I’ve got a ticket to ride: Bus Passes and Endless Bus Journeys

11 01 2010

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.

The freedom of the buses offered by a monthly concession stamp affixed to a bus pass

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.



9 responses

2 04 2010
Kwok FS

The waiting time for the bus to arrive was about 1/2 hour and I would play football with my classmate who lived next to the bus stop while waiting.

On Saturday afternoons, when the buses are very crowded, you can see national service men sleep standing up in the bus.

3 04 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks FS for your comments, I can certainly identify with what you mentioned very well – used to do the same at the CYMA basketball court near the bus stop along Waterloo Street :). And, yes I remember seeing the tired NS guys in the Temasek Greens sleeping while standing – in those days if I remember correctly – bus travel was free for the guys in green. It is funny that you mention this – just yesterday – I spotted someone sleeping while standing in the MRT!

18 05 2010
Macaroni under the flyover « The Long and Winding Road

[…] the year that I was in Primary Six, and equipped with a monthly bus pass, I had the freedom of hopping on and off the public buses as and when I wanted, and as the food […]

19 05 2010
Adventures with numbers « The Long and Winding Road

[…] school, with the exception of Primary 4 during which my parents allowed me to venture on the public bus for the journey to school, the 388 was what carried me to and from school. There were a few […]

14 08 2010
Jeffery Abdullah

I have fond of memories with the old model of SBS buses back then. I remember when I was a kid boarding the bus with the single door and the bus driver was separated with the passengers seats. I have sketch the model of the bus with the old livery. You can view it:-

Albion Viking EVK41L

22 08 2010
Francis Lai

You mentioned that that in those days, NS guys in uniforms travelled free on buses, but not that I’ve heard of, probably the earlier NS batches, I’m not so sure about it. In my NS years, 1970 and 1971. we paid half price travelling on public buses, only when we were in army uniform. Yes, I remember I hated taking bus service no 175 from SAFTI to home in 1971. No choice, then. This bus service was always packed and it looped into Corporation Rd area (Taman Jurong). It was a long journey and it took me nearly two hours to reach home, too. I was living in Bukit Ho Swee, then. Back to my primary school days, I used to take the STC and Hock Lee Bus, for students it was either 5 cents (short distance) or 10 cents (long distance). I remember adult fare started from 10 cents to about 25/30 cents then, depending what bus companies. Those years, there was no air-con and buses were without doors unlike today. Also, buses then had only one entrance (boarding & alighting).

23 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for sharing you experiences Francis! 🙂 I remember quite clearly, a neighbour who was doing his NS mentioning he could travel for free … thought I might have been mistaken … but a quick check with the National Library online newspaper archives does have an article mentioning free travel

Even when I was doing my NS in the 1980s, the stints at SAFTI and nearby Jurong Camp that I had always meant the long journey on the same bus service that you mentioned, 175 (but perhaps with a somewhat different route) … and it would often take an hour just to get to the Beauty World area, through the old Jurong Road and the wooded area that is now Bukit Batok, from where I could catch another bus to my home in Ang Mo Kio. These days – it is probably much more of a breeze with Joo Koon MRT station in the vicinity …

24 07 2011

The first double decker bus was service 140 which zipped between Toa Payoh and Orchard. I think it was a loop service too. I paid 25cents and mum paid 50cents for a ride to Orchard.

Thank goodness i didn’t throw away my bus pass either….with bus stamps still nicely affixed.

12 01 2016

Thanks so much for sharing your blog! It’s been very helpful in our work. We are currently working on an exhibition on public buses in Singapore and were wondering if you have the actual 1980 bus pass that we can loan.
We will really appreciate it if you can assist with this and get back to us at ferine.tan@sg.pico.com.
Thank you!


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