3 Hacks to Use on Public Transport in Singapore

singapore public transport

Every time someone declares haughtily that the Singapore public transport system is way better that in London/New York/Timbuktu, I bristle a little inside, because these people are never one of those damned souls that have to rely entirely on public transport to get to work during rush hour every.single.day. Amongst those who do commute daily during rush hour, I never once heard it said that public transport is comfortable or, unless they live beside an MRT station, fast.

Still, for many of us, there are few alternatives save for buying a skate scooter or learning how to teleport. Other than yet another MRT delay or a missed bus, there’s a deluge of factors that insidiously combine to turn a tedious commute into a ride from hell—trying to catch your balance on a bus so full you’re channelling Cirque du Soleil on the steps, standing in the rain for an hour because the cab drivers are all behaving as if you’re a pontianak or simply having to stand on the MRT from Tampines all the way to Jurong.

While we’re not sure anything can make constant use of Singapore’s public transportation system comfortable, here are some hacks that can reduce a bit of your frustration.


When you call a cab, don’t mention an inaccessible destination

My friend Lynn lives in Yishun. Apparently, taxi drivers don’t like to go to Yishun. Every time she tries to get a cab using the Comfort Del Gro app, she is made to wait for hours because the taxi company can’t find a driver who’s willing to go to Yishun.

So one day, after trying in vain for 45 minutes to book a cab, she decided to change her destination to Ang Mo Kio instead. Within 2 minutes, a cab was on the way. When she got into the cab she told the driver she was actually going to Yishun. “Not that far away la, uncle!” she pleaded, and left with few choices the driver agreed to take her there.

When asked why it was so hard to find a cab willing to go to Yishun, the taxi uncle told her that his fellow drivers hate going to what they consider inaccessible areas (Yishun being one of them) because after dropping the passenger off they need to drive all the way to a more central area in order to find another passenger. This makes living in the boondocks all the more frustrating because hello! The whole reason people need to take cabs to these areas is because they’re inaccessible! (Yes, I live in the boondocks.)

So if you find you’re constantly being ignored by the taxi apps, tell them you’re going to a more convenient location that’s vaguely in the direction of your actual destination—instead of Bukit Panjang say Upper Bukit Timah, instead of Punggol say Hougang, instead of Sembawang say Upper Thomson.

Bonus tip: If you’re calling the taxi companies’ hotline directly, when asked to select your language don’t pick English, as everyone else and their mother is trying to get through to the English-speaking customer service officers. It’s not like the customer service officers on the Chinese line can’t speak English anyway.


Move to the centre of the MRT cabin if you want a chance to get a seat

I still remember the embarrassment I felt when a foreign friend whom I had just picked up at the airport got onto the MRT at the Changi Airport station, only to have his seat snatched from under his butt by some uncle who squirreled his way in just seconds before he friend could sit down. Welcome to Singapore, I said.

MRT seats are such sought-after real estate that even throwing a stink bomb or giving people lap dances is not going to induce abandonment of their seats. Fights occasionally erupt over MRT seats. There’s no better illustration of the Singaporean scarcity mentality than the battle for MRT seats.

But despite the fact that people are so desperate to get seats, based on the crowds I see jamming up the area in front of the MRT doors, it’s obvious that most of them aren’t being very smart. I’m not even talking about the people who need to get out at the next stop, either, but the ones who want to lean on the glass panel beside the doors or, worse, the pole in the centre.

The advice to move to the centre of the cabin or to the back of the bus doesn’t just help people get into and out of the vehicle when they have to, but also gives you access to seats should they get freed up. Even if there is already one row of people standing in between the two rows of seats on the MRT, there technically is enough space for two rows so feel free to squeeze right in. Each person can only face one direction anyway unless they can do the Exorcist head-spin, so the row of seats behind them is fair game.

When I return to Singapore from overseas I almost always have to take the MRT, an excruciating 1 hour+ ride from Changi Airport all the way to the West. Even during peak hour when all the office workers in the East are taking the train to the CBD, I’ve found that wedging yourself in the centre of the cabin directly in front of a row of seats statistically increases your chances of getting to sit down. Bonus points if you are large enough or have a huge bag or suitcase, as you then get tabs on a wider area of seats.


Memorise where the stairs and escalators are at the MRT interchanges

If you have to transfer to another line at one of the intercharges like Dhoby Ghaut or Paya Lebar, you might have realised that the transfers alone can suck up 5 to 10 minutes of your time, especially when you have to practically crowd surf just to get to the stairs or escalator.

Memorise where the stairs and escalators are at the stations you frequent and then calculate which MRT cabin you have to get into to minimise walking distance. This can save you quite a few minutes each day.

For example, if you’re travelling from East to West and have to get on the Circle Line at Paya Lebar, you should try to board at the front of the train.

When the train doors open, swarms of people will start pouring out through the doors, and being able to get to the escalators before them will save you from potentially being trampled to death, help you escape from the bottleneck in human traffic and get you to the corridors you need to walk through to get on the next line faster.

Also, if you are going to take public transport everyday, you might as well be trying to make a little change off it. Check out this recent article on Travel Smart Rewards in Singapore and how you can benefit from it!

Do you have any other tricks for making public transport more bearable? Share them with us in the comments!

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