Singapore transportation is top-notch. World ranking reports place Singapore’s transport system as the best in the world based on five criteria: availability, affordability, efficiency, convenience and sustainability. Infrastructure and public transit investment are effectively funded through a public/private cost-sharing enterprise that ensures every corner of Singapore island is served. In addition, the city operates the longest fully-automated train network in the world.
That being said, there are 3 main modes of transportation in Singapore—the MRT and rail, city bus, and city taxis. Most Singaporeans don’t own a car due to the high taxes that make driving an exclusive activity only undertaken by the city-state’s super rich. Taxes are implemented in order to maintain low pollution and traffic congestion levels (a standard mid-sized sedan can go for as much as SG $150,000). While private cars are expensive, public transit is among the cheapest in the industrialized world.
The system is also the world’s most accessible; meaning it is designed for anyone to ride it. If you are pregnant, elderly, or impaired, the city’s transport system takes pride in the fact that everyone is welcomed and everyone has what they need to feel like an honored citizen. While international reports are great and all, what does this mean for the average traveler, and just how do you get around? Read below, and follow the links for direct access to official city transport sites as well as some of the best deals to get around!
Airport to Downtown
When you first arrive at Singapore’s Changi Airport, you’ll probably want to get downtown or close to your accommodation, fast. Changi Airport Station is located in Terminal 2 underground level at Arrivals. The station is easy to find on foot from Terminal 2 or 3 by simply following the sign that reads “Train to City”. If you are arriving through Terminal 1, access to Terminal 2 is easy by riding the SkyTrain at Terminal 1 Arrivals. The airport line runs from Changi Airport Station to Tanah Merah Station which connects to the East West Line and runs straight downtown.
Aside from zipping you downtown in under 30 minutes, the East West or Green Line is the main connecting point to all other MRT lines, granting you access to the island’s four corners (only the Purple Line requires more than 1 transfer). The Green Line also serves some of the city’s main attractions and popular neighborhoods including Bugis and Chinatown.
The MRT is recommended best for people who visit Singapore with a reasonable amount of luggage. If you like to travel with all the best of everything you own, then a city taxi or private ride is your best bet in order to keep all of your fine possessions intact.
Unfortunately, a large number of international flights arrive late in the night when public transportation isn’t readily available. In this case (or if you like to travel with more than one luggage per person), your best option is a Private Singapore Changi Airport to Downtown ride that you can book online in avance for only $30. This is the best way to get from Changi Airport to downtown anytime during the day.
Buying a Ticket, EZ Link and STP (Singapore Tourist Pass)
Single rides are cost effective at only $1.25 SGD, and ticketing machines accept credit cards and debit (as well as some international Visa PLUS debit cards). You can buy individual tickets at any station, but the city’s EZ Link Card is what you will need to tap in and out of the bus system, MRT and rail, as well as city taxis.
At Changi Airport Station, you can purchase your EZ Link from 8 am to 9 pm at the Transit Link Ticket Booth. EZ Link cards are also available at 40 stations of the MRT system, as well as Passenger Service Centers located in most MRT stations, 7-11 stores, and Buzz Pods. Cards require a $5.00 SGD deposit, as well as a $2.00 SGD charge. Once you have your card, just tap in and tap out throughout the system!
Plus, with an EZ Link card, you don’t have to worry about time-consuming, cumbersome ticket transferring from private to public transit services, because in Singapore, the system is streamlined. The card system is simple and convenient to use, you can even top it up online or at any station with a credit card or cash. EZ Link is even useful for SBS transit buses, SMRT, all upgraded comfort and CityCab Taxis, Premier Taxis and SMRT Taxis, River Taxis of the Singapore River Cruise Line, as well as private travel buses. If you don’t know what any of these are don’t worry, we’ll let you know below!
If you’re just in town to get the main sights in for 3 days or less, then the Singapore Tourist Pass, locally known as the STP, will be your best and most affordable way to get around. Unlimited rides will run your travel budget just $10 SGD for 1 day, $16 SGD for 2 days and 3 days for $20 SGD. The Singapore Tourist Pass or STP is available from selected TransitLink Ticket offices or Automated STP Kiosks.
If you’re strapped for hard cash when you arrive at the airport, you can withdraw from your home bank with an international Visa PLUS debit card. You can find out if your debit will work anywhere in the world by checking the back of your card. If you can spot a PLUS, your card will work at almost any traditional bank machine but not at teller stations. Nearly all chipped cards are Visa PLUS compliant.
MRT, SMRT and Rail (LRT)
Singapore’s transportation standard, the MRT, or Mass Rapid Transit, will take you to all of the major popular hubs, spots and shopping malls in the city. The first line opened in 1987, and encompasses the North South Line and the East West line. The popular Circle Line opened in 2009 while the SMRT North East Line and Downtown Lines opened in 2003 and 2013 respectively.
The system runs 5 lines with 119 stations, and 3 more lines under construction, with a plan of adding 52 new stations underway. As you can imagine, the system is easy and convenient to use running mostly underground. When you get to any MRT station, find the MRT system map. Throughout the city you will find the Singapore transport’s MRT logo which resembles a handshake of two yellow hands over a teal background.
The MRT has similar hours of operation as most underground transit networks in the world. Although a particularly early weekday last train and later than most Sunday train is said to be the main difference, which is attributed to the year-round tropical climate. The MRT runs from 5:31am to 11:18 pm, Monday to Saturday, and 5:59 am to 12:06 am on Sundays and public holidays. In addition, MRT’s frequency is among the best in the world with a new train every 6-9 minutes during rush hour (8:00 am-9:00 am, 12:30 pm-2:00 pm, 7:30 pm-10:20 pm), and every 12-13 minutes at its most infrequent.
The SMRT is a publicly-owned system that was until 2016, a public-private enterprise. The system connects entirely to the MRT and EZ Link passes work throughout. SMRT also operates 1,200 busses in northern and north-western Singapore; as well as 88 stations on the North South Line, East West Line and Circle Line. Light Rail Transit operates just as MRT, and uses the same payment system so no need to worry about transfer costs. Light Rail Transit acts as a feeder network from suburban areas into the MRT system, and thus as a tourist, you’re less likely to tread these tracks.
By the way, if you are looking for general tips about Singapore, feel free read this blog post too: Singapore Travel Tips.
The bus in Singapore is the most popular way to get around. The city bus covers most of the island and runs into the night for all the party people. The bus is often the best way to experience the city’s charming streets as well as its famous nightlife. Singaporeans love to travel by bus, with over 300 individual service lines covering the island and 3 million rides daily. Busses are air-conditioned and often have more comfortable sitting than your run-of-the-mill city bus. Although the city operates a public-private partnership of bus lines, all are accessible through the same ticketing system for EZ Link cardholders. Simply look for the Singapore transport logo (remember those two yellow hands over a teal background), as well as a bus sign, to find the nearest station.
Busses in Singapore are both private and public, meaning they run as a consortium of private and public companies operating side by side. That being said, there are four main bus lines in operation: SBS Transit, SMRT Buses, TTS Buses, and Go-Ahead Buses. Different bus companies cover single routes throughout a wide length, thus you will likely stay on the same bus if you happen to be covering a long distance. You are more likely to transfer in and out from the MRT than to a different company’s bus. For a sightseeing bus, you can book the 2-day hop-on sightseeing bus tours, that hit all the sights through 7 different routes across the city, in partnership with BigBus Singapore.
Night owls will be pleased to know that SBS Transit and SMRT Buses offer different versions of night service that vary in operation time (usually until 2 am), as well as frequency. TTS Buses and GAS Buses provide service until 11:45 or close to midnight but no later.
SBS Transit operates and owns 60% of scheduled bus services and is the main bus transit provider of Singapore transportation, with a fleet of over 3,100 buses. SBS Transit busses offer wireless service which is perfect for trip-planning and finding out when the next bus will arrive through their helpful online website available here. SBS Nite OWL buses also provide the most extensive late-night service and connect directly to SMRT NightRider from 12:00 pm to 2:00 am. These two company’s late-night partnership offers the best way to get around if you like to stay out late.
SMRT Busses’ main operational focus involves managing train service on the MRT’s North South Line, East West Line, Circle Line, and the Thomson East Coast Line from 2019. In addition, the company provides connection points through a fleet of busses (as well as taxis and private-hire vehicle service).
This means that SMRT busses are the best connection points from MRT Stations, and are thus the most traveled routes covering the city’s most famous landmarks and sites. SMRT’s NightRider service offers late-night runs on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as public holidays until 2 am.
Although the NightRider ticket price is steep at $4.50 SGD, EZ Link cardholders can enjoy free transfer to other NightRider and Nite OWL buses within a certain time period. NightRider links major nightspots with residential and business districts throughout Singapore through 7 different nighttime routes.
TTS Busses or Tower Transit Singapore, operates 29 bus service lines from 4 main bus interchanges located at Bukit Batok, Jurong East Interchange, Clementine Interchange, and Joao Komon Interchange, as well as two City Direct Service lines downtown. The company boasts they are “the world’s most respected public transport operator,” and according to them, “that’s how [they] roll”. For a full look at the bus service line, as well as trip-planning your journey, start here!
Finally, Go-Ahead Busses is the most recent addition to the extensive Singapore bus transport system. The company started operation in mid 2016 and offers 27 routes throughout the city. Go-Ahead also offers a convenient linkage with Changi Airport Bus Terminal.
In a city where the cost of living is among the highest in the world, taxi services stand apart as being quite economical. Singapore taxi rates are comparatively low to other industrialized nations, and better yet, your trusty EZ Link card will work with nearly all taxi services. Like busses, Singapore taxis also run on a public-private partnership.
Singapore transportation’s fleet of taxis are also said to be among the safest in the world, only second to service-oriented Japan. This is due to the fact that all taxis are monitored by Singapore’s transport authority or LTA (for Land Transport Authority). The LTA regulates metering for a standard rate, although older vehicles are less expensive than newer, hybrid or luxury taxi vehicles (Benz taxi anyone?).
ComfortDelgro operates the largest fleet of taxi cabs in the city, while SMRT, CityCab and Trans-Cabs also operate their own smaller legions of vehicles. The standard sky-blue ComfortDelgro taxis are the most common. ComfortDelgro also operates a useful app that allows you to hail a cab from your phone beforehand.
If you’re out of data, or a phone, then hailing a cab is your best bet. In Singapore, you can hail a cab on the street just like any other city. You can also wait for a taxi at a taxi station, which are conveniently located at top destinations, shopping malls, hotels etc. Also, if your number is up and a more expensive Mercedes Benz rolls into the station, you do not have to take it. Instead, simply wait for the next, more affordable option to roll in.
In addition, ComfortDelgro allows you to agree on a flat rate or metered service, usually flat rates are slightly cheaper, but when traffic rolls around, a flat rate is a sure bet.
UBER and GRAB
UBER accounts from Europe and North America also work in Singapore. The best part is, you won’t need a SIM card to hail a car. While UBER is the main stay of ride-sharing in North America and Europe, GRAB is the most popular in Southeast Asia, this means more cars and less waiting time. GRAB features all the same amenities as UBER but also includes different types of vehicle options, from luxury sedans, to busses.
Singapore transport system is easy, cheap and convenient. In addition, you’re spoiled for choice on how to get there. Essentially the question will depend on whether you are looking for the easiest way to get from point A to point B; or if you’re looking to travel in style for an extra buck or two (with all the luxury upgrades from Mercedes Benz taxi cabs to reclining bus seats on city busses). Also, this being Asia, taxis cab drivers do not expect or require a tip! Cheers, and happy travels.
And for more tips about the Lion City, feel free to also check these articles: Singapore Travel Blog.