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Bukit Panjang bus services changed after sharp drop in ridership, need for 'prudence' in using public funds: LTA

Bukit Panjang bus services changed after sharp drop in ridership, need for 'prudence' in using public funds: LTA

File photo of SMRT bus service 700. (Photo: Johannes Tjendro)

SINGAPORE: Sharp declines in ridership and a need to "exercise prudence" in the use of public funds were the reasons for changes to several bus services in the Bukit Panjang area, the Land Transport Authority said on Tuesday (Aug 4).

SMRT announced on Monday that services 700 and 700A would cease operations on Aug 16, while service 171 would be amended to operate from Yishun bus interchange and loop around Bukit Panjang MRT station instead of continuing towards Marina Centre bus terminal.

Service 972 would be amended to serve Bukit Timah/Dunearn Road, Newton MRT and Scotts Road.

Bukit Panjang Member of Parliament elect (MP-elect) Liang Eng Hwa said on Monday night that that he was disappointed with the “drastic changes” made to the bus services, saying they would inconvenience residents in the area. 

Responding to CNA's queries, the LTA said on Tuesday that since the second phase of the Downtown Line (DTL) was opened in December 2015, the ridership for bus services running parallel to the MRT line has dropped sharply. 

Ridership fell by more than 30 per cent for service 171 and by more than 50 per cent for service 700 in the first year after the opening of phase two of the Downtown Line, the authority said. 

The two services have been subsidised through public funds to keep them running, with up to S$5 million of subsidy a year used on service 700 alone.

“If this is the only transport option in the area, we can justify the public spending. But given that (the) DTL is available as an alternative, we need to exercise prudence in the use of public funds, and hence have to make some adjustments to the services in the area,” an LTA spokesperson said.

READ: Liang Eng Hwa urges LTA to seek better solution after 'drastic changes' to some Bukit Panjang-city bus services

LTA "NOT OPEN TO ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS"

In his Facebook post, Mr Liang said the LTA’s bus planners were not open to “alternative solutions that will balance accessibility concerns for residents and optimal routes for bus service providers”.

“I am saddened that they have no regard on how these changes will impact our residents’ lives,” he said, urging the LTA to delay the changes and work towards a “better solution”. 

The People's Action Party's (PAP) candidate for Bukit Panjang SMC, Liang Eng Hwa talking to residents on a bus ride from Bangkit Road to Fajar Road during a walkabout on Jul 8, 2020. (Photo: Ruth Smalley)

In its statement, the LTA said it has been consulting grassroots advisers regularly since 2016 to "explore ways to make better use of bus resources while addressing residents' needs".

"It is arising from these consultations that Service 973 was introduced in February 2017," the spokesperson added.

"We understand that the changes have led to longer travel times for some residents. But LTA needs to balance the needs of different groups of commuters, while taking into account the availability of alternative travel options, and the burden on taxpayers." 

The authority's spokesperson said it will continue to hold discussions with grassroots advisers and listen to residents to "explore mitigating measures", adding that it will not "always be possible" to provide direct bus connections.

Service 171 - a long trunk service from Yishun to Marina Centre - duplicates about 36 per cent of the Downtown Line route between Bukit Panjang and Newton, LTA noted.

“By shortening the service to loop around Bukit Panjang town centre before returning to Yishun, commuters will benefit from the enhanced connectivity from Bukit Panjang MRT Station to Petir Road,” the spokesperson added.

The shorter service would allow for “more efficient deployment of resources to focus on the sector between Yishun and Bukit Panjang”, which the LTA spokesperson described as a “high-demand sector” for the service 171.

As for service 700, which is a long trunk service between Bukit Panjang and Shenton Way, it will be discontinued as it duplicates the Downtown Line between Bukit Panjang and the city area. 

Service 972 would be amended to ply Bukit Timah Road, Dunearn Road and Scotts Road so as to "maintain connectivity" after service 700 is removed.

“This has been a difficult decision for LTA, but we are facing a difficult dilemma,” the spokesperson said.

Source: CNA/az(mi)

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