Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hub and spoke system for bus services

I wrote about the hub and spoke system for bus services two years ago. I like to explain this idea again.

The hubs are the bus interchanges where many bus services will bring commuters to other towns. Preferably, these buses should run on express services that have few stops only at major interchange stops. They should run on fixed schedules. The travelling time should be short, as there are few stops to pick or drop passengers.

Each town should have two or three local services to bring commuters to the hubs and the MRT stations. These local services provide the "spokes" to connect the different parts of the town to the "hubs". They should run at frequencies of less than 5 minutes. If the demand is low, they can use small buses. If there is more demand, they can use bigger buses.

The feeder services can be runned by small operators, similar to a taxi service. This will give greater flexibility to change the supply according to demand. Hong Kong is operating this type of system, using light buses that are owned by invidiudal drivers.

The local services are shown in different colors for easy identification. They also have a single digit number. It will be easy for commuters to know which local service to take to a different part of the town. The fares should be fixed at an affordable rate. The road taxes and ERP charges on these local services should be waived or reduced.

This is how a commuter can take public transport. First, the commuter takes a local bus to the hub. Next, the commuter changes to a train or express bus to take to the destination hub. At the final leg, the commuter takes a local bus to the destination.

If the starting point or destination is close to the hub, the commuter can walk instead of taking the local bus. As the waiting time for a local bus is less than 5 minutes and the fare is affordable, the commuter may not mind taking the bus.

I understand that the Land Transport Authority is in favour of the "hub and spoke" approach, but there was so little news about the plans during the past two years. I hope that they can announce their plans earlier, and invite public discussion.

Tan Kin Lian


  1. I agree with this. A good example of how hub and spoke will work better is service 52 which goes between Bishan and Jurong East.

    The advantage of this service is that it can bypass the city (unlike taking the MRT between these two places). Despite an express sector on the PIE, this advantage is lost because 52 has to wind through Thomson, Sin Ming and Bishan North - a route that is almost entirely duplicated by 410. On the other end, there is no need to go through Toh Guan before reaching Jurong East.

    The there is 410 and a bus which connects Jurong East to Toh Guan at 5-minute intervals, it would be a shorter trip end to end.

  2. Hi,

    I agree with this approach. I would also like to see this mixed with the oppotunity to introduce competition into the transportation sector.

    My idea is influenced by the aviation industry where airports are managed by an entity, and airlines acquire landing rights to ferry passengers from different airports.

    We could have the system such that the hubs (bus interchanges) are run by different entities and the busses are run by different entities. So the bus companies can choose which interchanges they want to service based on demand. The interchanges could also earn by charging the bus company parking, refueling and other services.

    (I may not have been successful in describing the idea correctly above, but if you can imagine the interchange as an "airport" and the buses as "airlines" then i think you have got the picture)

    There could be multiple bus operators between two interchanges and passengers can choose which service they intend to take based on price, comfort, express/normal, air-con, tv etc.

    Who gets the routes? Well, any approved bus service provider. For example, bus operator who wants to operate between AMK and Bedok, would have to secure "landing rights" at both the interchanges.

    Who gets the interchanges? They can be leased to the highest bidder (5-10 year operating license for example). There can even be two interchanges in an estate if there is demand for it :)Interchange operators will manage the interchange, get revenue from bus operators for "landing rights" which comes with standard services provided.

    What does it mean for passengers? Choice of service. Will it cost more? Depends on the type of bus, operator, services etc.

    The key idea is to introduce competition. It will take some time for the service to mature, but the long term benefits are untimately for the passengers as they will have a choice...right now, there is no choice.


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