Need for higher shuttle bus frequency in the evenings: Survey

By Shabana Begum

Students want internal shuttle buses to be deployed at a higher frequency during the evenings to reduce waiting time, a survey has found.

GRAPHIC: CASSANDRA LIM

The survey conducted by the NTU Research Society (NTURS) showed that more than half of the respondents who used the internal shuttle buses after 6pm had to wait for more than 15 minutes for a bus.

Most of the respondents who used the shuttle buses in the mornings and afternoons waited for five to 10 minutes, and 10 to 15 minutes respectively.

In a question that asked respondents to identify areas that needed to be improved on, the issue of low bus frequency topped the list. Of these respondents that highlighted this issue, a majority said the problem occurs most often in the evening.

NTURS conducted the Bus Service Satisfaction Survey last year to evaluate the campus’ internal shuttle bus service quality based on waiting times, adequacy of bus stops and routes, bus drivers’ service quality, and passengers’ comfort.

About 680 students and staff participated in the web survey conducted between October and December last year.

Edmund Chew, a first-year student at the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said more buses should be deployed in the evenings to reduce waiting time.

“Whenever I take the red line (Campus Loop Red) at North Spine, there is high commuter volume. Most people just end up choosing to take the public bus service to save time,” said Chew, 22.

Currently, up to 23 Campus Rider buses and Campus Loop buses are deployed during peak periods, and the number varies during off-peak periods, said the spokesperson for the Office of Housing and Auxiliary Services (HAS).

The spokesperson added that delays in bus arrival occurs due to peak hour traffic and road infrastructure.

“For instance, single-lane roads, heavy traffic at T-junctions and other traffic conditions may cause bottlenecks and affect the bus timings,” he said.

Bus-bunching

More than two in 10 survey respondents also highlighted the issue of bus-bunching, when two buses of the same line arrive at a bus stop at the same time.

“It’s quite annoying, especially if you just missed the buses and you know that the next one will take some time to arrive,” said Ng Yong Zhi, 21, a first-year student at the School of Biological Sciences (SBS).

NTURS said bus-bunching is a problem that needs to be addressed because increasing the number of buses would be meaningless if the frequency of buses is not managed well.

Low Jun Hong, 25, research director of NTURS and the sole author of the report, suggested that bus-bunching and long waiting times could be avoided with the better use of data.

In its recommendations, the research society suggested the University’s bus service provider Tong Tar Transport work with the technology companies that collect real-time data on its buses, in order to better coordinate bus movement.

NTURS stated in the report that it does not know if Tong Tar Transport is already collaborating with the companies.

According to Low, the bus arrival timings estimation service is powered by two technology firms, BaseRide Technologies and Overdrive.

In 2016, both firms collaborated to create a publicly accessible Application Programming Interface (API) that contains real-time data on the shuttle buses’ locations, movement of the buses, and arrival forecasts.

The API allowed NTU students to develop bus arrival mobile applications, such as NTU GO! and NTU Bus. NTU Campus Bus, the only official bus app created by the University, in collaboration with Overdrive and Tong Tar Transport, also used the same API.

In response to NTURS’ recommendations, the HAS spokesperson said: “We are working with the [NTU] Students’ Union to study the survey results, and will look into the suggestions that had been put forward.”

But several survey respondents also raised the issue about the inaccuracies of the bus arrival mobile apps such as NTU GO! and NTU Campus Bus.

The Nanyang Chronicle spoke to final-year School of Computer Science and Engineering student, Lu Linxuan, who developed the NTU GO! app in 2015.

She said the bus arrival times shown on her app are reliant on BaseRide Technologies and Overdrive’s real-time data.

“I cannot solve the inaccuracy in [bus arrival] timing. Only the API service provider has the ability to improve their system and provide better data,” said Lu, 23.

NTU GO! does not notify users if two or more buses are arriving at the same time. Lu said the bus-bunching issue could be solved if the drivers regulate their driving speed.

“I do hope to find a way to notify the bus drivers to avoid bus-bunching. I think it is possible to develop a system for drivers to adjust their speed.”

Students who use the apps say the inaccuracy in bus arrival times makes it difficult for them to plan trips.

Ng Yong Zhi uses both the NTU GO! and NTU Campus Bus apps, and heads to the bus stop only when the apps show that the shuttle bus is approaching.

“Sometimes, I make my way to the bus stop only to find that the bus has disappeared from the map, which is mildly infuriating,” said Ng.

He added: “Sometimes, I decide to wait for a bus that never comes, and end up being late for classes.”