Normally people write this at the beginning of a blog. For me, I find it more appropriate to write it at the end.
This blog was started as a personal challenge. One of my weakness is writing and expressing my thoughts. I never did well for essay writing back in school and I often admire people who can express themselves in writing. One day, I decided to challenge myself and see if I can overcome my problem. My English grammer is not perfect, I am sure all the grammer Nazis out there will find lots of mistakes to condemn me to the gas chambers.
To start a blog, I had two problems.
First was the frequency. How often? Once a week, once a month, once in a blue moon? For a start, I chose once a week and see if I can stick to it. With the exception of a few times when I was overseas, I managed to stick to the frequency. It takes a lot of discipline to churn out something week after week.
Second was the topic. What to write. Answer is simple. It can be anything under the sun. But I chose something related to my hobby, about transport and Bigbus Weblog started.
I did not announce to the world or tell any of my friends about this blog. I let internet do the job. With zillions of blogs out there, I like to see how many visitors came to visit this blog as time went by. At first, one or two, then tens, then hundreds. Now the average is 1000 plus per month. Not bad considering that there was no “advertisements” done by me. It also demonstrate the power of internet search engines. A lot of the visitors found it through internet searches.
This blog was started in June 2008. After a run of about six and a half years, it is time to wind down. I have achieved what I had set out to do. This does not meant the end, I will not be updating so often. I would like to spend my time on other things and take up other challenges.
Singapore celebrate SG50 this year, 50 years of independence. 50 years ago, the buses were non air con, high floor, operate with poor frequency, rude bus crews, poor quality and badly maintained buses. Route guides were non existent except for STC, which publishes some bus guides but not frequently. Connectivity was also poor, as the bus routes were not planned properly, each bus company craved out their own territory.
After 50 years, bus transport now is totally different but yet many people still have many grouses despite of the tremendous improvement.
Some of the complaints which I have heard :
Air con too cold – complain too cold
Air con not cold enough – complain too hot
Bus with steps – complain why no low floor, zero step bus
Bus with low floor, zero steps – complain about the aisle narrow or sitting arrangement
Older buses used on the route – complain how come no new low floor buses
Newest low floor buses used on the routes – complain not enough seats
Bus stop a few steps away from the kerb – complain, every bus must stop exactly right next to the curb
Bus came a few minutes late – complain why bus was late
Bus came a few minutes early – complain missed the bus
Buses arrived togather at bus stop – complain, even though a lot of which is due to traffic situations
Bus go too fast – complain reckless driver
Bus go too slow – complain driver with bad attitude
Bus travel at speed not too fast or slow – complain why driver cannot drive faster so can reach destination earlier
Bus stopped, exit door open, a puddle of water in front of the door, complain why driver did not stop where there are no puddles of water, as if the driver have eyes at the centre of the bus to see any puddles of water on the ground at the exit door area
List of complaints goes on….
What is taking buses like 50 years ago?
Go to the bus stop. If there is a shelter, good. If no shelter, stand in the hot sun or under the rain, only these two weather choices :
You know the bus routes, good for you. You don’t know, too bad, ask the people around to see which bus goes where. Hard luck if all the people say they don’t know or give you the wrong information.
Next wait and hope that it won’t be eternity before the bus arrive. Hope again that the bus driver will stop for you, some don’t even bother to stop to pick up commuters if there are no passengers alighting, just drove by with a “bo chap” attitude. If the bus did stop, better hope that the bus is not so crowded so that you still can hang on to the door and ride with your feet standing on the steps :
Then you pay your fare to a foul mouth gangster called the “bus conductor” with one cigarette dangling on his mouth. Present day bus crews are angels in comparison.
If the bus is not crowded, find a seat which is not broken and hope the passengers around you are not smoking.
On rainy days, hope that the windows can be closed and the roof does not leak. Using umbrellas in the bus is not a strange sight. When you give big dollar notes to the bus conductor, expect the change to be soggy and soaking wet smaller notes. The bus conductors are not spared from the leaking roofs and broken windows and he can’t hold an umbrella while he is doing his job!
Then you hope you be able to complete your journey without the bus breaking down. I have seen things such as this, wheel falling of a bus :
50 years ago, there were not only puddles of water on the road sides. Horror! We have big floods! And it is a frequent occurrence. You are lucky if the bus services were not suspended :
You see, taking bus 50 years ago requires a lot of hope, patience, tolerance and luck.
For those die hard incurable whiners who love to indulge in their “whining debauchery”, try going to some neighbouring countries and take a ride on their public buses, better still, during raining season.
Acknowledgement : Photos from National Archives Singapore
Changi Airport started operation in 1981. SBS operates five services known as CAS (Changi Airport Service) 390, 391, 392, 394 and 395 to serve the airport workers. A fleet of 31 buses were used on these routes.
390 Queen Street – passenger terminal building (PTB)
392 Somapah – PTB
393 Somapah – Cargo Complex
394 Bedok – PTB
395 Bedok – Cargo Complex
Singapore Shuttle Bus (SSB) and 15 Scheme B bus operators under the Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners Association (SSPHBOA) operates another set of five routes.
The routes were numbered after the Boeing aircraft models. Four of them 727, 737, 747 and 757 were jointly operated by SSB and SSPHBOA Scheme B operators. The fifth route 767 was operated by SSB.
727 Ang Mo Kio – PTB
737 Toa Payoh – PTB
747 Kallang Bahru – PTB
757 Queenstown – PTB
767 Cargo Complex – PTB
While the routes operated by SBS did not encounter any problems, the routes operated by SSB and SSPHBOA were plagued with problems from day one.
Originally, SSB was required to supply 44 buses and Scheme B operators 41, making a total of 85 buses. Due to poor demand, the total was reduced to 70 buses. However, the actual number of buses operating on these routes were only 53 or less.
SSB need to operate the city shuttle services during the day time, there were not enough buses deployed on the airport routes resulting in poor frequencies. In addition, some of their buses such as the Leyland FGs and Mercedes O309s 19 seaters were too small to cope with the peak hour load.
City shuttle services ends at 7pm, operates half day on Saturday and non-operational on Sundays and public holidays. During these periods, SSB dump its entire fleet of 80 buses on the airport routes, squeezing out the Scheme B operators resulting in lots of complaints and unhappiness. As most of the Scheme B operators treat the services as their sideline, discipline in turning up to run the service was also problem, especially during off peak periods when fares collected is not enough to offset the cost of operation. Both SSB and SSPHBOA then individually approached the authorities with their own plan to form a separate company and take over the routes. The plans failed to get approval.
The entire CAS plan was a non-profitable venture for both SBS and SSB/SSPHBOA even though 12000 people were working at the airport, excluding the public and visitors.
By June 1983, the authority step in and asked SBS to take over all the routes. SBS revamped the entire CAS bus plan and introduced five routes : 9, 24, 57, 149, 390. The 15 Scheme B operators were invited to take part in routes 24, 57 and 149. Scheduling will be controlled by SBS. The Scheme B operators pulled out of the joint service with SBS not long after, citing poor profit.
Acknowledgement : National Archives Singapore
Potong Pasir was a relatively new town. Construction of HDB flats started in 1982. The housing estate was served by one bus service SBS 147, which was diverted from Toa Payoh to terminate at Potong Pasir Avenue 1.
This is the map of the location :
The 4S service, which stands for supplementary school service scheme was announced to the press in December1978 by SBS. The initial plan was to operate a pilot service at Tanjong Katong area from 6 to 7pm to guage the response. The area was chosen because of a large concentration of schools and it will be extended to other areas with similar high concentration of schools.
The service basically run along major school corridors to pick up students after school so as to allow students a better chance to reach home earlier, students will not need to rush with other regular commuters going home in the evening.
The service started in January 1979 when the new school term began. Instead of a trial, SBS decided to go ahead and introduce 7 services :16S, 41S, 100S, 135S, 156S, 172S, 180S
The company will use a total number of 10 buses and the fare will be a flat rate of 20 cents.
A Mercedes OF1413 bus on 156S (route number photoshopped) :
In theory, it was a good scheme. The bus should reach the bus stop just immediately after the school dismissed the students so that the bus will be packed only with students. In practice, it was a hit and miss affair. Sometimes the bus arrives too late due to traffic congestion, all the students would have taken the regular buses. The 4S buses are not allowed to pick up adults resulting in an empty bus completing the trip.
In 20 Nov 1978, SBS operating the Blue Arrow services requested Singapore Airport Bus Services to join in the scheme as a trial. SABS operates a fleet of Mercedes aircon coaches and 3 of them will be deployed on Blue Arrow 301 route operating from Katong to Shenton Way. These buses were known as Golden Arrow 301 service and charges a flat fare of $1.
It will operate 5 trips in the morning from Monday to Saturday one way. There will be no evening service as SABS’s coaches were needed for the airport services.
The response from the public was poor. The main complaint is the fare of $1 is too high compared to the Blue Arrow’s non aircon fare of 40 cents. The service was eventually terminated on 24 Jan 1981.
That was not the end of Golden Arrow. Another attempt was made to introduce Golden Arrow 308 plying the same route as Blue Arrow 308. There were only 3 trips in the morning. This service too was withdrawn due to poor ridership. The public had not accepted aircon bus services which came with much higher fares. Airon buses reappere many years later when SBS introduced aircon service on route 168, it was a success, paving way for eventual air conditioning of their entire fleet of buses. The main reason was the fare of the route 168 aircon buses was only slightly higher than normal fares unlike the Golden Arrow services, something which the public was willing to pay.
Blue arrow services were the first attempt by SBS to provide semi express service during peak hours. The scheme was modeled after London’s Red Arrow services. The Red Arrow services are peak hour semi express services designed to move maximum number of passengers per bus to the city area. It utilized dual door single deck AEC Merlins with minimum seats to pack in more standing passengers.
Unlike the Red Arrow services, the Blue Arrow services were designed to provide a fast, economical and reliable service from private residential areas to the Central Business District.
The services also aim to encourage car owners to take public transport in order to reduce congestions in the CDB.
30 buses will operate limited stops within the private residential areas and then running express to the CDB area. Mercedes OF1113s with short body length of 9m were chosen so that the buses will be able to maneuver in the narrow streets of the private residential estates :
Six services went into service on 28 July 1975. They are one man operated and cost 50 cents per trip. All the services will terminate at Shenton Way. Frequency is 15mins.
301 : Meyer Road next to Katong Seaview Hotel
302 : Bedok Garden, Lucky Hills
303 : Tai Kheng Gardens, Sennett Estate
304 : Serangoon Gardens, Lorong Chuan
305 : Mayflower Gardens, Sembawang Hill Estate
306 : Eng Kong Park, Dunearn Road
Time of operation :
Mon – Fri : 7 to 9am, 4.30 to7pm
Sat : 7 to 9am, 12 to 2.30pm
Two more services were added in 1976 :
307 : Chai Chee
308 : Ang Mo Kio
Some of the more popular services were converted to normal service :
304 became 107 in Jan 1978
307 became 7 in Mar 1979
308 became 138 in July 1978
The rest of the services were withdrawn due to poor ridership.
The current similar version of the Blue Arrow services are the Fast Forward, City Direct and Premium services.
The first Mercedes buses used by local stage bus companies were the LP3xx series. Katong Bedok was the pioneer. This is a Katong Bedok Mercedes LP312 laying over at Bedok Road bus terminus :
The Mercedes LP3xx series were originally manufactured as trucks from 1959 to 1964.
The abbreviation “LP” stands for “Lastwagen Pullman” (Pullman truck)
L = lastwagen (German for truck)
P = “Pullman”
The term “Pullman” was borrowed from American streamlined passenger trains designed by George Mortimer Pullman known as Pullman trains.
The 3 digits followed the letter LP denote the engine type. This model designation was used by Mercedes from 1954 to 1963 :
LP312 = truck chassis, OM312 engine.
After 1963, Mercedes use the more familiar LPxxxx where the first 2 digits represent the weight and the last 2 digits denotes the horsepower :
LP1113 = truck chassis, 1100kg, 130hp.
Three models of the LP3xx series were used by local bus operators :
LP312, OM312 engine, 90hp, 4.6L
LP321, OM321 engine, 110hp, 5.1L
LP322, OM322 engine, 126hp, 5.675L
Many of the LP322 survived to the formation of SBS in 1973.
Video shots taken from the old Malay comedy film Mat Tiga Suku (crazy Mat) showed a Katong Bedok Mercedes LP312 arriving at a bus stop :
This another Katong Bedok bus, a LP321. Note that this bus retained the original truck front with the 1 piece windscreen and elliptical shape radiator grill, a trend which local body builders used to build Mercedes buses up to the late 1970s :
Acknowledgement : Photo from F. W. York, History of Singapore Trams, Trolley Buses and Buses
In the quiet neighborhood of Telok Blangah Street 32 opposite the multi storey car park is the former bus terminus of SBS route 16 :
Another view of the stretch of road with current feeder bus service 273 passing by :
This is the map of the location :
Route 16 was later diverted to terminate at Bukit Merah interchange.
When the contract of SBS Leisure with SDC ended, a new operator was selected to operate the bus services on the island. The new operator is Woodlands Transport. A fleet of Japanese and Scania coaches with a new orange livery were used.
An Isuzu LT133P laying over at Seah Imm Road bus terminus :
Scania L113CRB exiting a traffic round about at Artillery Avenue :
Fuso RM117N arriving at Underwater World bus stop :
Woodlands Transport will be the last contracted bus operator for Sentosa. After the contract expired, SDC purchased a fleet of brand new Volvo B7RLE low entry buses. More buses were later added which make up the current fleet including Higer, Volvo B7RLE open top double deckers, Volvo B7R, Volvo B12BLEA, Isuzu NQR, Severn Lamb and King Long.