their double-decks, be it the non-airconditioned two-axle Volvo Olympians or the first airconditioned double deckers in Singapore in the shape of Leyland Olympians or better known as the “SuperBus” to many.

Of course, SBS Transit was still known as Singapore Bus Services then, and TIBS operated its yellow and orange buses on service 854, with subsidiary Singapore Shuttle Bus running its orange Nissans and Hispano-bodied DAFs on the 608.

A Volvo B10M Mk 3 with Duple Metsec bodywork running service 225 (white plate). Behind it is the old Princess theatre which has just recently ceased operations, and very likely to be demolished.

A Volvo B10M Mk 3 with Duple Metsec bodywork running service 225 (white plate). Behind it is the old Princess theatre which has just recently ceased operations, and is very likely to be demolished.

Fast forward to today and the changes can never be more stark.

Singapore’s last non-airconditioned single deck public buses – the N113CRBs – have been scrapped. Taking their place are the new Scania K230UBs. Not only are they airconditioned, they are the first wheelchair-accessible single deck public buses in Singapore. And there are now 900 of them roaming the entire island. Needless to say, all the feeder bus services in Bedok have been converted into fully airconditioned services. Impressively, routes 222 and 225 even gained double decks!

Gone too are the non-airconditioned double-decks; not only have they been replaced by airconditioned counterparts, some services like the 7 and 14 even received the country’s first wheelchair-accessible double-decks in the form of Volvo B9TLs fitted with our very own ComfortDelGro Engineering bodywork. And they are rather stylish to boot.

Above all else, the dull red stripes of SBS have given way to a much more inspiring and colourful livery consisting of the purple and orange shaping the new multi-modal SBS Transit. The same cannot be said for SMRT Buses though. The bright and sunny yellow and orange have sadly succumbed to the dull corporate lines of the train company that bought it over (whether or not the takeover was appropriate is still under debate till today!).

Volvo Olympian double deck buses have been deployed on both services 225 (green plate) and 225 (white plate).

Volvo Olympian double deck buses have been deployed on both services 225 (green plate) and 225 (white plate), both of which used to be run with a full fleet of single decks.

TIBS has evolved into SMRT Buses, and it has made its increasing presence in the east felt, after gaining route 67 and the chartered free shuttle service to the IKEA home furnishings store in Tampines. It no longer utilises the parallel end-on parking berths in the interchange but instead, takes up one of the sawtooth berths to accomodate the long bendy buses. CSS 608 has long been withdrawn following the company’s policy of divesting itself off unprofitable routes – resulting in the demise of the Singapore Shuttle Bus company at the same time.

Gone too are some routes like the 34, 219 (renumbered to current 229), 226 (merged with 385 to form 60), 227 (merged with 17) as well as the old 229 and 221 which merged to become Bedok’s only Townlink feeder bus route 222. Others which survived relatively untouched till today saw changes in terms of frequency and deployment of buses. My former feeder bus service – the 225 – for instance, no longer see Scania N113CRBs but in their place are Volvo B10Ms and even Volvo Olympian double decks!

However, Bedok did not only see redundancies being cut. Additions and alterations also took place every now and then. The bus interchange itself was minimally spruced up to increase the level of comfort for commuters utilising what is arguably the oldest bus interchage in Singapore still standing strong. More passing through bus routes such as the 45 and 59 surfaced, even while others like Express 506 got extended to Upper East Coast.

Bedok (together with Tampines) also witnessed the introduction of SBS’ first bus service to serve Woodlands town proper and terminate at Woodlands Regional Bus Interchange. This was the 168 and it helped shorten travel time between the north and east drastically by taking advantage of the northern express route (SLE and TPE).

Former services 221 and 219 were merged to become TownLink service 222, which has progressed to gain some Volgren-bodied Volvo B10TL Super Olympians, seen here parked at Bedok Interchange wearing a full-body advertisement by NEA on dengue fever prevention measures.

Former services 221 and 219 were merged to become TownLink service 222, which has progressed to gain some Volgren-bodied Volvo B10TL Super Olympians; one of which is seen here parked at Bedok Interchange wearing a full-body advertisement by NEA on dengue fever prevention measures.

With the LTA taking over the role as master planner and plans for one of those integrated airconditioned developments planned for Bedok, I am definitely ready to marvel at the changes coming the way of this old HDB town in the coming decade. Hopefully, some landmarks will be retained not only for the sake of nostalgia, but for the very laid-back character of Bedok. After all, would you really want to see the same old boring shopping centre and condominium development at every train station?