Archive for January, 2013

Starline

January 31, 2013

One of my favorite coaches in the ’70s were these Duple designed coaches called Duple Viceroy in the UK:
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Hargill Engineering built similar type of coach which they marketed in Singapore and Malaysia as the Starline :
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The coaches were unique as they had one piece windscreen and rear window which was very uncommon in the old days. Coaches back then had either two or four piece windscreens and two or three piece rear windows. They also had big wide windows which reaches up to the roof line, giving the tourists a good panoramic view of the surroundings. Tour East had a fleet of these Starline coaches on Albion EVK41L chassis. Other operators are KEIO-SCA and RMG Tours.

Acknowledgement : Viceroy photo from Wikimedia Commons

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School bus

January 23, 2013

Kids today are so lucky, their school buses came with aircon, high backed seats and seat belts :
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The primary school I attended does not have a school bus. The neighbouring school sharing the same compound with us had one. We often looked on with envy every time the school bus passed by in front of our school fetching those kids to and from school. The bus is a small bus, about 8m, can seat about 20 adults. I did not know what chassis that bus was built on. The owner did not even bothered to paint the bus, the whole bus was in metallic aluminium colour.
Back in those days, Ministry of Education introduced technical education for all secondary one and two students. Every week they were required to attend extra half day of class per week outside the normal school hours to learn metal work, wood work and basic electricity. As part of the preparation for PSLE students to attend these classes, the primary schools will organize a trip to visit one of these technical schools after their PSLE examinations. My form teacher went to the next door school and arranged to charter the bus for this trip. Finally, I had the chance to ride on this school bus. The interior of this bus looked something like this :

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Unlike the usual buses where the aisle is in the centre with seats on both sides, this bus had the aisle on one side and the seats are all on the other side. 40 of us kids and the teacher squeezed in the small bus and went on the trip. This was the first trip on a school bus for me.
When I was posted to the secondary school, I had many chance to take school buses. My secondary school bus was a Bedford VAS, again a small 25 seater bus. Students who opted to take the school bus have to make monthly payment to the operator, which is the usual arrangement for all schools. This school bus driver however, took the opportunity to earn extra pocket money. During the trips to school, he needed to pass by some housing estates. Since his bus was not fully occupied, he would stopped at the public bus stop and pick up other students who were taking public buses. The fare is ten cents, which is same as public buses. Most of us usually waited for his bus instead of taking public bus. Unlike public buses, his bus would travel express once it leaves the housing estate and he also have two speakers installed at the front and often blasted out loud mandarin pop songs!
After O levels, I went on to take A level. The school I attended also has a school bus, a Bedford SB :

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Bedford SB is a full size bus, seats about 40 passengers. The interior is same as those operated by SBS. Even the body style was same as those used by SBS, bodied by Soon Chow. This operator will only pick students on monthly subscription, others who took public bus were not allowed to use it.

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Leyland

January 16, 2013

Leyland – the brand name that once make up and large proportion of buses operated by SBS. By 2013, the name Leyland will disappear from Singapore’s roads as the last buses manufactured by the company were withdrawn from service.
Leyland stated off in 1896 in UK as the Lancashire Steam Motor Company. In 1907 the name was changed to Leyland Motors. The company was doing pretty well until a forced merger with British Motor Holdings in 1968 initiated by the British Labour government. The merged company became British Leyland Motor Corporation. The resulting company inherit all the problems of BMC and as a result, it almost went bankrupt. The Labour government again intervene and nationalised the company in 1975 and it became British Leyland.
In 1987 Leyland Bus was formed as a separate company following a management buyout. Within a year, the company was sold to Volvo Buses. Volvo discontinues Leyland ending all production of the buses in 1993.
The first Leyland buses I remember when I was a kid were built on truck chassis. The Leyland 90 chassis were bodied locally using all wood construction retaining the ugly Leyland 90 bulbous steel front. The rest of the external body were aluminium. The seating capacity was about 20. Not many of them were used locally as the school bus operators back then prefer Bedfords.
The next big break for Leyland was in 1975, SBS placed order for 100 units of EVK55CUL, 145 units of Guy Victory Mk2 and Singapore Shuttle Bus ordered 20 units of 900FGs for city shuttle service. All these models were not original Leyland products. The EVK55CUL were 12m long chassis originally built by Albion, the 900FGs were originally Morris/BMC and Victory were Guy Motors products. All these companies were one of the many vehicle manufacturing companies which came under the Leyland’s control.

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Singapore Shuttle Bus Leyland 900FGs on City Shuttle Service

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SSB’s Leyland 900FG at Kampong Java fringe carpark

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SBS Leyland Victory Mk2 arriving at Toa Payoh bus interchange

In 1976, SBS ordered the 155 units of the 9.5m long EVK55CL. Again these were ex-Albion products.

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Albion EVK55CL badged as a Leyland

At around this time, Leyland also won an order from Singapore Airport Terminal Services for a number of Clydesdale CDs as airport crew buses. The exact number were unknown. Clydesdale CDs were Leyland export only model built on truck chassis using a O.375 6.17 litres Leyland engine. Other than SATS, it wasn’t successful with other bus operators as they still prefer to stick to Bedford SBs.

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Clydesdale CDs also have limited success in neihbouring Malaysia. This is one of the unit used as school bus.

It didn’t matter that Leyland had not much success with private operators, starting from 1977, SBS placed a large order for Atlantean AN68/2R double deckers. The final total number is 520 units :

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The first Leyland Atlantean AN68/2R double deckers

In a further attempt to interest SBS into buying single decks, Leyland supplied a number of demonstrators :
1979 – Leyland Leopard PSU5C/2R
1981 – Leyland National 2
1989 – Leyland Lynx

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Leyland Lynx rebuilt using Alexander PS front after an accident.

None of them resulted in orders from SBS. SBS however continues to purchase double deckers from Leyland, 200 units of 2-axle non aircon Olympians in 1986 and 200 units of 3-axle aircon Olympians in 1993.

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Leyland Olympian 2-axle non aircon double decker.

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Leyland Olympian 3-axle aircon double decker, the last of the Leyland bus in Singapore

After 1993, all further Olympians acquired by SBS were all badged as Volvo Olympians. The Leyland badge will no longer be used.

Acknowledgement : 900FG, Victory and Atlantean bus photos from National Archives Singapore

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Old bus terminus – Rumah Bomba

January 9, 2013

There was once a traffic circus is located at the junction of Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra Road called Rumah Bomba Circus. Rumah Bomba in Malay means fire station. The circus was named as such is because of the nearby Alexandra fire station :
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Along Jalan Bukit Merah immediately after the traffic circus and just outside the former SAFRA club house is the bus terminus for service 92 :
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The buses travelling along Jalan Bukit Merah used the traffic circus to made a U-turn and lay over along the roadside. Here is the map of the location :
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After Rumah Bomba circus was converted to a signalised junction in 1977, the terminus was moved to Alexandra Road, outside Alexandra Hospital :
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The buses from Jalan Bukit Merah then turned left into Alexandra Road and made used of Gillman circus to made the U-turn.
The terminus was moved a third time when Gillman Circus was demolished to make way for Ayer Rajah Expressway. The final location is at Depot Road. As part of the expressway road works, Depot Road was re-aligned to form a T-junction with Alexandra Road.

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Taxi! Taxi!

January 2, 2013

The latest movie Taxi! Taxi! starring Gurmit Singh and Mark Lee reminds me of the taxis which my family took in my early childhood days. They were usually ‘ba-ong-chia’ or pirate taxis. These were private cars used by the owners to pick up fares. All sort of cars were used, many of them were just rust buckets with four wheels. These ‘ba-ong-chias’ compete head on with legal taxis, both types involved a lot of haggling on the fares.
The chaos created by these illegal ‘ba-ong-chias’ were addressed in the government document “The Reorganization of Motor Transport” in 1970, an entire chapter was devoted to the subject. It was estimated that there were 6800 illegal taxis in 1970. Several recommendations were made to stop these vehicles from operating. In addition, some steps will be taken to improve the legal taxis plying the roads, among them, the mandatory use of taxi meters.
After the ‘ba-ong-chias’ were eradicated, the legal taxis started to take on a standard livery. They were painted yellow on the top half and black on the bottom. Majority of them were Morris Oxford Mk VIs or Austin Cambridge A60s :
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The yellow top taxis have a small blue light at the passenger side dashboard to indicate whether the taxi is available for hire. It does not have the taxi sign on the roof. Besides the Austin/Morris, there were also a small number of Mercedes and Datsun models.
In October 1970, NTUC formed a transport co-operative COMFORT. The purpose of the co-operative was to help provide employment for those former pirate taxi drivers who became unemployed after the government banned the ‘ba-ong-chias’. The co-operative ordered a fleet of 1000 Morris Oxford Mk VIs. These taxis were the first to have the taxi sign installed on the roof, the yellow top taxis followed soon after :
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As the years went by, more companies started taxi operation and Japanese models began to replace the British models. A large number of Datsun (Nissan) Cedric and Toyota Crown taxis began to appear on the roads. My favorite taxi designs were these fifth generation Cedrics :
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At one time, the Toyota Crowns and Nissan Cedrics were the only taxi models. Current generation of taxis consists of more models, with Korean brands replacing a large number of Toyota Crowns and Nissan Cedrics.
By the late ’70s and early ’80s, phone booking of taxis became available but unlike the present day, people don’t call the taxi company, they need to call the radio taxi station to book a taxi. Here is one of the few remaining taxi radio station still in operation at Taman Jurong :
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At one time, there were a large number of these stations scattered all over the island. With the taxi comapnies setting up their own call booking hot lines, these taxi radio stations closed one by one. So far I have only spotted two of them. Besides the one at Taman Jurong, there is one at Boon Lay Garden.

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