Bus Service 167 and the Romance of Bus Rides in Singapore
Top Image: Helen Huang / RICE File Photo

To be honest, we’ve never taken a ride on bus service 167 before. But when the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced it would U-turn on its decision to discontinue the bus service, we celebrated.

Bus 167 is set to stay, just two weeks after the LTA announced that it would be cut in light of a fall in its ridership. 

Shortly after the news of 167’s termination broke, Singaporeans criticised LTA’s decision to axe yet another bus service.  

“Sorry to say LTA does not care. It is quite obvious they only care about money, as that is the justification that is always given,” one Reddit comment reads. Another Redditor brands the LTA as “towkays” living in “ivory towers”. Strong words.

Let’s also not forget 49-year-old Kiwi Lim’s online petition, which has gathered over 800 signatures. 

It may not be a mindblowing number, but it’s still remarkable that hundreds took time out of their day to rally behind a seemingly random bus service.

The ire from Singaporeans isn’t just because they’ve lost their favourite nostalgic bus route—it’s also about the convenience.

Without 167, commuters are forced to trek to further bus stops to catch alternative buses. To make matters worse, some are stuck navigating bus or MRT transfers just to arrive at their original destination.

We can’t be sure that LTA’s change of heart was a direct result of the public uproar, but it’s evident that the swarm of critics helped. LTA’s cited reason for the about-face was the imperative to afford residents more time to adjust and locate better routes.

Now, instead of completely ceasing operations, bus 167 will operate at 30-minute intervals, up from the usual 10- to 15-minute wait. Sure, it might not be an outright victory, but in the face of potential cessation, it’s one that we will take. 

After all, bus 167’s revival is a particularly unlikely one, especially because this isn’t the first time that LTA has discontinued the operation of other buses. The Night Rider services, once a lifesaver for budget-conscious clubbers, are no more.

Perhaps this is also why we ourselves took part in the celebration—everyone loves a good underdog story. There’s also something immensely satisfying about having your grouses heard.

Image: Shiva Bharathi Gupta / RICE File Photo

Low Ridership

To give you some context, bus service 167 is a long trunk service. That is to say, it’s a long route that connects areas such as Sembawang, Upper Thomson, Orchard, the Central Business District, and Bukit Merah. The decision to curb the service was due to an overall decrease in ridership in buses plying routes along the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) segments, says LTA.

There are a couple of reasons why the LTA wants to expand the train network. It really all boils down to one word: Efficiency. A wider MRT network, though more expensive than buses, has a higher capacity. But it’s still a bummer that this comes at the expense of some bus services. Where there’s overlap between bus and MRT routes, it only makes sense to adjust the bus route, say experts.

We get it. From a rational economic standpoint, LTA’s motivations are understandable. When you run the numbers, packing the most commuters into your vehicles makes the most sense. But maybe some of us prefer the peace of buses with relatively lower ridership over standing shoulder to shoulder in a train. At the end of a long, weary workday, nothing makes us happier than an empty bus with plenty of seats.

When it comes to public transport, some commuters care about the experience of travelling as much as they do the time. 

Other bus services might be able to get the job done. But the extra steps it takes to alight and transfer to another vehicle disrupts the uninterrupted ease of one singular, long bus ride.

Plus, those new TEL stations are so massive that boarding them genuinely feels like an Olympic event—a five-minute sprint to reach the platform, an additional six to eight minutes waiting for the train, and a bonus round of squeezing with the office warrior stampede. All this to realise you’ve basically clocked the same travel time as if you had stuck with 167 in the first place. 

Image: Zachary Tang / RICE File Photo

The Allure of Bus Rides

For avid bus riders, the recent outcry totally makes sense. 

Our love for these green rectangular crates of moving metal isn’t always just economic or environmental. It’s also about the commuting experience. 

For us personally, the normality of buses is so closely associated with the feeling of home. In contrast, the train removes us from the landscape of our heartlands most of the time. What scenery is there to gaze at outside of trains? Dark tunnels? Precast concrete and metal? 

If it isn’t the lack of scenery that bothers us, it’s the claustrophobia of those overly packed 9 AM trains. Don’t get us started on people refusing to put down their backpacks. And when you try to squeeze out to the platform, brushing past the aunties and uncles already becomes a mood damper. 

And it’s not just us. One of RICE’s recent Facebook posts on the topic amassed over a hundred comments, concurring that long bus rides are superior to an MRT commute.

In the early evenings, we can’t wait to get home. The bus captains’ friendly smiles give bus rides a certain charm absent in sterile trains. We’d rather chill on buses with empty seats than stand in packed trains with cool-toned lighting. Just the overall peacefulness and serenity are enough for us to truly take a break. 

Sure, our trains are speedy, but they can’t match the cosy vibes of a bus ride. Buses give us those moments to unwind and reflect. They’re like pockets of tranquillity in our busy lives. Those bus rides are like affordable therapy sessions. Taking the time of day to declutter and process our emotions is a need.

Sometimes, we are all just yearning for that main character moment, even if it comes in the form of a neon green bus on six wheels riding through Yio Chu Kang. 

Image: Helen Huang / RICE File Photo

Voice of Reason

Amidst concerns about housing, employment, and inflation, it’s perhaps a little comical that grievances about a bus service are making headlines. Our public transport system is already one of the best in the world, after all.

It might be hard to wrap our heads around the community’s zeal in salvaging bus 167’s service. Not to mention that countless other bus services run routes parallel to segments of 167’s.

But evidently, the motivations behind our quiet celebration for bus 167’s revival mean more than the commute in and of itself. 

Perhaps it’s the fact that LTA has been nudging Singaporeans into using the MRT for ages despite our inertia to leave our treasured bus routes behind. 

And when the slashing of beloved fixtures in our neighbourhood occurs even after objections from the public, it’s hard not to feel triumphant over the survival of a seemingly minuscule bus service.

We’re creatures of habit, after all. Just take a stroll through Reddit, and you’ll land yourself in threads with thousands of upvotes grieving the loss of our neighbourhood buses. 

Plus, our attachment to things isn’t always about economic pragmatism. We might be a nation of pragmatists, but we’re also the same people who would stand in an hour-long queue just because some random TikTok video said that a particular chicken rice stall was good. 

In the grand scheme of things, it’s true that the revival of 167 might not affect the majority of Singaporeans outside those frequently using the service. But hey, it’s hard not to give kudos to them for standing up for the small fry.

A Win is a Win

Of course, we’re all well aware of the plausibly short-term nature of our celebration. 

LTA has been tirelessly prodding us to use our trains more. At the end of the day, the MRT is meant to serve as the superior alternative, not the worst-case scenario.

Plus, LTA’s decision to reinstate 167 was merely a temporary bandage to allow residents more time to scope out more optimal routes. 

Amendments to our public transport for the sake of economic utility will always be inevitable, despite how reluctant and resistant the public may be. 

The future might not look too good for 167. But at least for now, the bus community can take pride in the fact that they generated enough momentum to flip the script on a publicly announced decision.

I mean, who knew us commuters could wield such power, right?

We might have to give up bus 167 in the end. But when the force the bus community is fighting against is one as unyielding as Singapore’s pragmatism, a win is still a win.

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