SINGAPORE - The notoriously-crowded SMRT bus service 190 that plys Orchard Road is no longer a frustration for Bukit Panjang residents these days.
The introduction of new bus service number 972 under the Government's ongoing Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) has taken the heat off service 190 since last November. The new service runs a similar route, from Bukit Panjang to Orchard Road.
Last October, a frustrated commuter uploaded a video showing how she could not board 13 buses in a row because they were all full. SMRT has also since added more buses to ply the popular route to reduce peak hour crowding.
On Wednesday morning, The Straits Times found that bus 190 arrived at intervals of one to three minutes in front of Blk 270 Bangkit Road in Bukit Panjang, from 7am to 7.30am.
Client service executive Pearlyn Lim, 33, noticed "a huge difference" in the frequency of bus 190 after the viral video made news headlines.
"There's no MRT at Bukit Panjang so buses are always crowded," she said. "But the situation has improved since we had bus 972 serving the inner Ring Road."
The waiting time for 972 on Wednesday morning ranged from two to 17 minutes.
Adminstrative executive Esther Cao, 33, prefers 972 to 190 as the new service takes her closer to her flat. But she lamented that the weekend waiting time of 15 to 20 minutes is too long.
Bukit Panjang residents rely on buses for their journeys as there is no MRT station in their neighbourhood - only the LRT links residents to Choa Chu Kang MRT. The long-awaited Bukit Panjang station in Downtown Line Stage 2 will only open in the first quarter of 2016.
Of the 12 SMRT buses originating from Bukit Panjang bus terminal, seven have already been improved under the $1.1 billion BSEP. The Government will pump in more than a 1,000 buses under this plan to reduce crowding, have shorter peak-hour waiting times and higher capacity. Buses that have been improved include 75, 176 and 700.
Other improved services that run through the estate include 960, 963, 966 and of course, 190, which originates from Choa Chua Kang bus interchange.
SMRT has also placed four SMRT service ambassadors at a popular bus stop in front of Block 270 Bangkit Road to help manage queues from 6.30am to 9.30am during weekdays. There were about 50 people waiting when The Straits Times visited.
Clad in luminous yellow vests, these ambassadors are trainee bus drivers deployed to remind commuters to move to the rear and ensure safety of those who stand close to the doors.
"There still a lot of space inside the bus, but it's hard to get people to move in, so having the marshals helps," said Mr Shaun Tan, 31, who works in a construction firm.