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The Site Admin visited North-East Singapore on 18th December to visit a friend and try out Service 50, a Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP) service rolled out two days earlier.

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Service 116, the first full BSEP service introduced under SBS Transit. Earlier on in October, service 860 was introduced under SMRT Buses for Yishun residents, and service 119 was extended to ply between Punggol to Kovan. BSEP vehicles can be identified by license number in SBS as 33XX (B9TL), 63XX (Citaro), and SMRT Buses, 3XXX (MAN A22).

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Service 50 during evening peak hours. This was taken at 18:21 hrs and there was only one paying commuter and a fare inspector boarding at the terminus towards Bishan. Compared to service 3 and 83 which runs along avenues dissecting Punggol New Town, service 50 which runs along portion of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) line, sees a much lesser load.

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The Site Admin took the next bus, SBS3313D, a Volvo B9TL Euro 5 Wright. The run time from Punggol to Bishan is 66 minutes (18:35 -> 19:41), previous headway 14 minutes. This was the upper deck scene after the bus left Ang Mo Kio. A total of less than 10 persons used the upper deck throughout the journey.

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The condensation attests to the load of the bus, added on by the rain, forms a thick layer on all the windows.

The Site Admin chooses to use an age-old saying from Japan, 我田引鉄 (pronounced ga-den-in-te-tsu), to describe the latest BSEP service introduced in Singapore. The phrase evolved from 我田引水 (ga-den-in-sui), which described by Goo Dictionary, as ‘Doing something for one’s good without consideration for others. Channeling water into one’s rice pad just for one’s use’. 我田引鉄 means the same thing, but used on the railway scene, where in the 1950s Japan National Railway was pressurized to build local lines for rural villages just because politicians gave pressure during meetings. Till today this pressure is still felt when towns are developed; JR and private rail operators build stations that serve few, costs fed from profiting sectors.

The route design of service 50 deserves this calling. Departing from Punggol, it skirts the LRT line, a portion of the road not used by any public bus yet. Thereafter, it crosses into Sengkang New Town, dissecting almost the whole town but turning into it at the last junction, picking a little load before heading out. However, instead of taking a shorter route to Ang Mo Kio, it turns and head along the outskirts of Sengkang, turning only to pass through two industrial estates before serving one of the major landmarks; ITE Central, at the outskirts of Ang Mo Kio. The route to Bishan thereafter is rather straightforward, but see little passenger movement again.

Instead of taking a short route, the ‘diversion’ is apparent that political considerations is at play, as well as the route within Punggol and Sengkang New Towns. By the right of mind, Punggol and Sengkang residents will not take the service to Bishan, when they can take the North-East Line to Serangoon five stations away, change to the Circle Line and arrive at Bishan two stops later. This defeats the primary purpose of the service, ‘Better inter-town connectivity between Sengkang, Punggol, Ang Mo Kio and Bishan’.

The Site Admin welcomes changes to the transport scene in Singapore. Political pressure is always present in countries; it is what makes things done for the better of fellow countrymen. Used wrongly however, transport operators are forced to run routes which does not profit, use vehicles that can better serve elsewhere, and bring people on a ride around estates which wastes time and urges them never to take the bus again. If service 50 is to take a more ‘reasonable’ route, the ridership may improve after the school holidays to justify its existence. Let it remain as it is, losses and waste of resources continue to develop.