Having invested vast sums in its public transport infrastructure, Singapore is undoubtedly the easiest city in Asia to get around. With a typical mixture of far-sighted social planning and authoritarianism, the government has built, and continues to extend, its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail system and its road network.
If you’re going to be using public transport heavily, buy the TransitLink Guide ($2.50 from MRT ticket offices), listing all bus and MRT routes. Maps show the surrounding areas for all MRT stations, including bus stops.
For online bus information, including a searchable bus guide and the useful IRIS service (which tells you in real time when your next bus will arrive), see www.sbstransit.com.sg. For train information, see www.smrt.com.sg. Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services
Singapore’s extensive bus service is, needless to say, clean, efficient and regular, reaching every corner of the island.
Bus fares range from 90c to $1.80 (less with an ez-link card). When you board the bus, drop the exact money into the fare box (no change is given), or tap your ez-link card or Tourist Pass on the reader as you board, then again when you get off.
For information, contact SBS Transit (1800 287 2727; www.sbstransit.com.sg).
Train operator SMRT (www.smrtbuses.com.sg) runs three free shuttle buses (11am to 10pm Saturday and Sunday, every 8 minutes) on three routes: Dhoby Ghaut MRT station to Little India, Dhoby Ghaut MRT station to Chinatown, and Outram Park MRT station to Chinatown.
SMRT also runs two late-night weekend bus services running between the city and the suburbs: Nite Owl ($3 flat fare, midnight to 4am Friday and Saturday) and NightRider ($3 flat fare, 11.30pm to 4.30am Friday and Saturday). See the website for route details.
Singapore Airlines runs the SIA Hop-On (9457 2896; www.siahopon.asiaone.com.sg) tourist bus, traversing the main tourist arteries every 30 minutes daily, starting at Raffles Blvd at 9am, with the last bus leaving at 5.30pm and arriving back at 7.35pm.
There’s also a Sentosa Hop-On bus running between Raffles Boulevard, Orchard Rd, Lau Pa Sat hawker centre and Sentosa. The first bus leaves Sentosa at 10am and the last at 5.30pm. Tickets cost $12/6 per adult/child, or $3 with a Singapore Airlines or Silk Air boarding passes or ticket. Buy tickets from the driver.
Singaporeans drive on the left-hand side of the road and it is compulsory to wear seat belts in the front and back of the car. The Mighty Minds Singapore Street Directory ($12.90) is invaluable.
If you want a car for local driving only, it’s worth checking smaller operators, whose rates are often cheaper than the big global rental firms. If you’re going into Malaysia, you’re better off renting in Johor Bahru, where the rates are significantly lower (besides, Malaysian police are renowned for targeting Singapore licence plates).
Rates start from around $60 a day. Special deals may be available, especially for longer-term rental. There are hire booths at Singapore Changi Airport as well as in the city. These are some of the major companies:
Express Car (6842 4992; 1 Sims Lane; www.expresscar.com.sg)
Hawk (6469 4468; 32A Hillview Terrace; www.hawkrentacar.com.sg)
Hertz Rent-a-Car (6734 4646; 15 Scotts Rd, 01-01 Thong Teck Bldg)
Premier (03-05 Balmoral Plaza, 271 Bukit Timah Rd; www-singapore.com/premier/index.html
From 7.30am to 7pm weekdays, as well as from 10.15am through to 2pm Saturday, the area comprising the CBD, Chinatown and Orchard Rd is considered a restricted zone. Cars are free to enter but they must pay a toll. Vehicles are automatically tracked by sensors on overhead gantries, so cars must be fitted with an in-vehicle unit, into which drivers must insert a cashcard (available at petrol stations and 7-Elevens). The toll is extracted from the card. The same system is also in operation on certain expressways. Rental cars are subject to the same rules.
Anyone whose vehicle is not fitted with a unit, or whose card does not have sufficient credit, is automatically photographed and fined.
Parking in the city centre is very expensive, though relatively easy to find, because almost every major mall has a car park. Outdoor car parks and street parking spaces are usually operated by the government – you can buy booklets of parking coupons, which must be displayed in the window, from post offices and 7-Elevens.
The superb MRT subway system is the easiest, quickest and most comfortable way to get around Singapore. The system operates from 5.30am to midnight, with trains at peak times running every three minutes, and off-peak every six minutes. For a map of the system see the Singapore maps section at the back of this book.
In the inner city, the MRT runs underground, emerging overground out towards the suburban housing estates. It consists of three lines: North-South, North-East and East-West, with a fourth – the Circle Line – opening in stages, to be completed in 2012.
Fares & Fare Cards
Single-trip tickets cost from $1.10 to $1.90 (plus a $1 refundable deposit), but if you’re using the MRT a lot it can become a hassle buying and refunding tickets for every journey. A lot more convenient is the ez-link card ($15, including a $5 non-refundable deposit), which you can top up as necessary and use on all buses and trains. Alternatively, a Singapore Tourist Pass (www.thesingaporetouristpass.com) offers unlimited train and bus travel ($8) for one day.
Poor old Singapore has endless problems with its taxi system. Despite an interminable cycle of debate, reform, complaint and adjustment, finding a taxi in the city at certain times (during peak hours, at night, or when it’s raining) remains a major headache. The fare system is also hugely complicated, but thankfully it’s all metered, so there’s no tedious haggling over fares. The basic flagfall is $2.80, then 20c for every 385m.
The one exception is at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, where there’s no Changi Airport-style system. It’s not unknown for taxi drivers to swoop on new arrivals and demand outlandish fares for short distances. Demand they use the meter; it’s against the law if they don’t. Credit card payments incur a 10% surcharge.
These are the taxi companies:
Comfort and CityCab CabLink (6552 1111)
Premier Taxis (6363 6888)
SMRT Cabs (6555 8888)
Singapore’s roads are not for the faint-hearted. Not only is it furiously hot, drivers tend to be fast, aggressive and not particularly sympathetic to the needs of cyclists. Fortunately there’s a large network of parks, park connectors and a few excellent dedicated mountain-biking areas – at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Tampines and Pulau Ubin.
Other excellent places for cycling include East Coast Park, Sentosa, Pasir Ris Park and the new route linking Mt Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Kent Ridge Park.
In the city, the best place to rent top quality bikes is Treknology Bikes 3 (6466 2673; www.treknology3.com; 24 Holland Grove Rd; per day $35 a day; 11am-7.30pm). It’s probably the best bike shop in Singapore.
Bikes can also be rented at several places along East Coast Parkway, on Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin, with prices starting from $5.
If you have your own bike, be aware that it’s not allowed on public transport.