NUS looking for solution to shuttle bus squeeze

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 30, 2013

STUDENTS travelling to and from lectures may no longer have to squeeze into packed buses under plans for a possible new transport network at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The school wants developers to propose an "efficient, reliable, sustainable and environmentally friendly" system for the Kent Ridge campus and University Town (UTown).

This could involve anything from new, airport-style buses to an electric bicycle sharing system, experts told The Straits Times.

It would provide an alternative to the current shuttle bus service, which can get overcrowded during peak periods, when throngs of students finish lectures or arrive from Kent Ridge MRT station.

The system should offer shorter waiting and travel times, be cost effective and provide greater comfort and accessibility, the university said in its tender specifications. Students should also be connected to the nearby MRT station and public bus network.

NUS is not the only Singapore school studying alternative transport solutions. Nanyang Technological University is due to test driver-free buggies, which could be used to ferry students around.

At the nearby one-north business park, JTC Corp plans to conduct a feasibility study of a People Mover System that would serve as a last-mile connection from the MRT station. Possibilities include having driverless trams on an elevated track.

But Dr Alexander Erath, a transport researcher at Future Cities Laboratory, said this option might not be suitable for NUS as it does not have the capacity to cope with the peaks and troughs in demand at the university.

NUS doctoral student Sun Lijun said the current bus system can be severely congested when classes end and many people end up waiting at the same bus stop. Some older buses also have steps at the entrance and exit, slowing down those getting on or off.

However, the situation has become better since NUS improved its bus service this semester, said undergraduate Goh Xiang Ling, 21. The pharmacy major takes the shuttle bus from Kent Ridge station to UTown for classes.

She said: "I used to wait for the second or third bus and try to squeeze onto it, but a new direct service from the science (faculty) to UTown has really helped a lot."

Dr Erath said it is critical to study the current and future demand at NUS and then think creatively about how to manage it.

For instance, staggering lecture times could prevent a peak- hour crush. Other options include building a pedestrian or cycling tunnel through Kent Ridge linking to the MRT station, or installing an electric bicycle sharing system.

NUS transport researcher Lee Der Horng suggested replacing the shuttle buses with higher- capacity types used at airports, which have low floors and few or no seats. Parking spaces could also be reconfigured to make the campus more compact.

"Today, the most convenient stops are reserved for carparks, not buses," said Dr Lee.

An NUS spokesman confirmed that it is "at the preliminary stage of exploring feasible and viable long-term alternative solutions to improve mobility on campus".

She said the exercise, which will take some time, is part of ongoing efforts to improve campus facilities and services. In the meantime, the university will continue to refine its internal shuttle bus service on a regular basis.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 30, 2013

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