Singapore trials on-demand buses and hands-free ticketing

By Chia Jie Lin

Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation initiative announces developments in smart urban mobility trials.

Singapore is launching trials for on-demand public buses and hands-free ticketing for public transport to improve urban mobility, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative told reporters earlier this week.

The government is launching an on-demand bus trial in the form of a smartphone app. On the app, citizens can indicate where they need to go, and the algorithm will calculate a route to match bus services to these commuters, said Dr Balakrishnan. “By having an on-demand system and having a system that can take signals in real-time... it's putting public transport on a different paradigm,” he remarked.

On-demand public bus services will serve the needs of commuters living in areas with low bus ridership, and which are not served by public buses, according to Dr Balakrishnan. “We hope that it will provide more seamless, convenient and responsive public transport, particularly for places which currently have low ridership and where the public bus company says no, the ridership's too low, [and] not worth it,” he said. The trial for on-demand public buses will be launched in December this year, Dr Balakrishnan added.

Meanwhile, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and ST Engineering have launched hands-free ticketing technology for deducting public transport fares, with a trial planned for later this year. The trial aims to benefit people with disabilities, who will be able to enter and exit train stations with greater ease, and without having to tap their fare cards at the station gantries.

Trial participants will be able to pass through hands-free fare gates simply by carrying a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone with a dedicated app on them. “You just leave it in your wallet, [or] your pocket, it would be able to identify [you] and the appropriate fare would be deducted,” Dr Balakrishnan said. Following a hands-free ticketing trial for public trains, a hands-free trial on buses will take place later this year, with more details to be announced in the fourth quarter.

And next year, the Ministry of Transport, Sentosa Development, and ST Engineering will be launching a three-month trial of autonomous shuttle buses in Sentosa island. This is an extension of an ongoing autonomous shuttle trial but this time, along a longer stretch of road, he continued. “We're just carefully expanding the route for autonomous shuttle and visitors basically will hail the shuttle with their smartphones,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

The government will gather data insights from users during the AV trial, which will then allow them to improve on autonomous shuttle bus services, the minister added. “By doing this carefully and collecting data, we're hoping to improve it and make sure that the service works safely and meets the demands of people who use it,” he said.

Singapore joins a growing list of countries which have launched trials on autonomous shuttle bus services - and in some cases, even integrated it into regular bus services. In March 2018, the Swiss town of Neuhausen Rheinfall began operating an autonomous shuttle bus on a regular service route. Meanwhile, in Canada, Quebec is currently trialling an autonomous shuttle bus service entirely powered by electricity, which will end next August.