The earliest memory I have of the public bus is the Singapore Traction Company’s (STC) service number 1A, in the distinctive Isuzu buses painted silver and green, that my mother used to make her journey to and from Rangoon Road from our home in Toa Payoh in, on her regular trips to the hairdresser, to which I was an unwilling accomplice. Buses used to be painted with colours to identify the bus companies they belonged to: red (Associated Bus Services), blue (Amalgamated Bus Company), yellow (United Bus Limited) or green (STC). That is, until they became the red striped Singapore Bus Service (SBS) buses that by the time I was old enough to venture into taking the bus on my own, the various bus companies had merged into. I was in Primary 4 then, and having finally persuaded my parents to allow me what I had craved for – the freedom of going to school by the public bus, I was on my own against the world, that was, only for the journey to school – as my parents were concerned about me having to cross the busy Thomson Road in the evening to catch the bus back.
I had a choice of two bus services then, 149 and 150, which would bring me from the bus stop along Lorong 4 Toa Payoh to my school in Thomson Road. Service number 150 would take a longer route that went past Bradell Road and Marymount Convent. On one of my first trips by bus, I recall that my ticket was blown out of my hand by a gust of wind that came through the opened windows of the bus as I held it in my hand having just collected it from the bus conductor – I looked at the conductor who just shrugged his shoulders as if to tell me I was on my own … it left me terrified for the rest of my journey, fearful that a ticket inspector would board the bus.
Full freedom came with what we referred to as the “bus pass”, that with a monthly concession stamp which we purchased for $4 affixed to the designated spot on the pass, allowed us the freedom of the buses – unlimited travel! Then, we could do what we wanted. Hop on and off at will, and discover where we could go with the buses.
This was particularly useful, as it was then possible for me to join my friends with whom I used to play football with for games against other teams outside of Toa Payoh, as well on a particular trip I remember making to a sports shop along Bras Basah Road to pick a team jersey.
It was when I was in Secondary school that we got our first double decker buses, but it wasn’t until maybe I was in Secondary 3 when they were introduced to the route that served the area where my school was, from my new home in Ang Mo Kio. I would catch the service number 166 bus from the makeshift terminal located at a large carpark down the slope from Block 215. In the evenings, after a few weeks of taking the 166 service back from the bus stop along Stamford Road close to what used to be the National Library, near a corner shop which sold crocodile skin products which fascinated me, I discovered I could half the journey by taking the semi-express Blue Arrow service 308 which ran from its last stop in the Central Business District at Waterloo Street just by what used to be the CYMA, all the way to Ang Mo Kio – and the best part was that it was air-conditioned! By the time we got to catch the double decker buses, the bus terminal in Ang Mo Kio had moved to another temporary location – along Avenue 6 by block 304.
Somehow as time progressed, the journeys became longer and longer, and where journeys took not more than an hour when I was in Secondary school, by the time I started my tertiary education, journeys meant queuing up for ages at yet another temporary terminal location along Avenue 3, just across from where Ang Mo Kio central is, and being squeezed into a bus filled with school children, factory workers and the many tertiary students from the institutions along Ayer Rajah Road and Dover Road, for over an hour. Pretty unbearable … and I used to arrive drenched in perspiration. The longest journey by bus I made would seem to be the journey I would tke home I when doing my national service at SAFTI in Pasir Laba and at Jurong Camp nearby, off Upper Jurong Road. Then, we could only catch service number 175, which would meander through what was then a winding Upper Jurong Road, through the winding Jurong Road to Bukit Batok or Upper Bukit Timah, where I could get a bus home. I was always in a hurry then, trying to make use of the precious few hours we were given at the end of each week, and the journey on the 175 seemed to be endless – it could take me an hour just to get to Upper Bukit Timah, making the entire bus journey home a two hour journey. Sometimes instead of the bus, I would try to hitch a ride on the back of a pick up or lorry on its way back to civilisation from the factories in the Tuas area which passed by Upper Jurong Road – we could save as much as half an hour by doing this. By the time I had finished my national service, the MRT had been introduced, and trips on buses did not seem to be so much fun anymore.