Warning: Very long post.
Some of you who visit Ikea or Sentosa might notice some buses that look familiar. Maybe it’s their shape, or the distinctive seats with their brown pattern. Or just the blue-and-orange colours. And then you wonder. Is that our shuttle bus?!
Or one day, while commuting in NUS, you might get a bus that looks different from the others. A fatter, rounder look, and you have to climb a couple of stairs to get to the rear half. You might notice that the number of seats is much higher, and wonder why aren’t all our buses like this?
Your questions will be answered in this piece, which will tell the story of the third-generation ISB, the predecessors of our current ones: the Scania K230UBs.
In 2010, NUS and ComfortDelGro Bus brought in a new fleet of twenty or so buses for ISB, to replace the previous high-floor coaches. They entered service with the new academic year AY10/11, on A2 before spreading to other routes.
With their distinctive rounded exterior and wheelchair-accessible interior, they caught the attention of many students. As more of them came in, they eventually became the archetype of NUS shuttle buses.
These buses are the Scania K230UBs. They scored a few firsts in the ISB fleet as they were not only the first wheelchair-accessible ISBs, they were also the first to feature environmentally friendly Euro V-compliant engines with lower emissions.
For the drivers, they were a welcome change, being the first ISB model to feature automatic transmission. Following a modification shortly after their introduction, they also became the first ISBs to have digital route display (called EDS).
Their dataset included A1, A2 and D, since B and C were run using Sunlong midibuses. In 2011, when D was split into D1 and D2, the EDS was updated accordingly.
The bus body mounted on them is from a local company called SC Auto, and is a modification of their successful SC Chivalrous coach body design. This is why the bus looks like a coach, particularly from the front and rear ends.
Since only the front half of the bus is low-entry, and the rear half of the bus is still very high, the rear half of the bus betrays the coach styling influences, particularly the semicircular last side window.
The bulbous shape of the front and abruptly-rising diagonal window line gave the bus a design that stood out on the roads. In fact, the Scania is the iconic NUS shuttle bus, usually used in information posters or memes. It’s even the header image I use for my ISB history posts such as this one.
What many people don’t know is that these buses are actually the cousins (or siblings?) of a very common SBS bus model. SBS Transit actually uses the same model of bus with 1100 of them in their fleet, purchased before the NUS ones.
The different look is because instead of SC Auto, the bodies on those buses were built by Gemilang of Malaysia. These buses can be found all over Singapore, including on service 95.
Why were they replaced? In 2015, the ISB operations contract was due for renewal. I believe that as part of the contract, CDG was supposed to provide an exclusive fleet of buses for ISB operations. This was to facilitate scheduling and real-time location of buses, as well as features like next-stop announcements in the bus.
Rather than refit the fleet of Scanias and Sunlongs, CDG decided to buy a batch of 32 all-new buses, Volvo B9Ls, to replace the old fleet, in particular the Sunlongs which had maintenance issues.
To answer that question — yes, the Scania has more seats than the current bus. It has 36 seats and can take 40 standing passengers, making up a total of 76 passengers. In comparison, the Volvo seats only 23 but has room for 65 standees, for a total of 88.
Many students also prefer the Scania, calling it the “better bus”, as the seats are all facing forward, quite important on our slopes. But the drivers actually dislike them, as the Scanias are much less powerful (with a paltry 230hp vs the Volvo’s 360).
The Scanias are also longer, making them less manoeuvrable. Not only does this mean you have to make wider turns, you have to pump the suspension to the maximum to avoid scraping the bottom of the bus on a steep slope. This can make for a dizzyingly bouncy ride.
Driving one for a day is enough to tire a driver out. One driver I spoke to said they refer to the Scanias as “kerbau” or buffalo!
The Volvo B9Ls gradually replaced the Sunlongs through an indirect process. First, the Sunlongs would be replaced by the larger Scanias on duties, and the Scanias in turn replaced by Volvos. Later as the rest of the buses came in, the remaining Scanias left NUS as well.
So where did they go? They have been to some interesting places, even before fully retiring from ISB duty.
28th SEA Games
In 2015, Singapore had the honour of hosting the SEA Games. They occurred in June 2015, during the vacation before AY15/16.
During the SEA Games, buses were chartered and wrapped in SEA Games colours to ferry athletes around. The advertisement-like wrap was multicoloured with a red base.
ComfortDelGro was one of the companies contracted to provide shuttles. Since it was the vacation period, some of the Scanias were wrapped in red and used as SEA Games shuttles. I am not sure if they received SEAG number plates, but it seems they operated on ISB services for some time while carrying the red colours, as in the picture below.
They were very useful as they were designed like citybuses for mass transit, and thus could quickly move many people.
Later in end-June, the Volvo B9Ls would arrive. There is an interesting parallel here. Back in 2010, the Scanias themselves came in while their predecessors were borrowed for YOG shuttles.
8th ASEAN Para Games
Later that year, Singapore hosted the ASEAN Para Games in December. Again, shuttle buses were contracted; this time, it was crucial that the buses be wheelchair-accessible — for obvious reasons.
Once again, our Scanias came to the rescue; they were very suited to the role, with their low floor and wheelchair ramp. This time, they were decked in white wraps and given APG number plates. Since most of the Volvo B9Ls had come in, they were barely needed in NUS.
Sixteen of our buses were sent over, but only fifteen received white wraps. The last one was PA9794M, which bore an advertisement promoting the 110th anniversary of NUS. The organisers of APG allowed it to remain in those colours, and even allocated it the special plate APG110.
Looks like someone’s an NUS grad.
After retirement from ISB, most of the Scania buses had their NUS logos removed, but mostly remained in blue and orange. To date, only one has been repainted into all-blue ComfortDelGro Bus livery — PA9869G, in mid-2020.
A large portion of the fleet was kept back in NUS as spares used during peak hours. Eventually, as all the Volvos entered service, only three remained — PA9558D, PA9772B and PA9779H. For a long while, they were faithfully maintained to NUS standards, with the EDS data updated to include the latest amendments. They also kept their logos on the sides of the bus.
The rest of the fleet has mostly been to three places — the one-north Rider (formerly), the Tampines Shopping shuttle and Sentosa. The former two duties gave the buses a new livery design, but these were not repaints. They were vinyl wraps around the buses, similar to how normal bus advertisements work. For Sentosa, the buses finally received fresh new coats of paint.
2016–present: Tampines Shopping Shuttle
Since 1 November 2016, ComfortDelGro holds the contract for shuttle services from various eastern MRT stations to the Tampines Retail Park, comprising Giant, Courts and Ikea. Being located in the outskirts of Tampines in a sparsely populated industrial area, the Tampines Retail Park is not at all easy to get to, which is why free shuttle buses and free parking are needed to attract visitors.
CDG took over the contract from BusPlus, a subsidiary of SMRT Buses. Previously, SMRT used privately-registered Dennis Lance citybuses to operate the route, in keeping with the frequent boarding and alighting.
It made sense for CDG to use its now-unused excess Scanias on the service, with the benefit of wheelchair accessibility.
The advertisement wrap for these buses is black with images of furniture and appliances, befitting their nature as commuters use these buses to get to Ikea, Courts and Giant to buy homeware. If you ask me, it does a good job of hiding the awkward window line. Often, however, their true colours can be seen beneath!
The poster advertising the Tampines shuttle services even uses a photo of the Scania straight-up clad in our NUS colours, after their logos were removed but before the adverts were stuck on.
I ride these buses often, and I notice that they’re not as well-maintained as our three spares. They vibrate more and are a lot more noisy. However, they are at least a lot easier to drive than the other buses that are sometimes pulled in.
In a huge show of irony, I discovered this notice stuck inside PA9794M, on the Ikea shuttle. It’s property of our Office of Campus Security.
Yup, that’s right.
Our OCS stuck notices in the ISBs cautioning students against leaving their stuff behind in the bus.
And then they left their stuff behind in the bus.
Anyway, another interesting discovery I had was that our spare ISB Scanias are sent over to Tampines during vacations when we have no need for them.
PA9779H, one of our spares, was spotted during the break before AY18/19 started in August 2018, doing the Bedok-Ikea shuttle with NUS logos covered up with white paper.
It was returned to us when the semester began.
2016–2019: JTC one-north Rider (former)
The shuttle services for JTC Corporation were also once contracted to ComfortDelGro, beginning in June 2016. The one-north Rider serves commuters working around the one-north district, Biopolis and Ghim Moh. The remainder of the ex-NUS Scania buses mostly went here.
Buses used for this shuttle are covered in a dark blue-based vinyl wrap. Initially, the lower portion of the bus was baby blue; this was later changed to grey.
Due to the charge of 20 cents per ride (flat fare) by cash or ez-link card, fare-collecting equipment was installed on the buses, differentiating them from ISBs or the Ikea shuttles.
The one-north Rider routes are signed A, B and C; variants of the routes that operate during certain timings have a “2” appended. So even after they left our campus, some of these buses still found themselves on route A2.
2016–2019: JTC International Business Park Shuttle (former)
The International Business Park is also run by JTC, so the shuttle connecting it to the outside world was also by ComfortDelGro. The livery is extremely similar to that of one-north Rider, including the tagline “Creating Tomorrow’s Industry Spaces” from JTC.
one two Scania ex-ISBs were known to run on this route – PA9701G, which returned to NUS in March 2019 to run on the Open Day shuttle, and PA9474L.
Just like the one-north Riders, this bus had a fare box installed inside. It says “ezlink cards accepted here”, but I didn’t see any readers – only a coinbox.
Other buses known to run on this route include a high-floor Isuzu coach, driven by a former ISB captain who comes back to train new recruits – he later came to NUS to drive Scania bus PA9772B on the Direct Lunch Shuttle for a semester.
May 2019 JTC Update
As of May 2019, the contract for JTC shuttle bus services has been renewed with a different operator. The fate of these blue Scanias is mostly unknown, but some of them have gone to Ikea to add to the fleet there. PA9474L was spotted running on the Bedok shuttle alongside its ‘siblings’ in black wraps. The JTC buses were subsequently spotted on Science Park shuttles (see next section).
Later on in end-2019, a few ex-JTC buses had their wraps removed (returning them to ISB base colours), while the majority were repainted to orange and redeployed to Sentosa (though that’s for the section later).
2019–present: Science Park Shuttle
ComfortDelGro also runs the Science Park Shuttle with a fleet of high-floor Isuzu coaches and Toyota/Mitsubishi minibuses. In May 2019, one Scania K230UB, PA9442D, began running on the shuttle routes.
This particular bus was previously spotted on Open Day 2019, running on the Dover Shuttle. Back then, it had NUS logos, but covered up in white paper.
Methinks this bus is the mysterious extra spare Scania that I’ve heard the bus uncles speak of – aside from the three active spares, there’s always been a fourth Scania that remained NUS-equipped, which I haven’t able to account for. Presumably it was this one, with its intact logos and Wi-Fi stickers!
I presume it may have been a spare for the one-north Rider, until the contract ended. Near the end of the semester, this bus made a surprise appearance on the Science Park Shuttle, now with the logos properly removed, and the rear bumper repaired. It lasted there for a few weeks.
Apparently, its GPS profile still existed in the NextBus system – there was one day recently where it randomly appeared in the app under D1 (although the GPS did indeed show the bus running the Science Park Shuttle route), because of a mix-up at the terminal where someone mistakenly used the PA9442D card.
Subsequently, more blue-wrapped JTC Scanias began appearing on the Science Park shuttles. One common duty for them is the lunchtime shuttles bringing people out of Science Park 1 and 2, as the buses’ design makes them suitable for handling the large crowds fast.
Spotted at West Coast Market on a Tuesday, PA9786L had just dropped off a load of Science Park workers heading for lunch, still in JTC one-north Rider garb.
After lunch, PA9474L from the International Business Park was one of the buses rostered to carry the crowds back.
In 2019 and 2020, some of the buses on the SP2 shuttles had their wraps removed, in preparation for full-body repainting. Unfortunately, it seems some orange from the NUS livery base colours got torn off as well.
Since 1 October 2019, ex-JTC Scania K230UBs repainted to a full plain orange livery have been deployed to Sentosa by CDG to support the existing fleet of buses owned by Sentosa Development Corporation.
Seemingly to ascend the “Sentosa and NUS both run free orange Volvos in circles” meme, this coincided with the launch of a new route C there. They run on routes A and B as well.
Five full orange buses were sent over in an initial batch — PA9552U, PA9701G, PA9708M, PA9757X and PA9894H. Later, they were joined by PA9465M, PA9786L, PA9442D and PA9799A – of which the last two started service in ISB blue-and-orange. For more information, check out the article here.
In late 2020, PA9869G was repainted to a blue livery with ComfortDelGro Bus logos. However, this was just a full blue base coat and not the actual two-tone ComfortDelGro Bus livery.
It was initially deployed to Science Park shuttle routes, but later redeployed to the Tampines Shopping Shuttle (which now only served Giant and Ikea).
Meanwhile, by the end of 2020, the largest fleet of ex-ISB Scania K230UBs was the one working at Sentosa with 9 of the original 19 buses deployed there. However, when the school term reopened in January 2021, lower demand for buses in Sentosa resulted in some of the fully-orange Scanias being freed up to operate other duties. PA9701G, in its Sentosa full-orange livery, was spotted operating on the Science Park Shuttle through the NUS campus in January 2021.
PA9465M, which I haven’t managed to spot at Sentosa, was similarly snapped at S12.
Due to on-and-off COVID-19 restrictions, demand for buses at Sentosa was not particularly stable. Some buses, such as PA9708M, had ComfortDelGro Bus logos applied to their plain orange livery. This resulted in them essentially looking like PA9869G but in orange instead of blue.
I found this a rather funny decision as there was almost no colour contrast between the logo and the bus livery. Perhaps it was a last-minute attempt to have some corporate identity on the buses (since they were being deployed to a public area at Science Park or Tampines) while maintaining the orange coat so that the buses could still be used at Sentosa when needed. Nevertheless, I thought they could have just put the logo against a white background in the windows – I think they used to do that for ISB-livery buses prior to the Scanias.
PA9558D also had its logos stripped off as it was redeployed to the Tampines Shopping Shuttle in NUS base colours, but I do not have a good photo of it.
It was a surprisingly common misconception, even among bus fans, that these buses went to NTU’s ISB under Tong Tar. However, Tong Tar never actually bought any of our Scanias. The Scanias they use, with the same body style as ours, were not ours from the beginning, initially used on free RWS shuttles and tours before being bought and redeployed to NTU ISB, to supplement the dual-door but not wheelchair-friendly Zhongtong and Yutong buses.
So… yeah, we were wheelchair-accessible first. The Scanias used at NTU have a slightly different design, with a single-leaf front door and only one wheelchair space.
So if you see a suspiciously familiar coloured bus on the roads outside, it is likely that that bus used to be an ISB. But don’t worry — those buses have been replaced adequately on our side, and we do have enough buses.
And if you do see one of our “fat buses” on service, spare a thought for the driver! They are only used as a last resort. Do expect some service delays when that happens, as it means we have lots of breakdowns on that day, so please understand!