Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Ride on a Non-Aircon Public Bus in Singapore

Remember the good old days of Singapore when the public buses were all non-aircon? You get to slide open and close the windows, the wind will blow against your face when the bus is travelling, the windows will shake and rattle vigorously during the journeys, the ride is mostly hot and stuffy and so on and so forth. Now, aircon public buses have become the norm in Singapore. As of March 2013, there is still a handful of non-aircon public buses that are still in operation mostly in the Jurong industrial estates and they all are the same double decker Volvo buses as seen above. Unfortunately, the last batch of non-aircon public buses will disappear starting from April 2013 so catch them while you can. In this post, I'll be talking about my ride on a non-aircon public bus on service 246. The service starts from Boon Lay Bus Interchange and travel along parts of the Jurong industrial estates and some HDB estates like Boon Lay and Taman Jurong. Find out more by scrolling down or click Read More. Oh and by the way, this bus ride was done in late April of 2012.

Waiting for the Bus

Since I live in Hougang, I took the MRT to Boon Lay MRT Station on the East West Line and boy, it was such a long ride. Once I have reached the MRT Station, I walked to the Boon Lay Bus Interchange which was just a stone's throw away and waited for service 246. There are also other services that use non-aircon public buses but you must take note that the services are considered Jurong Industrial Services or JIS for short. You can check out SBS Transit's website to check out the various JIS bus services available at Boon Lay Bus Interchange. I chose the bus service 246, mainly because the bus service passes by several HDB estates alongside some industrial parks. Since it passed by some HDB flats, I could alight and just explore the estate. If you are aiming to ride on a specific service but you come across an aircon bus parking at the bus parking bay, walk around the shopping mall that is just next to the interchange for a while and check back if the bus is a non-aircon one. That's what I did.

The Upper Deck

I actually made three trips on bus service 246. The first was from Boon Lay Interchange to Taman Jurong Shopping Centre, the second was from Taman Jurong Shopping Centre to Boon Lay Shopping Centre and the last one was from Boon Lay Shopping Centre all the way back to Boon Lay Bus Interchange. Unfortunately, the second trip was on an aircon double decker bus but I managed to ride on a non-aircon one on the third trip. Don't confuse Boon Lay Shopping Centre with the shopping centre next to the bus interchange. The one beside the Boon Lay Bus Interchange is known as Jurong Point. Back to the story, since it's a double decker bus, I took the upper deck on the first trip. The experience was exactly like the non-aircon buses I rode on when I was a little kid. Of course, there are some modern features in this bus as it was first launched in the mid 1990s. I like the rattling of the windows when the bus was moving and the wind blowing against my face. However, if this bus was to travel along the expressway, the experience would be just awesome because you can feel the breeze. Riding with the wind blowing against your face is so much better than cold air-con blowing into your face.

Simple Design and Spacious Seating

Unlike older non-aircon buses, this particular bus has spacious seating and it has a very minimalist design unlike modern buses of today. There were no noisy patterns on the floor, the seats were dark blue and green as compared to the orange and yellow colours found on most modern aircon buses. It's nostalgic and at the same time, classic. If you have taken non-aircon public buses back then, riding on this will bring back a lot of memories.

Panoramic Views on the Front

Just like any other double decker bus found in Singapore, you can get a very nice panoramic view of the roads and the surroundings as the bus is moving. This particular model was one of the first double decker buses to ditch the two piece windscreen on both the upper deck and lower deck of the bus as compared to the older ones introduced earlier. This gives the bus driver and the passengers full panoramic view. Another great thing about non-aircon public buses is that you can even stick out your hand a little bit and rest on the railings. Don't stick out too far though to avoid hitting against trees and other obstacles. Since the bus is quite an old one, the Bus Stopping light indicator is the classic model and it looks like the light is running out of batteries.

Empty Upper Deck

Since the bus did not have any passengers at all at the upper deck, I was happy and a little bit scared. Happy because it's totally empty and it feels like as if the bus driver is chauffeuring me to another place. I felt a little bit scared because the whole upper deck was totally empty and that the bus passed by some industrial estates. I had this eerie feeling when it passed by the area. Still, it's great to see a bus very empty like this. It's uncommon to ride on a totally empty bus most of the time.

Dusty Bus Stopping Button

Since this is a non-aircon bus and the windows are opened most of the time, dust will be present almost everywhere including this Bus Stopping Button. Now, it's uncommon to find Bus Stopping buttons on the side walls of buses and most of them can't really be used. If you're lucky, the button will work if you push it otherwise you can just use the ones that are always functioning like the ones on the handrails.

Cooling Fan or Ventilation Holes?

Now this I'm not too sure. On the ceiling of the non-aircon bus that I rode on, I saw these black holes and wonder what are they used for. They can also be found on older non-aircon buses which are non-existent now. I do have a strong feeling that this is a cooling fan to cool the passengers but it does not really seem to work. Or maybe it's a ventilation hole which brings in air from the outside. I'm not too sure about this. If you do know about this, please leave me a comment explaining what this is and how it works.

The Rear

Since this bus does not have any air-conditioning, it has another window on the lower deck. Now, all the aircon double decker buses have no window at the lower deck rear. Only the upper deck rear has a window (only applies to certain buses). Just like rear windows on a single decker bus, you get to see the back view of the bus on the lower deck although there is some empty space in between the windows and the back seats. Of course the space in between holds the engine of the bus. Aircon double decker buses do not have a window on the lower deck rear since because it holds the air-con unit. Unfortunately, this bus cannot be upgraded with air-con because it was short in terms of width so it can't support the weight of the bus. Last time, there were non-aircon single decker buses that were retrofitted with aircon. All of them already disappeared by now and the last batch of those buses were recently retired in early 2011.

Spacious Side Facing Seats

Just like typical double decker buses, there are some side-facing seats located near the back of the bus. The reason why these buses have side-facing seats exactly at the same position is because underneath the seats house the tires. Those double decker buses with three axles have longer side-facing seats. Some of the newer, recent models have front and back facing seats just right after the side seats. Those with long legs like me will appreciate the ample space when sitting on these particular row of seats especially when the wind is blowing against the back of your head.

Big Space Behind

What's unique about the side-facing seats found on this bus was that the back of the seats are widely spaced out and totally dusty. If you are seated right at the back, you can even place some of your items here and treat it as a temporary table until you get to your destination. Although, I don't recommend you to do that because it's really very dusty. Still, I like how there's still space here unlike modern double decker buses.

The Lower Deck

After checking out the upper deck, it's time to check out the lower deck. The lower deck looks like a typical double decker bus except for the windows and the classic old style interior. There are not a lot of seats on the lower deck and a big portion of the lower deck is reserved for standing passengers. If the bus takes in more people, they at least have plenty of space to stand during their journey. Since there are insufficient seats at the lower deck, there's always the upper deck. No standing is allowed in the upper deck so it can be easier to walk through the aisles and not have to push and shove your way through.

Back to Boon Lay Bus Interchange

After riding on the same service three times with stops in between, it's time for me to get back to the bus interchange. The picture above shows the junction of Chin Bee Drive and Jalan Boon Lay which are roads that link to the Jurong industrial estates. The bus will turn right and head straight all the way to the bus interchange. At Boon Lay Bus Interchange, passengers can head to Jurong Point, one of the largest neighbourhood malls in Singapore or they can head back home by taking the MRT from Boon Lay on the East West Line.


Non-Aircon public buses are a dying breed in Singapore. Now, there is approximately 20 left in the SBS Transit bus fleet and they are retiring slowly in the coming months. If you're reading this in March 2013, it's still not too late to take a joyride in them and remind yourself of all the good old days when non-aircon buses still dominate Singapore and that aircon buses were a privilege. Now, it's completely the opposite. Bus fares for non-aircon buses are, unfortunately, higher than they were in the old days. However, it's still worth paying if you still want to ride on them. Do remember that these non-aircon buses have served us for a very long time over the years bringing passengers to their destinations despite the absence of aircon. Let's thank these buses and the drivers for their service and their commitment to get passengers from destinations A to B daily.

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