SINGAPORE: A series of unpopular changes to bus services in the Bukit Panjang area, which were to come into effect on Sunday (Aug 16), will now be delayed by two weeks while mitigation measures are being introduced.
The changes will now be introduced on Aug 30 to allow bus operators more time to implement the new measures, which include the provision of a direct bus service to the city, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat on Thursday (Aug 13).
This comes after it was announced earlier this month that services 700 and 700A would cease operations, while service 171 would loop at Bukit Panjang MRT station instead of travelling to the Marina Centre bus terminal.
READ: Bukit Panjang bus services changed after sharp drop in ridership, need for 'prudence' in using public funds: LTA
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had said that the changes were made in light of sharp declines in ridership for the services following the opening of the second phase of the Downtown MRT line in 2017, as well as a need to "exercise prudence" in the use of public funds, given the millions subsidising the running of the bus services.
Newly-elected Bukit Panjang MP Liang Eng Hwa had said at the time that he was disappointed with the "drastic changes" and that he felt bus route planners had given "no regard" to how the changes would impact residents' lives.
READ: Liang Eng Hwa urges LTA to seek better solution after 'drastic changes' to some Bukit Panjang-city bus services
Service 971E, currently a peak-hour express service that bypasses certain bus stops, will be converted to a trunk service, 971, that calls at more stops, said Mr Chee in a Facebook post.
The service will now ply Petir Road before entering the Bukit Timah Expressway to give residents a direct bus connection to town during peak hours, he added.
The operating hours for service 971 will also be extended, running from 6.30am to 8.30am in the morning and from 6.05pm to 7.35pm in the evening.
The service currently runs from 7.10am to 7.50am in the morning and 6.05pm to 6.30pm in the evening.
"Existing Service 971E commuters will experience an increase in travel times, but their fares will drop by up to 60 cents per trip as they no longer need to pay express fares. They can also alight at more bus stops along the way," said Mr Chee.
The route for service 972 - which would have been changed to serve commuters at Bukit Timah and Dunearn Road as well as those living near Newton MRT and Scotts Road - will also no longer be amended in view of residents' feedback, he added.
"Instead, we will introduce a modified Service 972M by redirecting a portion of the existing Service 972 buses to ply along Dunearn Road and Scotts Road. This allows commuters at Dunearn and Bukit Timah Road to retain connectivity to Scotts Road and Newton MRT," he stated.
Mr Chee added that additional peak hour trips for services 972 and 972M would be introduced where necessary to reduce waiting time and crowding for commuters.
Bukit Panjang commuters can take either service 972 or 972M to town, he said, noting also the option of service 971 during peak hours.
"While this arrangement increases the headway between bus arrivals for both Services 972 and 972M, commuters can use the bus service app to plan your journeys and minimise waiting time at the bus stops," he said, adding that he sought commuters' understanding that some give and take is needed in such situations, to "cater to different groups of commuters while ensuring prudent use of public funds".
"Lastly, LTA will increase the frequency of Service 973 during peak hours to enhance the connection to Hillview MRT," said Mr Chee. "We will monitor the situation after two months and assess if further adjustments are needed."
Mr Chee said that the mitigation measures come after discussions with Mr Liang, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Edward Chia as well as grassroots leaders.
In a post on Facebook, Mr Liang said he was glad that they had arrived at solutions based on commuters' feedback.
"It has not been easy to find that balance, but our foremost consideration is to minimise the inconveniences and impact to residents, especially to the peak hour commuters," he said, thanking Mr Chee for his personal involvement in coming to a "better solution".
"We understand that that some residents will still be affected by these new changes and we hope to seek your understanding and patience," said Mr Chia on his Facebook page.
"MOT (Ministry of Transport) and LTA have assured us that they are open to continual communication with us and will closely monitor the waiting times and crowdedness of the buses," he added.