SINGAPORE: SMRT will deploy more staff and signs on the ground during the shorter service hours on the eastern sector of the East-West Line (EWL), set to begin this weekend.
The stretch between Paya Lebar and Pasir Ris MRT stations, as well as Expo and Changi Airport stations, will see early closures on Fridays and Saturdays at 11pm and late openings at 8am on Saturdays and Sundays this month.
These 10 stations will also be closed for the entire day on Jan 21 and Jan 28.
During the affected hours, four shuttle services will kick in to support commuters, with up to 300 buses and 1,200 staff including bus captains, crowd marshals and station personnel deployed on the ground.
The latter figure is 20 per cent more than during the previous round of closures on the western sector last month. The extra staff will add a human touch to help on the ground, said SMRT director of operations support and resource management Vincent Gay.
“What we experienced in the western sector is actually a lot of (commuters) asking how to do this and that," he told reporters at a briefing at Changi Airport on Thursday (Jan 4). "So, we want to give a bit more so-called human interaction with commuters in terms of how to travel."
There will also be an increase in the number and size of signs put up around the affected stations alerting commuters about the closures.
“We learnt that we need bigger signage and more staff on the ground to provide wayfindings for commuters to travel on these shuttle services," Mr Gay added.
Other companies are also doing their part to ease inconvenience during the closures.
Nine SBS Transit bus services – 60A, 63M, 222, 225G, 228, 229, 291, 292 and 293 – will be extended by at least 45 minutes on all Fridays and Saturdays and on the last two Sundays this month.
“This is to cater to the travel needs of commuters given the early/full-day closure of the MRT stations between Paya Lebar and Pasir Ris on the East West Line,” SBS Transit said in a release.
In addition, Uber will offer two promo codes – 3SGEASTMRT for existing riders and 8SGEASTMRT for new riders – for rides on Jan 21 and Jan 28 from near affected stations.
The first promo code entitles riders to S$3 off two uberPool rides, while the second promo code entitles riders to S$8 off one uberX or uberPool ride.
"We note that during these so-called closures, a lot of inconvenience will be caused to all the commuters," SMRT's Mr Gay said. "We hope that commuters can plan ahead in terms of their travel journey."
CHANGI AIRPORT GEARS UP
At Changi Airport, one of the stations affected by the closures, commuters can travel onwards via two shuttle services which leave from Gate 8 of the departure hall at Terminal 3.
This location was chosen because it is the nearest point to the MRT station, and sees the least vehicle traffic from passenger drop-offs, a Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesperson said.
Shuttle 8 will stop at Expo station before terminating at Tanah Merah station, while Express 12 is an express service that goes direct to Bugis station. Both shuttles will follow the same fare structure as trains.
For the express service, Bugis was chosen because of its Downtown Line (DTL) connection, providing commuters with onward travel to the city.
“The faster connection part is actually to have an express service bringing them directly to the city," said Mr Gay, adding that one in 10 commuters who take the train from the airport usually go to the city.
In addition, signs have been put up at 11 locations, including outside the MRT station and at skytrain stops, across the terminals. Similar TV signs will also be displayed at the baggage claim area in the arrival halls.
At Gate 8, queue poles and outdoor shelters will be set up for commuters. Marshals will also be stationed there to guide them into separate lines for the two shuttle services.
As for workers who might be inconvenienced by the closures, the CAG spokesperson said it has "disseminated the information to all the airport partners" since last week.
"We have (sent) a circular and got our portfolio officers to send delegated emails to the senior management of the companies," she said. "We don't want staff to not be able to get to work on time."
The spokesperson added that some of the companies, which include those in charge of ground handling staff and sales assistants, have made alternative transport arrangements – like carpooling – for employees.
Meanwhile, signs have also been put up near Expo station, which comes after Changi Airport station on the EWL.
The Expo station serves as the main public transport connection for Changi City Point, a shopping mall that sits right next to it. Despite that, businesses there remain largely unfazed by the upcoming full-day closures of the EWL station.
Many told Channel NewsAsia that the DTL station, which opened less than three months ago, will keep customers coming.
“It might slow down sales over here but not so much,” said Ms Lyanna Ridwan, sales assistant at Cotton On. “Because we also have the Downtown Line, so we can still get customers.”
Chateraise owner Karen Quek said there might be a "slight drop in customer flow as most of them take the green line, but we are glad we still have the Downtown Line".
Ms Hui Ling, sales assistant at Urban Studio, which sells apparel and luggage, said “business will still be okay” with the DTL station, pointing to how it connects directly to the mall, as opposed to the EWL station, which is located across a road.
A waitress at Japanese eatery Ajisen Ramen, who only wanted to me known as Madam Teo, said most customers seem to get to Expo station via the DTL as it goes direct to heartlands like Tampines. “Unless there’s an activation at Expo, then it’s different,” she said.
Ms Janette Lulunan, in-charge at Japanese eatery Teppei Syokudo, said business only gets brisk when the convention centre holds events on weekends. “So, it will be the same even during the closures,” she said. “I think there will be no difference.”
However, supervisor at Fragrance Bak Kwa Yvonne Loh said she is “worried” about the closures, as she crossed off the two days on her calendar.
“People come here by MRT; if it’s closed there will be fewer people,” she said. “Luckily, the blue line will help a little bit. But we will still be affected.”
Madam Loh lamented that the two Sundays come in the build-up to Chinese New Year, when the sales “target is very high”. “We only make money once a year for bak kwa, especially during the weekend peak,” she added.
At Pasir Ris station, which is only served by the EWL, businesses were also less optimistic about the full-day closures.
Ms Zhang Ben Ju, supervisor at Mr Bean, said it will be “hard to sell” her wares if commuters only take buses from the bus interchange, which is located away from her outlet. “If the station is closed, then I don’t think there will be customers.”
ValueMax Pawnshop operations manager Rich Chua said business will “definitely” be affected. “During the weekends, there is a bigger crowd,” he said. “So, if the station is closed, business will slow down.”