LTA drops on-demand bus plan due to higher costs

High software costs an obstacle now, but driverless buses in the future can make service more efficient

Buses seen at the Jurong East bus interchange. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore will not roll out on-demand buses, which operate like phone-booked taxis, because of higher costs involved.

The Land Transport Authority said yesterday that a six-month trial of on-demand buses - which plied the Joo Koon and Marina-Downtown areas - will conclude on June 15. During the trial, it found that these buses were costlier to run than regular fixed-route buses.

"Mileage savings were observed during the trial, but it is currently less cost-effective for on-demand public buses to be scaled up due to high technology costs," the authority explained in a statement.

Compared with fixed and scheduled bus services, operated mileage in the same area was 18 per cent lower during the trial, the LTA added, noting that this meant fewer buses were required.

But the system "is currently less cost-effective" because of "high software development costs".

"Larger-scale deployment of on-demand public buses is expected to become more cost-effective in the future when the efficiency of algorithms improves," the LTA said.

The system would also become more efficient when driverless buses are ready, it added.

More than 26,000 rides have been booked during the trial to date. According to an LTA passenger poll, about half of those who were aware of the scheme had tried it. But there was also "a significant group of commuters who were either not aware... or chose not to try it".

The latter group said regular bus services provided greater certainty. They also felt uncomfortable with using a mobile application to book a bus ride.

The six-month trial is being conducted by Swat, which is part of the Goldbell engineering and transport group, and American company Via.

Swat co-founder Jarrold Ong said: "We understand LTA's decision and we are willing to fully support LTA should it wish to relook at the viability of the concept of on-demand public buses."

Mr Ong added that the company would re-examine costs to ensure its technology can improve Singapore's mobility needs.

Finland's capital Helsinki was among the first cities to roll out on-demand buses six years ago, as part of a move to go "car-lite".

But just over three years later, it terminated the scheme because city authorities found that it cost taxpayers too much.

Earlier this year, Ford-owned on-demand bus company Chariot - which operated in various US cities - went out of business.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2019, with the headline LTA drops on-demand bus plan due to higher costs. Subscribe