Monday, November 2, 2009

Improve the "last mile" in public transport

Sent to Straits Times Forum page. An short version was published

A recent survey showed that a lower proportion of commuters are using public transport. More people are using private cars for commuting, adding to road congestion and insufficient parking spaces.

Commuters have complained for a long time about the unreliability of bus services, congested buses, long waiting and travelling times and poor connections to MRT stations.

The Land Transport Authority is working on the long term solution to add more MRT lines and to bring better connection between these lines. This will bring more stations within walking distance to key destinations and residential areas in Singapore.

However, some practical steps can be done immediately to improve the current situation. I suggest the introduction of local transport services, to use small buses and cars to bring commuters from their homes to MRT stations and bus interchanges and back to their homes. These services need a new set of regulations and operators.

The challenge in most public transport systems is “the last mile”. It is not possible to bring a MRT station within walking distance to every home, but if there is a convenient and low cost service to cover the last leg of the journey, public transport becomes an attractive alternative.

If this local service is available, there is no need to find more parking spaces for the “park and ride” scheme.

Hong Kong has an efficient system using light buses to provide the transport for “the last mile”. Singapore should follow this proven example. We can extend this concept to allow cars to be used as well to add flexibility and choice.

If the connection for the last mile works well, there is no need for the big buses to make many stops to pick up passengers. They can provide an express service to connect the different towns and pick up passengers only at key interchange points. The travelling time will be short and the bus schedules will be more reliable. Every passenger should be given a seat.

I hope that the Land Trasnport Authority can include this concept in its master plan and take early action to implement it.

Tan Kin Lian


  1. Personally, I prefer the LTA to promote the use of folding bicycles more actively to complete the last mile of a journey. Nowadays, a folding bicycle is very light and convenient. Some of these folding bicylces can be doubled up as a shopping trolley. But a folding bicycle is generally more expensive. I hope LTA and the government will give more incentive for people to use folding bicycles in public transport and other places. This will help to save the environment and to improve the health of the people as well.

  2. Good Idea. Bet there would be many takers to operate these bus services/routes.

    Then comes the question of recruiting drivers. How many Singaporeans are willing to take on the jobs of bus drivers. What will be their fair remuneration? How much fares to charge the commuters to remain competitive?

    The project may not break-even. Expecting subsidised transport, (I think) is not practical.

    Many private homes have private bus services from MTR stations to their residences. Many companies in industrial estates engaged private buses for their workers to cut down on commuting time.

    To make life easier for everybody, I suggest that residents in public housing approach their town councils for assistance.

    TC can help residents by arranging for group transport to/fro designated stops to MRT stations for monthly standard fees. In this way, the residents would be assured of seats on their privately engaged bus(es). Also, the same "uncle" driving the bus(es) would be a welcome sight for us residents i/o hopping into vehicle(s) driven by "stranger(s)".

  3. Let me think out of the box.

    The problem we are trying to solve is traveling the last mile.

    So, let's not just focus on vehicles.

    If we can improve the comfort level of walking this last mile, wouldn't it solve the problem as well?

    I suggest another approach, which is to improve the sheltered paths from HDB estates to MRT/Bus stations. Could we enclose the sheltered paths and air-condition them to 25-27 degree celcius?

    I think this radical idea may work if we do the following math:
    1) Instead of locating the neighborhood stores on the ground floors of HDB estates, we could locate them along these enclosed, sheltered, air-coned paths. Hence, along a path of 500m, we may have 5-10 stores. Their rental covers the costs of the energy used. The space they occupy in HDB estates are converted into either HDB flats or RCs and sporting facilities.
    2) The ceilings are fitted with solar plates to generate a portion of energy consumed.
    3) The building materials are energy-saving, meaning they reflect heat from the Sun effectively. Plants and trees are grown around it to reduce temperature further.
    4) We also need more overhead bridges to ensure that those parts of the path disrupted by roads are covered too.Of course, shops can be located on these bridges too. So, with these in place, we can theoretically walk from any block of flats to the nearest bus stop or interchange or MRT station with 100% shelter. We may leave some parts along these sheltered paths without air-con, but where the path is long, we should make it air-coned.

    By planning carefully, we can make sure that anyone walking from any block of flat to the nearest MRT/LRT station will not have more than 3 minutes of walk being without air con. 100% of his path would be covered by shelter from rain.

    With the above plan, Singapore will be turned into an island full of mini shopping malls that function as air-coned sheltered paths for Singaporeans to take a comfortable stroll from their house to the nearest MRT/bus station. Also, even without a feeder bus, it's still comfortable for people to walk or travel using a wheelchair from his home to an LRT/mrt station.

    And, the advantage of this is we encourage people to exercise instead of relying fully on vehicles, which is unhealthy. We also can save money, since the costs are fully covered by the store-owners. We also leave more space on the ground floor of our HDB estates for more urgent areas (such as flats, to meet demand of Singaporeans starting family). Lastly, without the feeder bus, we also reduce pollution and traffic jam.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.