A new premium school bus service will be rolled out this year, to provide parents with an option to pay more and cut short their children's daily commuting time.
The Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) will pilot this new express service, which will ferry fewer students per vehicle and reduce their commuting time between home and school by at least 50 per cent.
Instead of picking up 10 to 20 children per school bus as most operators currently do, the premium option will take no more than five students living in the same area, thus reducing the number of detours and stops.
While this means students can be picked up from home later in the morning and will get more shut-eye, the service will come at a higher fee.
Parents can expect to fork out about $300 a month for a journey of 5km to 10km, compared to the current $100 to $150 for a regular service over the same distance.
Revealing details of the Premium School Bus Express yesterday, SSTA chairman Wong Ann Lin said it will meet the demand from parents who are willing to pay more for their children to have a faster, smoother ride to school.
Mr Wong said the idea first came about four years ago, but parents' expectations have increased of late. At least one in five parents now asks for later pick-up times, he said.
Some bus operators have provided this kind of premium service on an ad hoc basis, but Mr Wong said it should now be offered to everyone where possible.
Comparing a regular bus service with a premium type, Mr Wong cited the example of a school bus trip from Woodlands to Raffles Girls' Primary School, for which the pick-ups can be as early as 5.45am.
Under the premium model, children can be picked up later at around 6.20am, he noted.
Mr Wong said the premium service is not unlike buses that take commuters from the heartland directly into the Central Business District, and which make only a few stops along the way.
Those services, named City Direct, are run by private bus operators and offer an alternative to public bus routes.
Mr Wong said the number of operators and buses that the premium service will have has not been finalised, as the SSTA is still in talks with its members.
In the meantime, it has already partnered with electric vehicle transport service HDT Singapore Holding, which has a fleet of 30 vehicles.
HDT will help to service the first few routes with its vehicles and drivers.
Mr James Ng, HDT's managing director, said: "As a value-added service, we also plan to get our drivers to send text messages to the children's parents when they have arrived in school, or when they have reached home."
While Mr Wong believes that there is demand for a premium service, some parents such as Ms S.N. Tan are not convinced.
Ms Tan, 32, who lives in Hougang and whose son attends Fernvale Primary School, said: "$300 a month is quite expensive. When divided by 20 school days, it is about $15, which can also be used to take the taxi."
Ms Tan said her 10-year-old son gets picked up at around 6.10am every morning, which is acceptable, but she might consider taking up the premium service if they lived farther away.
Parents who are interested in the SSTA's pilot express service can write to the association at firstname.lastname@example.org