One of the problems that plagues the UTown bus stop, specifically, is the abundance of private tour coaches that love to use it as a pick-up or drop-off point.
This comes at the ire of both commuters and ISB drivers. The UTown bus stop, at Town Plaza, is one of the longer stops in NUS, but even then its size is finite. When a tour bus stops there, it takes up one bus-length worth of space.
ISB operations tend to be disrupted when this happens, as our buses will need to manoeuvre around the stopped tour coach. It gets worse when a tour coach decides to pull up right behind a stopped ISB, and wait right in the middle of the bus stop, even after the ISB is long gone.
A much better alternative site for tour buses visiting UTown would be the Stephen Riady Centre, which has a very long drop-off point, possibly even longer than Town Plaza. I did check, and 12-metre coaches are physically able to fit inside the UTown ring road and reach this bus stop.
Now, I understand the perspective of the tour bus operators. I spoke to some sources in the industry, including current and former tour bus drivers. One of our ISB drivers himself used to drive tour buses, and he shared some, ahem, fond memories of stopping at Town Plaza and getting horned by the ISB behind him.
They shared that most customers request Town Plaza as a drop-off, and that in some cases drivers will follow the lead of other coaches they see; Town Plaza is currently an established norm.
These people I spoke to agreed that it is actually possible to solve the problem by directing coaches to use a different pick-up and drop-off point such as SRC. At various tourist attractions or places in Singapore, signs direct coaches to use particular lanes or drop-off points that are side by side.
So I asked them about the case of the UTown bus stop. Unlike those other places, the Town Plaza bus stop is something all the buses will pass if they enter via the link-bridge. So what sort of sign can we have, to tell the drivers to move on past it and head to SRC? We figured a sign saying “NUS BUSES ONLY” would do.
And guess what? We do happen to have one of those lying around: at Bukit Timah Campus.
Right before the gantry at the entrance to BTC, there is a small area that used to be a bus stop. And there is a sign right there, mounted on the floor.
So yes. We know it works.
As the NUSSU rep, I have asked the offices, on behalf of all of us, whether we can put up signage at the stop, directing coaches to SRC, and perhaps enforce a ban on tour buses using the bus stop. If it came down to cost, we could just dig that sign out of BTC (not like it’s getting much use there anyways), and shift it to UTown.
The offices are aware of this problem. In the long term, OCA and UTMO are looking into ways to sustainably manage coach traffic at UTown.
While it is good to keep the stop clear from ISBs, the offices did tell me that we do not want to look too heavy-handed and discourage visitors from visiting us, as it generates publicity for NUS. I understand their point. But thankfully, I also understand signage and enforcement is definitely a possibility.
That’s for the bus drivers’ side. If there is a policy and enforcement, they will comply. However, there is something that we all can do as a NUS community as well.
Ultimately, where a tour bus stops depends on where the people chartering it tell it to stop. So if we want to change the norm of tour buses stopping at Town Plaza, even before any ban takes effect, we could start by requesting that the bus driver pick us up or drop off at SRC instead when we charter buses for our events, like in the event below.
Makan Circles is an example of an NUS interest group that specified SRC in their charter when they booked the bus, so as to avoid congestion at Town Plaza.
I understand that not every tour bus picking up or dropping off people at UTown is chartered by us. Usually, it’s external visitors, like school kids on exchange.
I mean yeah, UTown is kinda a tourist attraction at this point, not our fault. But we definitely do charter buses as well, and this is something that we can do ourselves to effect a change, on our own initiative.
Eventually, I hope that tour buses will see SRC as a new norm for pick-ups and drop-offs in UTown. It might not be easy changing a culture, but we’ll try and we’ll get there.