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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Feb 29, 2020

Old Buses in Singapore in the Past

My pioneer generation friends will remember how risky it was to cross the road after boarding the old bus in the 1960s.

The bus commuters did not bother to queue and would rush for the bus once it arrived.  Here is an archived photo of the office workers at Robinson Road on this blog.

Did you notice that there is only one door for the commuter to board and alight.  No aircond, no folding door on the bus when travelling on the road.

Please watch a YouTube video-clip of the old bus in Singapore in 1960 here .

Commuters queuing for the Singapore-Johore Express bus to Johore Bahru at Queen Street on 03/12/1978.  Floods, unleashed by the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in a single day.  Swamped Singapore for the second day at Queen Street.  There were long lines of commuters waiting for buses to return to Johore Baru.  The service had been cut off by the floods along Bukit Timah and Woodlands Road.  [Source:  National Archives of Singapore].

People movers of the past

Trolley bus were common here from 1920s to 1962.

[Source:  The Straits Times, 6 November 2004]

The earliest buses on Singapore's roads were trolley buses which were brought in during the 1920s to replace electric trams.

Like trams - and unlike today's diesel-fuelled public buses - trolley buses were powered by overhead electric lines.  They ran on roads rather than tramlines.

The Singapore Traction Company (STC) had a 30-year monopoly to run trolley buses and motor buses in town.

By 1929, 90 trolley buses plied a distance of 30.5km.  Two years earlier, the tram service, which started in 1905, had been phased out.

The fare then?  10 cents.

Because of the electric lines that powered the buses, journey could be eventful.

Whenever a bus turned a corner, the conductor had to hop out and grab ropes connected to the lines.  Otherwise, the connection would be broken.

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had the opportunity to travel on a trolley bus with my mother.

I think it was at the Finlayson Green and raining that day, I looked at the sky and thought there was lightning and thunder.  But no.  The bright spark for a fleeting moments from the wire above the trolley bus.  That was the only and last time I had the trolley bus experience in this lifetime.  Please share your personal memories and trolley bus travelling experiences and your comments are welcome.

Improving technology meant faster modes of public transport, such as motor buses - called wu xian dian che, or wireless vehicle.

Mostly Leylands, Albions or Chevrolets, these buses ran on fuel.   From 1935, "mosquito buses" - so called because they could weave in and out of traffic - began to serve rural and fringe areas.

By the 1940s, there were more motor buses than trolley buses on the roads.  Trolleys were completely replaced in December 1962, and the electric lines that powered them came down. 

The Singapore Traction Company collapsed in 1973.

Transporting you back to the past

*  1905:  Electric trams begin service
*  1920s: Trolley buses, also powered by overhead electric lines, are brought in to replace the trams.  By 1929, there are 90 trolley buses on the roads.
*  1927:  Trams are phased out.
*  1935:  Motor buses begin to serve rural and fringe areas.
*  1962:  Trolley buses are completely replaced by motor buses.

First Class and Second Class of Trolley Buses

According to The Straits Times, 11 December 1948 headlined "One Class Of Passenger":

Weight restrictions which compelled the Singapore Traction Company to ignore many of the standard bus models produced by manufacturers, are modified in amendments to the Singapore Traction Ordinances gazetted by Government on 10 December, 1948.

Abolition from trolley buses of first class and second class accomodation and the substitution of a single class is also proposed by the amendments. 

The Municipal Commissioners have agreed to both measures.

Swatting "Mosquito Buses"

How has transport in Singapore changed over the years?  In the fifth of a six-part series, Little Red Dot looks back at a time when buses were seen as pests.

By Elsen Teo [Source:  Straits Times, 6 November 2012]

Ten years after the first motor vehicle appeared in Singapore, a single double-decker bus is imported from Britain into the colony by a man whose identity remains unknown.

The bus serves Orchard Road, a streeet lined with fruit trees and the houses of rich Europeans.  The business does not take off though, and not long after, the man stops the service.

First registered motor car in Singapore

Mrs G.M. Dare and her husband on their Adams-Hewitt bearing the licence plate S-1 (1930/31)


Seven-seater motor buses appear, and their drivers, usually Chinese immigrants, start charging passengers fares.  By 1920, there are about 100 buses.

It is a new form of public transport; the other forms are rickshaws, the electric tram and carts pulled by horses and donkeys.  It becomes popular because it moves much faster than other vehicles.

However, drivers are reckless and accidents occur frequently.  There are also no fixed routes and a driver could chase passengers off his bus halfway through a ride.


There are now more than 400 motor buses in Singapore, and they are called "mosquito buses" for they move around quickly and recklessly.  Many drivers are former rickshaw pullers.

Many buses ply the same routes as those of trolley buses, and are stiff competition for trolley bus owner, the Singapore Traction Company.

In 1935, the municipality passes laws to allow the existence of these buses, on the condition that their owners form proper companies.  In all, 12 companies emerge, each covering a different part of Signapore.  They are:  The Katong-Bedok Bus Service, the Changi Motor Bus Service, the Paya Lebar Bus Service, the Ponggol Bus Service, Tay Koh Yat, the Seletar Motor Bus Company, the Green Bus Company, the Jurong Omnibus Service, the Ngo Hock Motor Bus Company, the Soon Lee Bus Company, the Kampong Bahru Bus Service and the Keppel Bus Company Limited.

A ride costs 3 to 12 cents.  Bus stops are not sheltered and terminals in rural areas are little more than attap huts.


Buses become the main form of public transport service in Singapore.  Trolley buses, rickshaws and animal carts have disappeared, while the trishaw is falling out of favour.  However, bus services are still unreliable, and many vehicles are old and unsafe.

To enable bus companies to pool resources, the Government merges them into three, then one company in 1973.  The unified company, the Singapore Bus Service (SBS), has 2,079 buses.


To allow for a smoother flow of buses, Singapore's first dedicated bus lane opens along New Bridge Road.  Other vehicles are not allowed to use this lane.


As the Government builds New Towns in the rural areas, feeder bus services - shorter, more frequent services - are introduced to serve smaller areas in each town.  Still, queues of 50 to 100 people are common.  But bus stops now come with roofs - finally, shelter from the heat and rain!


The double-decker bus is reintroduced into Singapore Service 86 runs from Tampines to Shenton Way.


A second bus company, the Trans-Island Bus Service (Tibs), is formed to serve Woodlands, Sembawang and Yishun in the north.


Respite from the heat!  The first air-conditioned buses.  Service 76, run along Upper Serangoon Road.


The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT), a rail company, merges with Tibs; Tibs is renamed SMRT BUSES.


Singapore's first air-conditioned bus interchange, with automatic sliding doors separating the building from buses, opens at Toa Payoh.  Since then, similar air-conditioned interchanges have been built in Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang, Serangoon, Boon Lay and Clementi.

We have come a long way in the evolution of public transport in Singapore ...  from donkey and horse carts, jinrickshaw, trishaw, "mosquito buses", electric trams to latest buses to MRT.  These are the public transportation developments which young generations of Singaporeans could discuss with our grand-parents and great grand-parents to spend over their dinners and share with our inter-generational Singaporeans how much have changed and improved in Singapore over the decades.

Better for the future to work, play and live in our homeland as we work together as One Singapore!