Commuters upset over premium bus service

Smaller than usual bus deployed meant some passengers left stranded

COMMUTERS using a premium bus service which charges $4 for a guaranteed seat were left in the lurch yesterday morning when a smaller bus pulled up.

Left between being late for work or boarding the bus despite a strict no-standing rule, they chose the latter.

A video clip from a passenger on board showed the driver of service 564, which goes from Farrer Road to the central business district, telling commuters sheepishly that the bus could take only six more.

This was because operator SBS Transit had downsized from a 46-seater bus to a 30-seater.

The waiting commuters appeared flabbergasted. One asked: "Do you want us to choose among ourselves?"

In all, 11 people boarded the bus. The driver, who did not move off, repeated the no-standing rule. Eventually, those who were not seated disembarked - but not before protesting.

"Why can't you just drive on?" one asked repeatedly.

The driver reiterated that it was against regulations to have standing passengers.

Two Mandarin-speaking passengers then berated the driver and his company for not properly catering to passenger load, and demanded that another bus be dispatched immediately.

University student Ben Chua, 24, who was on board and witnessed the incident, said those who disembarked "would probably have to hail a cab because this service runs only once a day".

"They could wait for bus service 106, but that would take twice as long," he said.

Mr Chua, a self-confessed transport enthusiast who filmed the incident, added: "Even when they (SBS Transit) used a 46-seater the day before, they had to turn away three passengers."

He uploaded the video to his Facebook page and it garnered nearly 400 views and several shares. Mr Chua said the incident reflected "poor resource management".

In defence, SBS Transit said that, based on its records, the service had an average of 35 passengers.

Company spokesman Tammy Tan said: "The old 46-seater was removed from service as it was due to be scrapped.

"A new 35-seater bus was to have been put in its place but, due to exigencies, a 30-seater ran instead.

"We will be deploying the 35-seater on April 16, and this should be able to meet demand. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed."

SBS Transit, which currently operates 25 premium bus services, said it could not reveal how many seats each one had because of "competitive reasons".

Regular bus commuter Tan Pang Soon, 26, said such incidents will continue to surface as bigger buses are replaced by smaller ones.

He said it might be better for the Government to review the premium bus service framework and perhaps launch more tax-funded City Direct services to cater to demand.

Mr Chua said another solution would be to open up the premium bus market to more players.

christan@sph.com.sg