Sustainable Living #8: Public Transport

(This post is part of the Sustainable Living series)

Late post for July, but it’s a long one. This blog post will be about my experience taking public transport in Singapore, with a small section on Singapore-Johor buses, since I don’t have much personal experience elsewhere.

As we all know, public transport helps to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution caused by too many private cars, so I won’t elaborate here. Fewer cars on the road also reduces traffic jams and congestion, which contribute to “wasted” fuel (idling engines, longer times driving the same distance), so it’s a double saving.

Public transport is not for everyone. In many places in the world, especially areas with low population density, public transport is often non-existent. The USA is an especially bad case, where the government is so allergic to the idea of public transport that some developing countries (e.g China) have better public transport systems than US cities.

My situation

Yes, our family owns a car, but we often choose to take public transport instead. Usually, it’s not primarily for the sake of being environmentally-friendly, the emission reduction is merely a side benefit.

Save money: Fares can be very low for senior citizens and students. This is my mother’s main reason for taking the MRT nowadays. As a senior citizen, she pays $0.55 to $0.88 for a standard bus or train journey. The maximum fare is $0.88, regardless of how far she travels. The senior citizen fare can be combined with the early morning $0.50 discount as well as the usual 45-minute transfer rule, so under specific circumstances, she can make a round-trip for only $0.38.

Less stress: Anyone who drives in Singapore knows that it’s not a pleasant experience. There are too many selfish drivers: speeding, beating red lights, tailgating you when you’re already driving at the speed limit, blocking you when you try to change lanes, overtaking you just before a red light junction as if the 5m distance gained is vital to their existence, and many more examples of bad behaviour. All this is even worse during morning rush hour, since many drivers think that owning a car means that they don’t need to leave their homes punctually, so everyone is just rushing to beat the clock.
My brother tried driving to work a few times and concluded that it was less stressful to take the MRT and the company bus. Let other people drive, we’ll just take a nap.

More reliable timing: The breakdowns a few years ago seem to have given the Land Transport Authority and the MRT companies a big kick in the pants, and the result is that taking the MRT can sometimes be faster than driving along congested roads. During the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar, Changi Road was so jammed on weekends that it took 20min to drive about 500m. The MRT, passing parallel to the road, covers the distance in less than 2min.
My friend recently missed her Friday evening flight due to traffic congestion. Perhaps she would have made it if she had planned to take the MRT instead?

Convenience: Yes, it’s true that public transport can be more convenient than driving. Some areas in town have many one-way roads that we are not familiar with, as well as hard-to-find and expensive parking. Our family lives in-between 2 MRT stations, so it takes only 10-15min to walk to either of them. There is a bus stop only 50m from our block with 10 buses stopping there. We also live in the less densely populated Eastern Singapore, with 3 active MRT lines.
Some destinations where we seldom drive:

  • Suntec City, Marina Square, MBS & Gardens by the Bay: A short bus ride to Paya Lebar MRT and a 15-20min MRT ride along the Circle Line.
  • Vivocity, Harbourfront, Sentosa: Bus 30 can make the trip in about 30-40min if there’s no congestion. A large portion of the 12km distance is non-stop on the expressway.

Besides reducing carbon emissions, what are the other benefits of taking public transport?

  • Increased physical activity and health benefits: White-collar office workers and city dwellers often have very sedentary lifestyles. Taking public transport makes you walk a few hundred metres more every day, instead of just sitting on your backside.
  • Free time: Listen to music or podcasts, read a book or e-book, catch up on social media or type out your serial novel / fanfiction during your commute. This is a regularly-scheduled block of enforced free time for you to fill up as you like. You can’t do much else if you’re driving.

Of course, the experience of taking public transport will vary depending on timing (peak vs. off-peak hours) and location (crowded sections vs. low-use regions).

Feature: Singapore to Johor Baru by bus

For past few years, taking a bus across the Causeway is often quicker than driving across. On Good Friday this year, I took about 20min to cross the Causeway bridge on a bus, while the cars hardly moved. This demonstrates the importance of dedicated bus lanes.

Since Good Friday is a long weekend holiday, huge numbers of people were taking buses and immigration queues spilled out of the halls on both Singapore and JB sides. I spent most of the journey time waiting in the immigration queues and in the equally-long bus boarding queue. The bus trip itself took only 20min, moving a little more slowly than usual but not stopping, even though all the bus companies sent extra buses to handle the crowd.

Driving across the Causeway on Good Friday would probably have taken over 1 hour, compared to 20 minutes by bus. If you are going for a short day trip, not going far from the bus stops, and not intending to buy much, I would strongly recommend taking the bus instead of driving.

Tips for going to JB by bus, from personal experience:

  • Kranji MRT has the most frequent bus services by SBS and Causeway Link (CW).
  • Queen Street bus terminal has SBS, CW and Singapore-Johor Express (SJE) bus services. Service is not as frequent, but CW and SJE are non-stop express buses from Queen Street to Woodlands Checkpoint, which can be faster than taking MRT to Kranji.
  • CW buses accept Malaysian Ringgit for the return trip (JB to Singapore). The RM-denominated return trip fare is around 1/3 of the forward trip fare (Singapore to JB), and much cheaper than paying Singapore public transport fares to Queen Street. Keep some RM small change for your return trip!

More posts in the Sustainable Living series:

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