4 Ways to Make Taking Public Transport in Singapore More Bearable and Productive

sbs smrt alternatives singapore

Recently, after five years of avoiding the overcrowded buses and MRT, I sold my motorcycle. What followed was one month of extreme frustration. From waiting 20 minutes for buses while breathing in PSI 200 haze to being rugby-tackled by uncles competing for the same MRT seat, I experienced the real reason Singaporeans complain so much about public transport—it’s just bloody uncomfortable.

Struggling to keep your balance on a bus that’s lurching in a vomit-inducing manner and experiencing with fellow commuters on the MRT the kind of intimacy usually only reserved for people who have seen you naked can really, really wear you down—especially if you have to do it twice a day at times when you’re most sleepy or tired.

While nothing’s going to make taking public transport as comfortable as having your own vehicle, here are four ways to make your commute slightly less aggravating.


Use apps to reduce waiting time

Anyone in Singapore who has to rely on feeder buses to get to an MRT station knows how annoying it is to have to wait 20 minutes for the bus, only to find it packed to the brim. As someone who lives miles away from the nearest MRT station and relies on buses to get to the city centre, I have to say that LTA’s MyTransport app has made a world of difference. Other apps like SGBuses have nothing on this one in terms of the amount of information you can glean.

Not only does MyTransport help you track the arrival time of buses, it also lets you compare the arrival times of all the other buses scheduled to pick up people at your bus stop.. You can also see how full the buses are—the app indicates when there are no more seats on a particular bus. You also get to gawk at how long the waiting time for buses can be—seeing timeframes of more than 30 minutes is not uncommon.

More than once, I’ve decided to take a different bus and use a different route after discovering that the bus I was waiting for would only arrive in 25 minutes, and was already packed like sardines.


Always have alternative routes up your sleeve

Aside from the odd MRT breakdown, anyone who takes public transport regularly is also familiar with that annoying phenomenon of buses that take forever and a day to show up, finally appearing after half an hour in a set of triplets.

If you’re heavily reliant on buses or take the MRT to work every day, always have alternative routes up your sleeve in case there’s a breakdown or the bus takes too long to arrive.

For instance, there is only one bus near my place that goes directly to the Botanic Gardens, Bus 66. Anyone who takes this bus knows the waiting times are just horrible—20 minutes is the norm, and I’ve even seen waiting times as long as 45 minutes on the MyTransport app.

Because of that, it is usually a better idea to just catch a different bus, travel to a stop with more bus services and then change to another bus. On all the occasions I’ve done that, I managed to reach the Botanic Gardens within half an hour—which is even less time than it takes 66 to arrive.

Using the MyTransport app to monitor waiting time, you too can shorten your journey by taking alternative routes in the event that the bus you originally wanted to take is delayed. Depending on where you live, you might be able to save some serious time.


Move to the back of the bus / middle of the carriage for a higher chance of getting a seat

I don’t understand why people continue to cluster in the areas just outside the doors on the MRT and buses. Unless you’re alighting soon, being able to lean on the glass doors beside the MRT doors or stand in the large space by the back door of the bus is no consolation for not being able to get a seat.

If you want a fighting chance of getting a seat, you’d do better to move to the back of the bus or the centre of the MRT carriage and park yourself in front of a row of seats. That way, anytime someone vacates a seat, you’ll be close enough to claim it as your own.

This is especially important if you’re travelling long distances, because let’s face it, trying to keep your balance for 20 stops on the MRT can be torture especially when you’re already tired.


Do something you have been planning to do anyway

I’m a huge fan of being productive on public transport. All that time you spend on the bus or MRT is basically dead time, time you would rather not have lived, so it makes sense to do something useful with it.

Instead of staring into space or mindlessly playing Candy Crush on your phone, do stuff you would normally do at home. If you have a long bus ride on which you’re likely to get a seat, bring your laptop and get some work done. Alternatively, bring along that book you’ve been trying to finish but never had the time to, watch that movie you’ve been dying to see on your iPad or listen to a podcast.

The idea is not to do something that merely helps you kill time, but to accomplish something you’ve been wanting to do anyway.

That way, not only do you get off the bus or MRT congratulating yourself for doing something useful with your time, but the time also passes way faster because you’ve managed to block out all the unpleasant sights and sounds of the MRT.

How do you cope with commuting on public transport? Tell us in the comments!