TWO in five bus routes now have shorter waiting times and less crowding, a year after the launch of the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP).
And things will continue to get better, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew yesterday, as he noted that the bulk of the scheme will be rolled out by the end of next year, two years ahead of the 2016 deadline.
"We will continue to work hard to make sure it brings benefits to commuters, and spread it as widely as possible," he added, while giving an update on the programme yesterday.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has spent about 10 per cent of the $1.1 billion so far, to put 250 new buses on the road.
While several have been used to set up 14 new routes, most have gone to supporting 111 existing ones, increasing frequency and reducing over-crowding during peak hours.
The waiting time for service 72 from Yio Chu Kang to Tampines, for instance, has been more than halved, with just three minutes between buses in July instead of seven minutes a year earlier, said the LTA. The number of routes with persistent peak-hour crowding has also been cut, from 96 to 56 - a drop of about 40 per cent.
Another 20 existing services will get extra buses in the coming months. Two short trunk routes will also be introduced by year-end to serve residents in Taman Jurong and Bukit Panjang.
According to Mr Lui, 200 more new buses out of the 550 committed under BSEP will be put to work by the end of next year, as the authorities speed up implementation. He said the programme will be reviewed after next year, when the bulk has been completed, to see "what more we should be doing for 2015 and beyond".
In addition, the LTA is planning to put in place a Quality Incentive Framework which rewards operators for being on time and penalises them if buses arrive off-schedule. Mr Lui hopes to test this scheme out on 25 services by early next year.
"We are aware that there are still areas in our bus services that need improvement, we hope to further enhance connectivity and raise service levels," said LTA group director for public transport Yeo Teck Guan. He added that LTA will continue monitoring the BSEP on a weekly basis. It has 40 surveyors on the ground, adding to its analysis of ticketing data and commuter feedback.
Bukit Panjang resident Yuen Kah Hong takes service 190 to the city several times a month during peak hours. He said buses have seemed less crowded. Waiting time has also gone down from five minutes to three. But he and several other commuters said they wanted to see frequency increased during off-peak hours as well.
For Dr Alexander Erath, a transport researcher at Future Cities Laboratory which focuses on urban sustainability, a key question is whether the enhanced routes run more efficiently.
"By increasing frequency primarily, one might also run into the risk that buses ultimately bunch up, especially if several routes overlap," he said, citing Orchard Road, which has more than 20 routes sharing the same bus lane.
He added that new MRT lines, which will have a big impact when they open, offer a good opportunity to optimise the bus network.