Jun 15, 2011

2nd Shot: The First Double-Decker Buses in Singapore

Second Shot

When PAP's Eric Low revealed to voters Hougang has become a slum at a recent elections rally, he must have ruffled more than a few feathers. Before the General Elections, Hougang was carved out into territories which fell under PAP and WP and the slum of course referred to the estate with WP in charge. Blk 1 and 2 under the WP were compared against Blk 20 and 21 under the PAP, the example given by Eric to booster his argument. His choice of flats was apt, with Hougang Ave 3 running in-between them and residents green with envy on one side, this road demarcates the boundary of Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC.

Selamat Datang Ke Bandar Hougang
Blk 25 (part of Eric Low's "slum") standing proud with its "Selamat Datang Ke Bandar Hougang". How did Hougang town (后港镇) become Hougang City (Bandar Hougang)? Not to be outdone, the PAP came out with Kovan City (Bandar Kovan).

Hougang Ave 3 would be a little insignificant today if not for its role as an arterial road connecting Hougang to Eunos, East Coast and Marine Parade in the south. The road starts from the junction with Upper Serangoon Road and the stretch of Ave 3 between Upper Serangoon Road and Tampines Road - where the WP slum and PAP's Hougang View are located - is somewhat of a historical heritage. Younger residents may not know the stretch started off as a road by another name and scored a "first" for Hougang in the annals of our public transport history.

Blk 2, Hougang Ave 3
Blk 2 of slum example fame. Ironically it underwent repairs and redecoration just before the General Elections! Hougang Town Council (read: WP) certainly played their cards well.

On 13 June 1977, almost exactly 34 years ago, the first double-decker buses in Singapore began their service from Tampines Way, the first bus leaving the terminal at 11.30am with a handful of passengers on board. This was service 86, part of a fleet of seven buses, all Atlantean double-deckers from British Leyland (SBS ordered 400 of them). The guest of honor was Mr Ong Teng Cheong, then Senior Minister of State (Communications), who launched the service. Archival photos show a younger Mr Ong, our future President, cutting the ribbon at the VIP bus entrance and a crowd witnessing the event.

Ong Teng Cheong Launching SBS First Double Deck, 13 June 1977
Mr Ong Teng Cheong launching the first SBS double decker at Tampines Way on 13 June 1977 (source: NAS).

SBS First Double Deck 13 June 1977
The SBS fleet of seven buses for service 86 at Tampines Way. The buses are of the British Leyland Atlantean model (source: NAS).

In line with the theme of this blog, we now ask the question: where is Tampines Way today and the exact spot the photos were taken from? Hougang residents can probably recognize the exact spot because frankly not much has changed today: the stretch of Hougang Ave 3 that was once Tampines Way; Blk 24 and 25 (the big welcome with Bandar Hougang) in the background of the archival photo; and Blk 1 (of slum example fame) at the edge of the photo.

Open Street Map 2011
Hougang Ave 3 today with red arrow showing exact spot where the buses were parked (source: OpenStreetMap).

1978 Street Directory
Tampines Way, between Upper Serangoon and Tampines Road, with red arrow showing the same spot in 1977 (source: 1978 Street Directory).

Archival photos show the fleet of seven buses parked along what looked like a bus bay though the reports tell us the first bus pulled out of Tampines Way terminal at 11.30am, which suggests the bus bay was the actual terminal (a bit silly to enter a real terminal again to pick up passengers). This must be the smallest "bus terminal" I have seen in Singapore, past or present, but I confess here I am not a bus fan. The amazing thing is, if you look at my modern day photo of the same spot, the bus bay is more or less intact. Could this bus stop be the historical Tampines Way Terminal?

Hougang Ave 3
Hougang Ave 3 from the overhead bridge beside Blk 1, showing the bus stop. Could the bus bay be the old Tampines Way Terminal?

SBS's one-man operated Bus 86 plied the two terminals at Tampines Way and Shenton Way, running Mondays to Saturdays from 6am to 9.45pm with no service on Sundays and public holidays. The fare was 40 cents (flat fare) or 10 cents for students with concession pass. It was a semi-express service meant for commuters in Punggol and Upper Serangoon to travel to the city, thus according to the report, the bus did not stop between Texas Instruments (Bendemeer Road) and Woh Hup Shopping Complex on the way to the city and Merlion Hotel and Serangoon Road fringe carpark on the way back.

86 Tampines Way

86 Shenton Way
SBS service 86 running between Tampines Way and Shenton Way. These are the routes, which I recreated to look like a bus plate.

Unfortunately the service was not well received by commuters; few took it on the first day as amid the fanfare, the novelty conscious folks were apprehensive or simply unsure of the bus route. In fact it was even mentioned many passengers were schoolchildren from Punggol housing estate on fun rides. Many also found the 40 cents flat fare absurb. SBS defended the price, as it was a OMO (one-man-operated) system, it was only possible to charge a flat fare and the distance covered would be 40 cents on single deck. To show the service was popular with commuters, it was revealed each bus fetched an average collection of $300.

SBS First Double Decker
Passengers on upper deck of the first double-decker service in Singapore (source: NAS).

Times have changed and public transportation has come a long way. After the 1977 launching of the first double-deckers (double-deckers for other services were launched in the same year), Ong Teng Cheong would play a big role in pushing for the development of our MRT. From the Atlantean model, SBS (now SBSTransit) has brought in models from different manufacturers; I was told by a bus-fan the latest model is the Volvo B9TL with wright bodyword.

But do you know, even with today's more efficient public transportation network, there is no direct bus service from Blk 1, Hougang Ave 3 to Shenton Way Bus Terminal? The closest is service 107 that will take you to Shenton Way Bus Terminal but you have to walk 355m and board it opposite Serangoon JC. You can also forget about the bus and train combination because there are more hops.

SBS 25

SBS 25 Scania K310UD
Same service but different models. Bottom shows the Scania K310UD, one of the latest models.


me said...

it improvement for Blk 1, hougang ave 3 residence?

Icemoon said...

Some minor upgrading over the years bah.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your blog. It is interesting, indeed.

Infact I have always been wondering where was that exact location of fleets of buses ply 78 in 1977. Now then I know.

Thank you once again. :)