Taking an Old Bus Ride

Bus 178 of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) is the oldest public bus in Singapore, taking the daily route to and fro Woodlands and Boon Lay.

The Nissan U31RCN bus, running on diesel and has a body made by Fuji Heavy Industries, was introduced in 1993. Buses of this model in the fleet have been phased out by 2004, but a few were retained for suburban routes. Bus 178 and 853 are the two survivors, while others are used as training buses.

The Nissan U31RCN bus fleet is formerly owned by Trans-Island Bus Services (TIBS), hence they carry TIB as their registration number plates.

The pale yellow interior of the bus gives a nostalgic feeling, as if it is bringing me back to my schooling days. While this Nissan U31RCN bus is originally fitted with aircon, some Nissan U31RCN buses are converted from non-aircon. Their windows are the sliding types with latches, which I remember it took quite an effort to close them whenever it rained.

Nowadays, almost all 4200 public buses (3000 owned by Singapore Bus Service (SBS) and 1200 owned by SMRT) in Singapore are fitted with aircon, thanks to the hot weather. Only about 100 SBS buses are non-aircon, and are all due to retire in 2011.

There are no ergonomically designed seats, and the bell, when pressed, does not give out pleasant music. Instead, what remain are those familiar old fashioned benches with blue or orange cushions. The bells respond with loud buzz sounds.

This used-ticket box is a remnant of those days when commuters were issued a little ticket by a red TransitLink machine after payment upon boarding the bus.

Before EZ-Link, commuters used magnetic TransitLink farecards to access SBS, SMRT and Trans-Island public transport. Below includes some of the common designs as well as a limited edition with the promotion of Vivian Chow’s concert in 1994.

The Nissan U31RCN buses are going to be decommissioned in early 2012, bringing down the curtains of its illustrious 20 years’ history.

Singapore Bus Service (SBS)

Before 1973, bus services in Singapore were largely operated by private companies. The government decided to merge the three largest private bus companies as one to become Singapore Bus Service (SBS), in order to regulate the bus transport system and improve its service standards.

Single deck buses were deployed in the early seventies. These non-aircon buses were short in length and relatively slow. Each bus was operated by a bus driver and a bus conductor.

Commuters paid their fares through bus conductors who would issue bus tickets of different values and punch them with holes to indicate which bus-stop the commuters had boarded.

This TMO (two men operation) system would be replaced by the payment of coins upon boarding in the eighties, when operation of buses gradually became OMO (one man operation). Bus conductors were out of business, who were replaced by bus inspectors for checking tickets in long distance bus routes.

In 1977, SBS launched its first double decker buses with 20 Leyland Atlantean. Then Senior Minister of State Ong Teng Cheong witnessed the historic event with double decker bus 86 making its debut at Tampines Way. However, during the initial weeks, the public had to be convinced that the buses would not topple during turning.

The 12m Volvo B57 was introduced by SBS in the eighties, which it was able to ferry more than 40 seated and 30 standing commuters.

By the early nineties, SBS started to purchase air-conditional buses. Some of their older buses were also refurbished and retrofitted with aircon.

Trans-Island Bus Services (TIBS) and Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT)

Following an approval on a duopoly in public transport, Trans-Island Bus Services (TIBS) was set up in May of 1982, and was given the right to operate in the northern parts of Singapore such as Yishun, Sembawang and Woodlands.

Their buses were easily recognisable by the orange and yellow horizontal stripes. TIBS became defunct in 2004 after being absorbed by SMRT Corporation.

Today, our bus transport system has progressed with time, adding more advanced features such as hybrid engines, solar panels, accessibility for wheelchairs and electronic displays of destinations and timings.

Also read the Old Bus Interchanges and Terminals in Singapore.

Published: 03 September 2011

Updated: 28 October 2012

This entry was posted in Nostalgic and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Taking an Old Bus Ride

  1. Kuen says:

    I missed the good old times…

  2. SMB92U says:

    Hi there! You’ve got a good review about the old buses running in Singapore! 🙂 However, to make this piece of valuable information to be more precise, these buses (Nissan-Diesel U31RCN) are actually introduced in 1993 to Singapore’s roads, manufactured by 1992 in Saitama, Japan. All Nissan buses are officially retired by 2012; after given full refurbishment (red/blue seats, cream-coloured walls) in 2010. There were a total of 50 Nissan buses running initially, but SMRT Buses decided to retain only 15 buses (6 on service, 9 on Training Bus). Five buses, registered “CSS185P, CSS194M, CSS204T, CSS205R, CSS207K”, are the last Nissan-Diesel U31RCN batches (one on service, 4 on training) to bear the “CSS” plate (defunct City Shuttle Services) in SMRT Buses’ fleet. CSS185P, the official bus to be running on a service, can be found on Service 178. If you are lucky enough, you might get to see these “CSS” plated buses to be running on Service 975 (particularly CSS194M) 🙂

    • Great piece of info! Thanks alot
      Seems like you are a bus lover!
      Nice website there…
      (I’ve did my editing accordingly)

    • so the old ones with TIB plates are of Nissan-Diesel U31SCN?

      • SMB92U says:

        TIB plates that are still used currently are also of the same model (U31RCN) 🙂 9 buses bear with the TIB plate, of which 2 of the buses are from Service 178. If you can come across the plate “TIB1255H” , it is a former CSS bus getting its registration plate changed in 2005 🙂 And thanks for liking my website 😀

    • YL says:

      Hi! I see that you are a great fan of public buses. Actually I’m trying to catch one of the Nissan-Diesel buses to experience it, but when I called SMRT, they wouldn’t tell me when the bus will be scheduled. How did you manage to find out all about these buses then? Really hope I can catch one of these buses!

  3. The license plates with all the above specifications shall be issued by the registering authority and fitted by the approved license plates manufacturers or their dealers.

  4. Pat says:

    Thanks for the post. I wasn’t aware that the old-style SMRT 178 bus is the oldest public bus in S’pore. Incidentally, I took this old rickety bus from Woodlands Interchange to Jln Ahmad Ibrahim on a weekly basis from 2010 to mid-2011. And in the past before there was MRT, this service (formerly TIBS 178) was the only (& very long) way to travel between western/ southwestern S’pore & Woodlands, w/o having to change buses.

    Although the windows are now sealed-shut due to the addition of the aircon system, I’m rather fond of this quaint bus ‘cos it is relatively roomy inside, as compared to the newer buses in service nowadays. (Isn’t it ironic that legroom has become increasingly lesser, even as people get taller/ bigger with each generation ?) Also, the bus’s floor is absolutely flat throughout, unlike the modern buses which have so many steps & levels/ slopes in the interior.

  5. Robin Goh says:

    Your blog is like a museum! Thank you for the trip down memory lane!

  6. YL says:

    Hi sorry, do you by any chance know the time where this bus departs from the interchange?


  7. Cinammon Roll says:

    I think you forgot to mention SBS’s Asia Longest Bus!

    • Hotdog/nonairconditionedbusfarewell2013 says:

      He forgot to mention the Superlong bus and SBS other bendy
      SBS 997A(Superlong,retired,deregistered and scrapped)(Singapore’s longest rigid bus at 14.5 meters long)
      SBS 998Y(Bendy Bus,Asia Longest Bus(19 meters long),deregistered and sold to other countries)
      SBS 999U (SBS 2nd Bendy Bus,deregistered,sold to other countries)(18.5 meters long,normal length for a Bendy bus)
      *all the single deck high capacity trails by SBS/SBS Transit failed,which resulted in no production units produced)
      And the now scrapped TIB 838H,Singapore’s first Bendy Bus

  8. Roy says:

    I missed the good old days boarding the non aircon SBS bus 74, 322 and TIBS bus 854. Sadly now all convert to aircon bus and 322 is no longer in service…

    • There are a few non-aircon buses still running on Singapore roads, which will be phased out in 2012. Under the hot and humid weather here, I guess aircon buses are more welcomed 🙂

    • Hotdog/nonairconditionedbusfarewell2013 says:

      Hi Roy,
      Non Air con buses have been taken out of service as of 3rd September 2013.
      27 August 2013 was the last day of Non Aircon buses full day service and the following days till 3rd September Non Aircon buses were used on Peak Hours only.

  9. dah says:

    i am a nissan u31 bus fan! so every time i take 178 back home, i try to wait for it.sadly,most of it had turned into training buses

  10. Nev Cooper says:

    Wonderful wonderful memories of being in the Royal Air Force at RAF Changi there from 1957 to 1964, first on the Shackleton aircraft squadron (205 Sqn)…then flying the VIP Mk 4 Handley-Page Hastings for the Commander-in-Chief Far East (Adm Sir David LUCE and Adm Sir Varyl BEGG).
    I usually drove myself from my home at 69 Siglap Road, but when the car was in for service or whatever, I used to catch the bus that went along the Old Changi Road, from the top of Siglap Road into Changi Village. Anyway though….From what I can remember the buses (coloured Red) in the mid 1950’s were I’m sure, much older than the ones you are showing as far as I can remember. What type would they have been please. Please can anyone else help. PS: If not using the bus, there was always a ‘PICK-UP’ taxi coming along the Old Changi Road. I can only repeat myself…..Wonderful wonderful memories.

  11. Mercedes Benz 811D of SBS, was used for loop services within neighbourhoods in 1993

    Frankly speaking, I have never seen this bus on the roads before… Maybe it didn’t run in AMK where I used to live

  12. wang says:

    HEY GUYS !! I’m actually trying to rent the nissan diesel bus for filming the old times in the most nostalgic places but just can’t seem to find a way. If any of you or anyone have any contacts or information, drop me a mail !


  13. Did you mean Updated: 28 October 2012? 😀

  14. Lo3x says:

    Great now the oldest public bus would be the ‘Leyland Olympain “Superbus

  15. Photo of commuters waiting for the bus, probably in the 1960s. Location unknown

    A similar type of old bus poles can still be found at Lim Chu Kang (https://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/old-bus-stops-street-name-signs/)

    • Annette says:

      This photo would have been taken in the early 70s. 167 and 168 were my routes which started in 1971. The location appears to be North Bridge Road.

  16. The familiar old ticketing machines!

    The coin-dropping box and the ticket-issuing machine

    The Transitlink machine

    These machines are on display at the LTA office at Sin Ming

  17. More photos of SBS buses in the 70s/80s….

    Leyland Leopard (with the old SBS logo)

    Albion Viking EVK41L

    The evolution of SBS logo

  18. Jennifer Tan says:

    i lived in Lantana in the early 70’s; mom and me used to take a bus to Moh Guan Terrace. The bus numbers plying Sixth Avenue then was No. 5 and 200. I wish to know the route the bus took to our destination. Can anyone help? Can’t remember which number bus I took, but I know bus 200 was the older of the buses with one hugh door in the centre.

  19. The last non-aircon bus services in Singapore will be walking into history in April 2013

  20. Garett says:

    I remembered the Leyland Leopard was powerful and fast, but the Viking was noisy and slow!

  21. sitikus says:

    may i know the consecutive years that they have been changing from the tickets -cards -ezlinks? anyone knows?

  22. bk says:

    i remember that there were coin changing machines in the bus interchanges in order to facilitate the commuters to change their dollar notes to the coins in order to pay for the bus fare. sadly i am unable to find a picture of it.


  23. A single-deck non-aircon SBS bus plying its route at Tanjong Pagar 1984

    (Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore)

  24. lucas sng says:

    i didnt know the bus are so old.

  25. Alvin Ngah says:

    Actually the industry buses is still at Boon Lay bus interchange

  26. Jun hai says:

    Any plan to write an article about singapore taxi ??

  27. InfernusGuy says:

    How about the SBS Transit long bus?

  28. How they dismantle and scrap a bus

  29. Pamela says:

    I showed my son the kind of buses I took when I was a child. The doorless type especially.Missing the funny old days. Nice!

  30. Amanda Ho says:

    Hi Remember Singapore,

    Good afternoon and I hope this finds you well.
    A short introduction about myself – I am Amanda from Pico Art International, a company which seeks to inspire the public through creative exhibition concepts and events.

    We are currently working on an exhibition which celebrates Singapore’s bus scene over the years, all the way from 1900s. We would like to share that your blog provided rich insight to us about the good old days and was also lauded by the LTA as a reliable source. As the lead-up to this exhibition will include some social media teasers, we wanted to ask if you would be willing to grant us the rights to use of of your images for a nostalgic post.

    Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to your favorable reply!

  31. The familiar old SBS bus of model Leyland Atlantean, resold to Hong Kong’s Citybus

    (Source: http://www.chinamotorbus.com/ctb/sg-atlantean-china/)

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