MPs hit back at LTA over 'drastic changes' to Bukit Panjang bus services connecting residents to city

The changes to the bus services will take effect from Aug 16, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The planned removal of key bus services in Bukit Panjang - including the only two linking the area to the city - has touched a raw nerve among residents.

From Aug 16, bus services 700 and 700A - which link Bukit Panjang to areas such as Orchard, Bras Basah and Shenton Way - will stop plying, while service 171 - which links Yishun to Marina Centre and passes Bukit Panjang - will be shortened.

Service 972 - which links Bukit Panjang to Orchard Road - will be re-routed to Newton MRT station.

The changes to these services, which ply along the MRT Downtown Line - which runs from Bukit Panjang to Expo in the east - were announced by operator SMRT on Monday afternoon (Aug 3).

Since Monday, three petitions have been put up to halt the planned changes. As of Tuesday afternoon, they have garnered more than 1,000 names.

Members of Parliament have weighed in on the issue, which has drawn more than 400 comments and been shared more than 900 times on Facebook as of Tuesday afternoon.

Bukit Panjang MP Liang Eng Hwa said on Facebook that he was "very disappointed" that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has decided to go ahead with the changes, which he described as drastic.

"We have been engaging LTA to find alternative solutions that will balance accessibility concerns for residents and optimal routes for bus service providers," Mr Liang added. "Unfortunately, the bus planners at LTA are not open to our alternative suggestions. I am saddened that they have no regard on how these changes will impact our residents' lives.

Mr Liang's newly-minted fellow parliamentarian Edward Chia said many residents had expressed to him their disappointment regarding the bus service changes.

Mr Chia said on Facebook that these changes have a deep impact on the daily lives of the residents.

"Hence, I hope that LTA will reconsider, delay these changes and review their plans," he added.

Bukit Panjang resident Elliot Lin noted that Bukit Panjang, along with neighbouring Choa Chu Kang, had long been having poor public transport connectivity.

Relief came when the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) - funded by more than $1 billion in tax monies - was rolled out some six years ago. Bus service 972 was one such addition from the programme.

"Now, we are back to square one," Mr Lin, 35, said. "I understand there is sometimes a need to rationalise bus services, but for this area, there are only two services going to town."

He said his wife's journey to her workplace in Singapore General Hospital will take at least 20 more minutes with the changes.

Mr Lin, a real estate agent, said the impact of the changes is not insignificant. "There are 35,000 residents living here," he said.

Rationalisation of bus services plying along MRT lines has been a way for the LTA to avoid duplication of resources.

For instance, several services were halted when the North-East Line started operating in 2003, causing huge unhappiness among residents.

Former transport minister Raymond Lim revised this unpopular approach by allowing bus services to run along MRT lines during his tenure. His successor, Mr Lui Tuck Yew, continued to do so when the BSEP rolled out. Mr Lui also introduced city-direct bus services, which competed directly with the MRT.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the LTA, which plans all bus routes, said the latest change "has been a difficult decision".

It said since Phase 2 of the Downtown Line opened in December 2015, ridership for bus services plying parallel to the line has fallen.

Ridership for service 171 dropped by more than 30 per cent, and Service 700, more than 50 per cent. As such, LTA has been subsidising the services - to the tune of $5 million a year for service 700.

The authority added that it is aware the changes will lead to longer travel time for some residents, but it "needs to balance the needs of different groups of commuters".

"If this is the only transport option in the area, we can justify the public spending. But given that DTL is available as an alternative, we need to exercise prudence in the use of public funds," it added.

On the changes to bus routes, the LTA said service 171 duplicates the Downtown Line 2 between Bukit Panjang and Newton for around 36 per cent of the entire route. It added that shortening the route will "allow more efficient deployment of resources to focus on the sector between Yishun and Bukit Panjang", which sees high demand.

It added that the route of service 972 will be changed to "maintain the connectivity" after service 700 is removed.

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