Singapore: Mysterious, Providential Buses

[Slightly revised 22 August ’10 to eliminate some innocent mistakes.  The overall naive tone of this post was intentional; this was, after all, my first full day in Singapore, so I was seeing as one sees when first trying to figure out a network.]

My first transit adventure in Singapore began in at the remote wetland reserve, Sungei Buloh, in the northwest of the island.  It’s adjacent to a curious area called the “Kranji Countryside,” billed as Singapore’s “homegrown agritainment hub.”  It’s a small patch of farmlands and vineyards designed to serve all the agrarian tourism needs for the 5 million people living just down the road.  

When I was ready to leave, I was directed to a bus stop out on the road, which looked clear enough.  Note the practice of identifying the stop location on the sign, a nice subliminal gesture that says “we, your gigantic transit system, actually know where you are.” (Click photo to enlarge, as always.)


(Yes, I know how to straighten crooked photos.  This is the actual lean of the sign!)

In this clean and clear sign is a lot of information.  Above the location name is a unique number, 49209, that one can presumably use to summon real-time information by mobile phone.  Below that is a new display about the new fare system (more on that here), and below that is a sleeve containing the current timetable of the only route at this stop, the 925.  It’s only about once an hour, but hey, this is the price of a “countryside” lifestyle.

A lot of people had assembled for the hourly apparition of the 925, but right at the time that the 925 was due, something else showed up.


Kranji Express, according to the paint on the bus, but there’s also an electric sign in the front window, helpfully adding: “Kranji Express.”

Everyone got on this bus, as though it was what they were waiting for, so I did too.

The web address on the bus is, so perhaps this bus is part of the Kranji Countryside offering.  It was air conditioned (Singapore has separate fare structures for air conditioned vs non-air-conditioned buses) but nothing fancy beyond that; it would not have looked out of place in India.  It had the standard Land Transport Authority card reader, and a very old cash farebox.

Once on the bus, I assumed that this was one of those privately operated services that is called 925 for the Transport Authority’s purposes, but before long I saw a 925 going the other direction, and it was a standard Singapore bus.  We also seemed to be running nonstop, passing up people waiting at other 925 stops down the line.  So what is this thing, exactly?  A bus that has LTA equipment but seems to operate instead of, or perhaps just in front of, the advertised LTA service?  Was the funky vehicle supposed to be part of the “agritainment”?  (Curiously, one of our few stops was to loop through a “farm adventure” facility, presumably a place you can take your children to hug chickens.)  Such oddities happen when you’re still in the process of getting government control over previously unregulated service, and when existing providers have objectives other than transport.

A similar confusion arose the next day as I considered transit options for going across the channel to Johor Bahru, Malaysia.  Inside MTR trains, an announcement approaching Marsaling station says that you should change there for buses to Malaysia, but when I looked for confirming information on the web, all indications were that these buses leave from the next station down the line, Kranji.  I didn’t have time for the risks that this uncertainty presented, so I took a taxi.  There’s a parable there.

8 Responses to Singapore: Mysterious, Providential Buses

  1. Jase July 2, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    When i lived in China, rogue private mini-buses would arrive at major stops moments before the scheduled bus, and everyone would get on. By virtue of charging fractionally less and doing stops on demand, they effectively cannibalised the market.
    If this bus had a card reader it might be more official. Are you certain it was an official card reader?

  2. Angus Grieve-Smith July 2, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    (Yes, I know how to straighten crooked photos. This is the actual lean of the sign!)

    Okay, so we know how you’d do on a rod-and-frame test. Is that connected to spatial navigation?

  3. Jarrett at July 2, 2010 at 5:18 am #

    @Angus.  Probably yes!  Jarrett

  4. jm July 2, 2010 at 6:40 am #

    I think its great that the private sector was providing bus service. Cannibalizing sales? Why is the government paying for a route that per your description, is already provided for by private enterprise?

  5. EngineerScotty July 2, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    It’s a good sign, I guess, when private enterprise is INTERESTED in providing private bus/jitney service.
    Here in Portland, the only way to make money in public transit is by being a bus driver getting paid union scale. 🙂

  6. Alon Levy July 2, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    JM: the main bus company, SBS, is already privately run. So is the main subway company, SMRT. Both are highly profitable.
    Jarrett: did the Kranji express bus accept ezLink?

  7. Jarrett at July 2, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    @Alon. Yes, I saw most passengers waving their cards at a card reader, which looked just like the ones in the MTR and on standard buses. I was the only one paying cash, and the driver just had me throw the coins in the old farebox; he didn’t care how much they were.
    So obviously this thing has some relationship with LTA, though it may just be a regulator-provider interaction under the old model.

  8. Chen Munn July 6, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    hokay… now let me debunk thy myths….
    1. The sign is not the LTA logo. It’s the public transit logo.
    2. MRT. MTR is in Hong Kong.
    3. The Kranji Express is a legit service under the Premium Bus Service scheme. Passengers pay a little more for comfort and a guaranteed seat, and of course a speedier alternative to the 925. It’s part of the government’s plan to encourage more commuters to shift to public transport. The Premium Service is a choice mode.
    4. Cash boxes – although ‘old’ – are for the convenience of commuters who may not have enough on their prepaid EZLink card, or for tourists who don’t have the card.
    5. The unique number above the location sign is the bus stop number. It’s another form of identification, just like we also have unique numbers for cars and even lamp posts!
    5. Bus services to Malaysia? No comments. 🙂