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Trial run to reduce bus bunching to be rolled out by June

The government's two-year trial to improve bus punctuality will be fully rolled out by June for the pioneer batch of 22 services to be tested.

SINGAPORE: The government's two-year trial to improve bus punctuality will be fully rolled out by June for the pioneer batch of 22 services to be tested.

Dates to start testing 15 of those services have been set, with the remaining seven to go under trial by mid-year.

The experiment, costing some S$10 million to implement, will reward or penalise bus operators based on timeliness.

More services could be involved in the future.

The trial is funded from the existing Bus Service Enhancement Programme, which costs S$1.1 billion.

Operators, however, will not be rewarded or penalised till June to allow them time to adjust.

2014 should be the year commuters in Singapore see fewer instances of 'bus bunching', where two or more buses of the same service arrive together.

On February 3, seven services run by operator SMRT will begin trials under the Bus Service Reliability Framework.

They are service numbers 176, 184, 188, 302, 858, 901 and 911.

On February 28, another four services run by operator SBS Transit will be tested under the framework.

They are service numbers 17, 52, 228 and 242.

Four more by the same operator -- service numbers 3, 39, 241 and 325 -- will be added to the trial on March 2.

The 22 buses comprise a mix of long and short trunk services as well as feeder services, and are selected based on commuter feedback on reliability.

Julianne Kan, a pharmacist, said: "22 buses over, across the whole Singapore is not sufficient. I mean, to space out is a good idea, but maybe… more buses will be beneficial."

Mohamad Nazree, a lifeguard, said: "It's a very good move… because sometimes we wait for the bus for quite some time."

Authorities said the trial will not necessarily mean every single bus will arrive on time, all the time.

Liu Feng Yuan, acting director for bus infrastructure at Land Transport Authority, said: "Buses compete on the road with other vehicles, other cars. There can be unforeseen circumstances like accidents, or suddenly there's a large number of people getting on and off the bus, which then affects… how regularly the buses can arrive."

To space arrivals evenly, bus controllers can regulate speeds by having services slow down or wait at bus stops for short intervals of generally no more than a minute, and only if it does not cause any obstruction.

Standby buses can also be injected mid-route if there are delays to services already en-route.

To ensure safety, buses are equipped with speed limiters set at 60 kilometres an hour.

Drivers have to adhere strictly to speed limits on the roads, and those found to be driving recklessly will have disciplinary action taken against them.

If commuters, for example, had to wait for a particular bus service for two extra minutes on average in the past year, that is taken as the start point to reward or penalise operators.

Moving forward, achieving average monthly waiting times of less than two minutes will attract incentives.

Operators meeting the mark will get nothing, and penalties will be incurred if the average wait time is over two minutes.

Bus services will be assessed Mondays to Fridays, excluding public holidays, during peak and off-peak hours.

Dr Park Byung-joon, head of urban transport management programme at SIM University’s School of Business, said the system sets realistic targets.

He explained: "By starting with the last year average time, the bus companies are given a starting point to improve. So it is not that (we) just throw the best possible performance you have to achieve, then we are going to penalise you. The purpose is not that. We start from the last year, and give the opportunity to improve."

Rewards and penalties for punctuality are staggered under the reliability framework.

Services with 20 buses or more attract a S$4,000 fine and a S$6,000 reward for every six-second improvement or decline in punctuality that are averaged out monthly.

Services with under 10 buses attract a S$1,300 fine and a S$2,000 reward.

Services with between 10 and 20 buses attract a S$2,600 fine and a S$4,000 reward.

The Land Transport Authority said incentives are calibrated in accordance with the efforts and operational costs involved in improving the reliability of bus services.

Operators are rewarded only when improvements in bus service regularity are achieved, and penalised if services are not improved.

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