For Those Who Can’t Afford a Car, Are There Serious Alternatives to Taking the MRT and Buses?
While many people in Singapore cite work as their biggest source of stress, for a significant number, I’m willing to bet, it’s actually the mornings before work that cause the most distress—struggling to get up, worrying about being late as you wait for the bus to arrive and then flinging yourself into a seething mass of bodies as you try to fit into an MRT carriage.
The price of cars might be exorbitant here, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only way to get to work other than the bus and MRT. Unfortunately, few people attempt alternative methods of getting to work.
We do the dirty work for you by examining a few affordable alternatives to using the overloaded bus and MRT system to see just how viable these methods are.
1. Riding a bicycle
Breathing in fumes expelled from buses’ exhaust pipes, getting run over by drivers and arriving at work drenched in sweat are just some of the reasons many Singaporeans think cycling to work is madness.
But that hasn’t stopped Lionel, a 29-year-old civil servant, from cycling to work on certain days.
Lionel travels from his home in Siglap to his office at City Hall by bicycle about once a week and then takes a shower at the office. A leisurely ride of about 11 km takes him around 30 to 40 minutes, which is even faster than waiting for and riding the bus, which takes about an hour altogether.
He admits that he still gets the jitters sometimes. “There are several stretches during my commute that are rather dangerous, particularly those where there are many cars parked by the side of the road, forcing me into the centre of the lane.”
Still, for people who don’t live near an MRT station, bicycle riding can actually be a little faster than taking buses, which move at a snail’s pace during peak hour and can take forever to arrive.
Lionel says arriving at the office hot and sweaty doesn’t bother him. “I save time in the morning as I don’t have to take a shower until I get to the office, and I actually feel fresher and more awake afterwards because I’ve exercised and had a shower, while many of my colleagues are already bathed in the perspiration accumulated on their commute.”
However, road conditions in Singapore aren’t optimal for cycling, and this can be nerve wracking for new cyclists. Lionel encourages newbies to persevere, however. “The fear can be quite crippling at the start, but after a while you get used to it.”
Those who want to have the option of taking public transport home instead of being forced to cycle all the way back after work might want to invest in a folding bicycle which can be taken with them on public transport.
If you live in a hilly area such as Upper Bukit Timah or Ulu Pandan, however, be prepared for a tough uphill slog.
For those seriously contemplating this option, check out Mr Brown’s guide to commuting by bicycle.
Cost: $0 on a daily basis. Cost of your bicycle can vary from less than $200 to thousands depending on your ride.
Speed: Slower than MRT, but can be faster than or equivalent to travelling by bus
Comfort: Expect some initial discomfort at first, which gradually dissipates when you have built up enough fitness and courage to enjoy the ride.
2. Ride sharing
If you don’t drive but have a friend who does and happens to live near you, ride sharing allows you to maintain a symbiotic relationship. You chip in and share the cost of gas, while he provides you with a much needed ride.
The biggest problems with ride sharing or car pooling are logistical. If your designated driver goes on leave or MC, your plans get thrown off kilter.
Marissa, a 30-year-old bank executive, often car pools with her sister, who lives less than 2 km away and also works in the CBD area.
The main drawback is that at times she doesn’t have a ride. “Sometimes my sister has to send her kids to school and then goes to work directly, so I don’t get a ride. In addition, I have to take the bus four stops to her place, which adds a little to my travelling time.”
Jeremy, Marcus and Weiquan, aged 30 to 32, all live in the Jurong area and take Weiquan’s car to work. He picks them up at Jurong East MRT en route to the PIE. They pay $5 each per ride to cover the cost of ERP and petrol.
Weiquan admits that the ride share arrangement does shift quite a bit of responsibility to him. “I can’t be late for work because that means I’ll make my friends late, too. If I didn’t have to drive them I would probably aim to arrive at work at around 9 to 9:10am. But since I started driving the guys, we’ve been getting to the CBD at around 8:50am.
In addition, ride share arrangements don’t work so well after work, since Singaporeans rarely get to leave on the dot. For Jeremy, Marcus and Weiquan, this means they go home separately, unless they meet up for drinks in the evening.
If you don’t know anyone living near you who isn’t retired or a kid, you might want to find a rideshare buddy using one of the many rideshare apps and websites catering to the Singapore market.
Cost: Depends on your arrangement, the distance and how many people ride in the car, but generally around $5 to $10 per ride.
Speed: Depends on road conditions in your area, but generally faster than taking a bus to the MRT station.
Comfort: High, so long as you’re not the sort of person who has difficulty being on time.
3. Executive bus
You might have seen these special buses zoom past triumphantly while waiting in frustration at the bus stop for your ever-elusive TIBS or SBS bus service.
BusPlus, which is actually run by SMRT to collect more money from people frustrated by their regular bus services, is an executive bus that makes a few stops in residential areas and then travels directly to the CBD.
While that might sound no different from a regular bus, those who have tried BusPlus swear by it.
Saza, a 31-year-old secretary, used to take a now-defunct BusPlus route from her home in Yishun to her office in Shenton Way, giving the ride rave reviews. The bus arrived like clockwork, unlike the other bus services she would have been forced to take to get to the MRT station. In addition, she was guaranteed a seat, which meant she could get some much-needed shut-eye on the way to work instead of standing through an exhausting commute. “It was well worth the $5.50 I paid,” she says.
At the moment, there are only three scheduled services, two catering to people living in the East and one to West-siders. However, if you can find a whole bunch of disgruntled commuters living in your area, you might be able to charter a bus to the CBD.
Bus Hub is another company that runs bus services to the city from far flung areas like Yio Chu Kang, Yishun and Seletar for $5 to $7 per ride or $110 for a month’s worth of one way trips.
While those living close to MRT stations might still find taking the MRT less time-intensive, if you are one of the few people lucky enough to live in an area that’s served by an executive bus, you’ll find that it’s definitely a more pleasant way to travel. The only drawback is that their schedules can be inflexible and you might be required to leave the house earlier.
Cost: $5 to $7 per ride
Speed: Slower than the MRT; generally faster than taking regular buses.
4. Motorcycle or Scooter
If you live miles from the nearest MRT station in an area that’s plagued by traffic jams, a motorcycle or scooter can save you hours each day.
I used to face a grinding 1.5 hour commute to the city, half an hour of which would be spent waiting at the bus stop for the only bus in my estate to take me to the MRT station 4.4 km away.
I signed up get my bike licence in frustration after being made to wait more than 1 hour for the bus one day. By motorcycle, the 18 km ride to the CBD took only half an hour, especially since I was able to bypass traffic jams on the AYE during rush hour.
If you’re thinking of signing up for a bike licence, you should budget around $700 to $1,500 for lessons and tests (repeated ones if you fail). A cheap Class 2B bike (used, obviously) can cost as little as $2,000+. If you increase your budget to $3,000 you should be able to find one with at least 8 or 9 nears of COE left, but don’t expect it to be cool or fancy. Maintenance really varies; some people send their bikes for constant servicing while others only go to the workshop once or twice a year.
If you ride a scooter or moped with low fuel consumption, your monthly petrol costs can be kept under $50 even if you live 20km away from work, while ERP is half of what car drivers pay. If you work in the CBD, see if your office or a nearby building offers free bike parking, otherwise season parking or daily URA parking will cost about $15 to $30 a month.
One drawback is that it’s a pain to ride to work in the rain. A good raincoat made for bikers will keep you completely dry except for your shoes, but you will be stressed out for sure.
Another is the danger you face on the road every day. This problem is compounded when you’re in a rush, so try not to oversleep.
Cost: About $50 to $180 a month on a 2B bike, plus about $300 a year for insurance and road tax. Does not include cost of bike and maintenance.
Speed: Very fast
Comfort: Medium, though definitely higher than taking public transport; low in rainy weather.
Have you tried any of the above modes of transport or do you have a new one to suggest? Let us know in the comments!