Many moons ago, when I was a poor student (as opposed to a poor adult), I had a tuition student who lived in Senja, at Bukit Panjang.
I agreed to take on this student as I lived only 6.5 km away. Shouldn’t be too much of a pain to travel to the student’s place, I thought.
Boy was I wrong. Turns out the “short” journey from my place took one hour. I had the unenviable options of taking a bus which would ply the incredibly congested route down Upper Bukit Timah Road and into the jammed Bukit Panjang area during peak hour, or take a bus to the MRT station, take the MRT to Choa Chu Kang and then change to the LRT.
This is why whenever I hear someone say they live in Bukit Panjang, I feel like giving them a sympathetic hug.
Sure, there’s now the brand new Bukit Panjang MRT station on the Downtown line, but those who live far from the MRT station are still at the mercy of the LRT system, which has been working horribly for the past 9 years.
Now the authorities say they might do away with the LRT system altogether. Well the LRT might suck, but living without the LRT will be even worse, because residents will be at the mercy of feeder buses and the extremely congested roads. Even LTA has admitted that relying on buses to get residents to the MRT system may not work given road congestion. Heck, this must be the only neighbourhood with uniformed staff members pushing people onto buses.
What to do then? Here are three suggestions:
1. Have a bicycle sharing system
The Jurong Lake District is going to have its own bicycle sharing system by the end of 2017. Well, if there’s one neighbourhood that needs bicycle sharing even more desperately, it’s Bukit Panjang.
The fact that Bukit Panjang is so compact makes it a good candidate for bicycle sharing. People haven’t quite taken to cycling in part because locking your bike at an MRT station is like offering it up as a sacrifice to thieving wolves. Then there are people who don’t want to invest in a bike if they’re not even sure they’ll have the guts to cycle on the roads.
A bike sharing scheme eliminates these problems because people won’t care if the bike gets stolen once they return it, and they get to test drive bike riding in the neighbourhood for (we hope) the cost of a bus ride.
2. Operate City Direct buses via the expressway
People who live in the Bukit Panjang area should already be familiar with bus services like 171. Yes, 171 does take you directly to the city area. The problem is that you’ll probably die of old age before you reach your destination. Not only is the journey a long and arduous one with a zillion stops, but you’re also likely to get stuck in interminable jams on Upper Bukit Timah Road and Bukit Timah Road during rush hour.
There’s another bus service, 970 that takes the BKE and PIE, and then exits at Whitley Road. But then it gets stuck in the Dunearn Road jam, and those who are heading to the Suntec City area for work find that the entire journey takes about 1.5 hours.
Instead of relying on buses only to ferry residents to Bukit Panjang or Choa Chu Kang MRT stations, bus services for those going directly to the city can be stepped up. While the jams in the Bukit Panjang area are a pain, travelling by the BKE and PIE is less bad than trying to leave the area by Upper Bukit Timah Road.
Travelling speeds will still be slow during peak hour since the expressways are jammed, but in smooth traffic buses that take the expressway directly to the city area should be able to arrive in less than 45 minutes—which, for people in the Bukit Panjang area, is a very short time.
There are already seven City Direct buses running from suburban estates to the city, and one of these services actually goes to Bukit Batok and Hillview right next door! It’s really a mystery why the folks in Bukit Panjang don’t have a City Direct bus when they clearly need it most.
3. Connect the rest of Bukit Panjang to the MRT system
The LTA has admitted that the LRT system really, really sucks. Perhaps it’s time to consider extending the MRT system to include those poor folks who are just out of reach of the last stop on the Downtown Line.
The Bukit Panjang MRT station is, as far as most residents are concerned, located in the worst possible place at the far end of Bukit Panjang close to Upper Bukit Timah. For folks living on Segar Road or Bangkit Road, walking to the MRT station could take 15-20 minutes—just a bit too long for comfort.
The residents of Bukit Panjang can only pray that at some point in the future, the LTA will decide to extend the Downtown Line by one stop to serve those who live further in. This was not considered before because of the existing LRT system, but now that its future looks bleak, it might be time to extend the line, just like the East West line was extended to include Pioneer and Joo Koon.
Until then, thank God there’s Uber Pool.
What do you think can be done to improve public transport in the Bukit Panjang area? Share your suggestions in the comments!
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