Scattered around College Ave, which encloses the circumference of UTown, are a few abandoned bus stops.
Some of them do not obviously look like bus stops any more, as the former bus bay area is now used for car parking lots or as a driveway, and their floor area is now used for GrabWheels parking. But most of the time, the benches, campus map panel and the bollards give them away.
Unlike other abandoned bus stops in NUS, however, these bus stops were never used. From the opening of UTown, Bus Service D has only stopped at Town Plaza, then immediately turned back out to Kent Ridge Campus.
East: Tembusu College
Many students walk past this bus stop regularly as it is a highly trafficked corridor, but unless you stop to notice it, you might not realise this was designed as a bus stop.
The bus bay for this one is carved in a somewhat weird shape, as the dotted line marking out the bus stop area spills over into the (unmarked) bay of the UTR drop-off point. This spilled-over area is used for motorcycle parking.
This bus stop is the most obvious-looking of the three, as it remains largely intact. In 2018-2019, the bus bay was cordoned off to disallow cars from parking there, as it is located outside of the paid zone marked out by gantries.
It is located at the northern tip of UTown, right behind the public bus stop opposite New Town Secondary School, and is linked to RC4 by a covered walkway. It sometimes gets confused with the public bus stop.
As of 2020, the cone cordon was replaced with a rudimentary kerb (therefore blocking off the bus stop completely).
West: Stephen Riady Centre
This bus stop is huge. The bus bay (cut-out area with bollards) is inordinately long, even spanning across a goods delivery driveway.
Unlike the other two bus stops, this receives less foot traffic due to its location out of the way. Its design reminds me somewhat of the new Central Library bus stop at AS8.
It is possible that this was planned as the “main” bus stop serving UTown instead of Town Plaza. NUS Open Day Shuttles use this bus stop for services that link UTown to MRT stations.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, zoned routes were introduced. Service CCX, which started and ended trips at UTown, had its layovers at the SRC bus stop.
So what happened?
To find out more, we must read up on the history of UTown itself. Construction of UTown began in January 2008, and it was initially envisioned as not only the green campus area it was today, but the Youth Olympic Village.
The plan was to have eight RCs and two graduate residences. This high population density would necessitate frequent and reliable transport options, which included four bus stops at the south, east, north and west of UTown.
I am not quite sure how operations would have looked like. Perhaps the intention was for a bus to enter UTown via Town Plaza, make a loop around to SRC, then emerge from the underpass and directly head to KRC without passing Town Plaza again. That would be why there is a direct link from SRC to the bridge (via the underpass and roundabout) that allows for bypass of Town Plaza.
However, the project ran into financial difficulties (not our fault) and we sadly had to concede the role and honour of the YOV to a certain other local university located in the west.
The entire project for UTown was to be scaled down by half into four RCs and one graduate residence. Thus, it was decided after the stops were built, but before UTown was opened, that the passenger footfall and ridership in the smaller-scale UTown would not justify extending ISB operations into the area.
The bus stops, however, were not removed from the plan. Building bus stops generally requires paperwork and also specialised contractors. LTA has guidelines for their bus stops based on the amount of passenger traffic and road traffic, so over the years, contractors began specialising in building LTA-standard bus stops. While these bus stops are not public bus stops, NUS presumably engaged some of these contractors to build them, and it would be difficult to pull out of such an arrangement after construction had already commenced. Moreover, the Town Plaza stop would still be needed.
Besides, removing the half-built bus stops would arguably be the more myopic move, as it denies us the possibility of introducing these bus stops into service should the possibility arise. Better to have it and not need it than the other way round.
What can we do?
I don’t honestly think that it will be feasible for us to request a UTown shuttle service currently. Since UTown opened in AY11/12, Bus D was rerouted to enter UTown only as far as Town Plaza. It has never gone any further in.
Some digging on the ISB FAQ website from OCA yielded the following quote, in justification of why they do not plan to extend buses such as D further into UTown:
As UTown is designed to be a green sustainable town that is conducive for students to walk freely around, there is no plan to extend the shuttle bus services within UTown. Due to the narrow single lanes, it will be congested when regular buses travel alongside the RCs. Noise pollution will also arise amidst the quiet RC environment during the peak period and at night too, bearing in mind that the ISB operation starts at 7.15am in the morning and ends at 11.00pm every night. This could cause disturbance to students requiring a restful evening, and especially disturbing during examination times. Extending the ISB within UTown will also lead to longer turnaround or travelling times.
This is the justification provided by NUS. The NUSSU 33rd EXCO, in AY12/13, did put in effort to try to raise the possibility of adding the stop at Khaya College to the route of Bus D, but were met with this reply from the office.
It is indeed true that adding RC4 to any bus service that serves UTown will add a lot of time to the bus route. But we can’t easily make a bus service that circles around UTown. Remember what I said about buses needing to lay over and for the drivers to have breaks. Note that UTown is very far from any layover point, as the nearest would be Kent Ridge Bus Terminal!
In the long term, though, I am looking at different transport options to better connect northern UTown with the rest of NUS. If the nature of the ISB system changes one day, and constraints are removed, these bus stops may serve a purpose.