Before moving to Singapore, I would have not been too keen on using mass transportation so regularly. To be frank, it would not have been easy to do so living in Anne Arundel County.
Since moving to Singapore, I have adapted integrating mass transit into my daily life. Singapore makes it easy to do so. Or at least, they give enough motivation.
The motivation starts with their discouragement of using cars. It is not impossible or illegal to own a car… but it sure is expensive. The cost of owning a car is not cheap. Mandatory fees rack up quite quickly. According to one acquaintance of ours, the registration fees alone can easily cost around $10,000 a year. Mind you, those registration fees don’t include the cost of the car. Nor do the majority of unique-to-Singapore car-owning-costs include the price to actually drive. I must say, we have enjoyed not thinking about gas prices, the cost of car insurance, or the price tag of car upkeep and repairs. All this being said, plenty of people drive cars – and nice ones too. But the luxury of a car in Singapore is not in our budget.
All of the incentives to refrain from buying a car would be useless if there were not a viable alternative. Consequently, Singapore has made huge efforts to have an efficient and affordable mass transit system that aims to make it possible for anyone to travel anywhere in Singapore. There is always the option of a taxi. But for everyday traveling, most Singaporeans use the bus and MRT (rail) systems.
Never before have I been so comfortable with using mass transit to get around. It has taken some getting used to. And you have to know what resources to use to find your way around, as most bus stops do not have maps to aid the unfamiliar traveler. But with the use of GPS, computer (specifically maps.google.com.sg and whereto.sg), and a handy map book, Andrew and I have been able to make our way to virtually any destination that we have desired. (This doesn’t included our very first bus-trip on our very first day in Singapore. We were mis-informed by hotel staff as to the right bus stop. Consequently, we took the bus 5 stops in the completely wrong direction and had no idea of figuring out where we were. Needless to say, one of our first purchases was a map book.)
There are two primary bus company’s: SBS, which has roughly 200 bus routes, and SMRT, which has about 75 bus routes. Both companies use the same bus stops and use the payment methods for bus fares. The card that is used to pay for bus fares also is used for riding on the MRT. One of our favorite features is that you can get transfer fares. Because of the tiered distance vs. fare payment schedule, you can actually transfer and not pay anything if you don’t travel that far.
Anyways – all this is to say that we have really enjoyed becoming accustomed to using mass transit on a regular basis. We feel safe, can figure our way around, and for the most part have little in the way of complaints. Typically our biggest complains consist of slow drivers or bus drivers that seem to drive in a jerking manner.
However, the other day I had several new bus riding experiences that I thought were blog worthy. I recently started a new job as a part-time teacher (more details to follow later in another blog). Thursday was my “first day of school.” I had timed my travel to work a few other days and was expecting the average 10-12 minute bus ride to work that morning. The bus route from home to school included 4 bus stops. This morning the bus was PACKED! I got on the standing-room-only bus and was sandwhiched between several other human bodies. At the first stop the bus driver allowed 2 more people on, but it took several minutes (compared to the usual few seconds) to get them on as the bus driver had to make sure they could fit in before closing the door. On stop #2 a few people got off and lightened the load, but even more people were lined up to get on. It took so long for the few people to pile onto the bus that another bus of the same # came up behind us and filled up with the people remaining in line. Bus stop #3, not much changed. Here is where the story took a change none of the passengers were expecting. Instead of traveling over the highway to the next road with my destination bus stop, the driver took the on-ramp onto the highway. I was bewlidered as I realized what was happening. My first thought was that maybe I had gotten on the wrong bus and not realized it. The second thought was that perhaps the bus route had changed, and I had not payed attention to postings.
Occupied with these thoughts it took me a few moments to realize that others around me had the same look as I did: one that was a mixture of confusion and bewilderment. We were headed in the wrong direction, and fast. It was a highway and there was no exit nearby that would head us in the proper direction. My conviction that the bus driver was going the wrong direction was affirmed by a passenger in the back of the bus that piped up, “HEY! WHERE ARE WE GOING!?!?!” The bus driver must have been too embarassed to respond. Thankfully we took a nearby exit, but the road we exited onto headed north (our stop was south). We took another left and were on the road with the prvious bus stop #1 and 2… but in the opposite direction. Finally we headed back on the road that we had deviated from and passed bus stop #3. Our path seemed to be rectified and we arrived at bus stop #4. I got off of the bus bewildered at my experience. The extra detour had cost us time and the entire trip took twice as long as I normally would have expected. Not the way I planned to arrive on my first day of classes.
The first day went well dispite the odd beginning. However, things were again curious as I headed home.
A few stops into my bus ride home a lady was attempting to get onto the bus. Several people were standing on the bus, but it was by no means packed (as it had been that morning). This driver (perhaps it was the same one from the morning?) didn’t take the time to check that his passengers had completed their ascent onto the bus. Instead he prematurely closed the front bus door on the poor passenger! She yelped out as she was caught between the two closing doors. I was shocked. Never before had I seen such an occurrence. In fact many times I have witnessed a bus driver take extra care in waiting for a fragile passenger to find a seat before continuing on his way. My amazement was heightened as immediately after the driver opened the door back up the situation was repeated. The lady had not recovered from her first experience and finished getting on the bus, and was instead caught in the door yet again. I was aghast. I really was shocked. I couldn’t believe the carelessness of this driver. The lady seemed to recover well enough and finally passed the doors and made it into the safety of the bus. If the experience proved memorable for me, I’m sure it will be burned into the poor lady’s memory.
That evening I took the bus to meet Andrew for our date night dinner (at IKEA of all places). One of the buses I rode was a double decker. This afforded me yet another bus experience that I never had before. The upper level was occupied, but probably less than 1/2 filled. At one of the bus stops several people were waiting to board the bus. I was surprised when no one came upstairs, as I had seen a long queue of waiting bus customers. A few moments later, I heard the distinct voice of the bus driver saying, “Hey, there is room upstairs. Please go upstairs. Excuse me, there is room upstairs. Please go upstairs.” Apparently what had happened was that the bottom level became full enough that more passengers could not get on, but the top level had ample room to offer to those extra passengers. It took several promptings of the driver before some brave souls decided to mount the stairs and make room for the others to come onto the bus. I was surprised. Yet another experience (but less shocking than the other two) in a day of traveling in Singapore.
Now I realize that these three stories might put the buses of Singapore in a bad light. But in all reality, for as often as I ride the buses, I am surprised that is has taken this long to experience such occurrences. And 2 lessons should be learned: 1) don’t stand in the doorway while it’s closing, and 2) go upstairs if downstairs is crowded. As for riding on a bus that is not following the correct route, I guess the lesson would be, just be patient.