Singapore is one of the easiest cities in the world to get around for the average traveller thanks to an amazingly efficient and comprehensive public transport system, making public transport a cheap and viable option for backpackers looking to stick to a budget in this otherwise generally quite expensive city.
Singapore gets a lot of undeserved flak from many travellers, as if somehow being clean, efficient and functioning has become an appalling and horrific standard that all civilised countries should shun and spurn with as much gusto as possible! I just don’t get it!
I’m from England where the public transport system is ridiculous. It never works, breaks down all the time, rarely gets you where you need to be when you need to be there, is often staffed by people who should be sectioned for their own protection and costs the equivalent of a second mortgage every year to use, so it seems that shunning the ideology of having a public transport system that works properly, is punctual, efficient and cheap is exactly what they did! That is why I absolutely love the public transport system in Singapore. It is the very model of what England and the rest of the world should be! In the future!
Getting around the public transport system is quite easy too and does not take long at all to get the hang of, but it can be a little daunting to the average traveller who may only be spending a day or two in the city. So here is just a very quick guide to help you navigate your way around this stunning country.
EZ Link card.
The best and easiest way to pay for public transport in Singapore is to buy one of the EZ link cards from any MRT station. These cards are essentially pre pay contactless cards that you tap onto a scanner and can use to pay for your journey on any bus, MRT or LRT service as well as most taxis. Anyone familiar with the Oyster card system in London will be instantly familiar with how to use it. Singapore is so efficient you can even use it to pay for other services and goods at a lot of the malls and restaurants!
You basically turn up to any of the TransitLink ticket offices or any of the passenger service centres in any MRT station and buy the card. It costs $5 SGD (non refundable) to buy, and comes with $7 SGD top up credit, for a total of $12 SGD (roughly around £6 GBP), and is available to use immediately. You can also buy the cards for a small surcharge at any 7 – Eleven store or SingPost outlets. There are of course concessions for certain groups.
The $7 credit actually goes a long way, but if you need to top up this is easily done. You can top up the card at any general ticket machine found in all SMRT stations, TransitLink machines found in most SMRT stations, at any manned ticket office, online or in any 7 – eleven store or post office. Any cash machine or ATM within the OCBC, POSB or AXS networks allow you to top up the EZ link card too.
Told you Singapore was efficient!
Singapore Tourist Pass.
Alternatively you can enjoy unlimited basic MRT and bus rides with the Singapore Tourist Pass. You can choose between a 1 day pass for $20 SGD, a 2 day pass for $26 SGD or 3 day pass for $30 SGD, these prices include a $10 card rental deposit which you can get back if you return the card within 5 days of buying it.
These passes can only be bought at selected TransitLink offices within some MRT stations, and be aware that the basic bus services do not include night buses.
From March 2014 you can also buy a Singapore Tourist Pass Plus, which is the exact same card but includes a free Bubble Jet ride around the Singapore Bay area and a Funvee open top bus tour.
Both cards also come with various promotional offers and discounts at various stores and services, which can be useful if you want to use all of the included services, not so much if you don’t.
Which option you choose is entirely up to you. The best choice will depend on how long you plan on staying in Singapore and how often you plan on using the public transport. Personally I have never found the tourist passes to be very good value for money, I have always just purchased the basic EZ link card and topped it up as necessary.
Singapore MRT system.
If you are using public transport in Singapore this is the system you will be using 99% of the time.
The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system in Singapore is one of the best I have experienced in the world. Period. It is essentially an extensive train service that covers the absolute majority of the country and has excellent MRT stations conveniently located throughout the city, most within easy walking distance of any major attraction and each other. Singapore has even recently added the downtown line to the MRT network, linking the Expo centre near the airport with Bukit Panjang and giving major attractions such as the Botanical Gardens or many malls their own station. New stations including one for the Gardens by the Bay and stations to service the expanding cruise ships docks are being added all the time. Basically, by using the MRT network there are very few places you can’t conveniently access in the city.
All you need to do is simply find a convenient MRT station, tap your EZ link card and take whichever train line is going to your destination. Easy.
The trains are fast, efficient and air conditioned, although they can get a little crowded at peak times like any other public transport, you are never really on for long enough for this to be much of a problem. One thing that anyone used to the buses and trains in England will appreciate is the countdown clock too, you never have to wait more than a few minutes for the next train, and when the countdown on the platform timer reaches zero, the train arrives, the doors open bang on time and in the exact spot on the platform they should be on. Now THAT is efficient!
Given the relative perfection of the train network you couldn’t reasonably expect much more from a public transport system, but this being Singapore, they decided to up the ante on the MRT stations too. Clean, well staffed and with convenient facilities, many are mini shopping malls too! The underground network of link malls between many stations link up and provide access to major malls such as the Ion Orchard, providing shops, cafes, coffee shops and a variety of consumer necessities as well as air conditioned comfort if you don’t want to head outside in the heat.
For the rare times you need to go somewhere that isn’t serviced by the MRT system (which to be honest isn’t all that many places), such as the zoo for example, Singapore’s extensive bus network plugs the gaps nicely and then some. There are the SBS buses and SMRT buses, and both run pretty decent services. You can pay by cash (exact change only) or by the pre paid EZ link cards.
Taxi’s are perhaps the quickest and easiest ways to get around Singapore, and provided they are used sparingly they won’t break the bank either. Yes they are the most expensive way to get around Singapore but by most western country’s standards they are pretty good value. I personally use the MRT for most journeys, but will occasionally use a taxi after a night out or back to the airport for example, and still easily manage to stay in budget.
One of my favourite things about the taxi drivers in Singapore is that they have all without fail been extremely friendly, and not one in all my years there has ever tried to rip me off or scam me. For those travellers used to taxi’s in SE Asia, especially the taxi mafia in Kuala Lumpur, this is a serious breath of fresh air that can’t be understated!
There are seven taxi operators in Singapore. The silver Premier taxis, the comfort taxis, the yellow city cabs, the yellow top taxi’s, trans cabs, Prime Taxis and SMRT cabs all cost around the same. They all use the meter and start at around $3 – $3.90 SGD and are relatively cheap for short journeys.You can also book a Limousine taxi for a little more, although the name is slightly misleading as they are not limousines but rather slightly nicer cars than normal such as a Mercedes.
You will have no problem getting around via public transport in Singapore. It is one of the most efficient systems in the world, and you will get the hang of it very quickly. Since most visitors don’t spend much more than a day or two in this fantastic country however, hopefully this quick and easy guide will help you navigate through your choices a little easier.