From late 2020 to April 2021, a new weekday service was trialled to disperse lunch crowds. Known as the NUS Direct Lunch Shuttle, the service ran during lunch hours with three stops: LT27, UTown and COM2, at a frequency of 20 minutes.

First Trial: AY20/21 Winter

OCA uploaded the following poster on their website, and a circular was sent out to students on 8 December announcing that the service would run on that day. The service was introduced as a loop, with the first trip departing LT27 at 11.30am and ending at LT27 at 2.30pm.

In practice, 7 December was the actual first day of operations. PC3925G was deployed on the shuttle, perhaps due to its lack of working front EDS at the time. The service was identified with paper signage denoting it as the “Lunch Bus”.

However, the service did not record a strong passenger turnout – likely because it was introduced in the first week of vacation after a zoned semester in Phase 2 post-circuit breaker, when most students were staying at home. As such, OCA withdrew the service after 11 December, but with plans to try it again at the start of school when more students returned.

Second Trial: AY20/21 Semester 2

The shuttle did indeed make a comeback on 11 January 2020. For this second launch, it did not use an ISB at first, but rather an Isuzu LT434P coach from the ComfortDelGro charter fleet. This coach was formerly wrapped for the International Business Park; following the end of the JTC contract it has been freed up. The driver is a veteran who has often been roped in to assist with ISB operations during driver shortages.

PC5140R is typically deployed to Jurong Island shuttle routes in the morning and evening, and the driver has no duties around lunchtime, which is probably why the shuttle was allocated to him.

Later that week, on 13 January, it was replaced with a Scania K230UB third-generation ISB, PA9772B but with the same uncle at the wheel. This was done to encourage more students to use the shuttle; due to the presence of blue coaches running on Science Park shuttles around campus, students were generally accustomed to assuming that blue coaches were not for them to board.

PA9772B was permanently deployed on the Lunch shuttle until 27 January, where an interlock issue immobilised the bus at COM2. This resulted in PA9558D being pulled in to replace it from 28 January onwards.

In early February, PA9772B resumed its role as the Lunch Shuttle, indicating that it was a permanent deployment, with PA9558D as the spare (it was also sometimes deployed on D2). Volvo B9L spares were never used, being prioritised for ISB duty.

During the semester, there was no change to the operating hours of the bus at all.

Withdrawal

As the semester drew to a close, OCA announced that the Direct Lunch Shuttle would be withdrawn from 26 April 2021 (implying that the last day of operations would be 23 April). It would cease to operate from exam week onwards.

At the time of the announcement, PA9558D had been replacing PA9772B for some time, due to an accident that damaged the rear taillight of the latter. As such, it was PA9558D that performed the final duty of the Direct Lunch Shuttle.

Thoughts

I find this trial service notable as it was one of the longest-lasting trials that did not become permanent. It was the first time since 2004 that a non-letter-coded service was operated using paper signage in buses from the ISB fleet, the last time being the “Supplementary Service” that was later formalised as Service D in 2006.

Demand for the shuttle was low to moderate; according to the driver, the highest load of passengers he had ever ferried at a time was 17, heading from LT27 to UTown (whereby the bus duplicated routes D2 and C). Moderate demand was also seen from UTown to COM2 (where the bus duplicated D1). Students familiar with the route of this bus would typically use it as an express, knowing it would skip stops, but overall familiarity with the route remained low even into its last week of operations as students were still observed confirming the route with the driver.

In addition, the sector from COM2 to LT27 was not well-used by students even though it was a faster substitute for A2. This could be due to the design of the OCA poster, even though the bus signage clearly showed the loop service nature with its arrows. This was not entirely a bad thing though, as it afforded the driver a chance to layover at PGP for toilet breaks if necessary when the bus was empty.

I suspect the route was implemented to diffuse crowds at Frontier (Science) and the Deck (FASS) by distributing some of the demand to UTown. A full-size bus was probably used in case of actual demand. However, in January 2021, TechnoEdge (Engineering) was opened, relieving a lot of demand at the Deck. In fact, the Deck saw lower than usual crowds compared to before the pandemic as the crowds thronged the newly-opened TechnoEdge, and probably benefited from additional traffic brought by the shuttle.

I personally think the resources used to provide this shuttle could have been better spent on fleet-adds throughout the network, but I recognise that the route could also have been planned as a means of providing external coach drivers at ComfortDelGro with more employment and chances to earn money, now that tours are no longer prevalent due to the pandemic.

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5 thoughts on “History of Bus Routes Ep 13: NUS Direct Lunch Shuttle

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