Getting Around Singapore

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Getting Around Singapore

Getting around Singapore is easy: the public transportation system is extremely easy to use and taxis are reasonably priced when you can get one. Very few visitors rent cars. Gothere.sg does a pretty good job of figuring out the fastest route by MRT and bus and even estimating taxi fares between any two points.

If you are staying in Singapore for some time or are planning to return to Singapore several times in the future, the EZ-link contactless RFID farecard or a Nets Flash Pay card might be a worthwhile purchase. Those who are familiar with Hong Kong's Octopus card, London Underground's Oyster card, Washington DC's SmarTrip card or Japan Railway's IC cards will quickly understand the concept of the EZ-link and Nets Flash Pay card. You can store value on it and use it on the MRT trains as well as all city buses at a 15% discount. The card costs $12, including $7 stored value, and the card can be "topped up" in increments of at least $10 at the farecard vending machines or 7-Eleven stores (the latter will allow a top-up for a convenience fee). You can use the same card for 5 years. The card technology was changed in 2009, but if you have any old cards lying around, they can be exchanged for free with value intact at TransitLink offices in all MRT stations.

Alternatively, the Singapore Tourist Pass available at selected major MRT stations (including Changi Airport and Orchard) also includes ez-link card functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions. The pass includes unlimited travel on MRT and non-premium buses, and costs $10 for 1 day, $16 for 2 days, or $20 for 3 days (together with a $10 rental deposit refunded if this card is returned within 5 days after purchase). The passes are valid until the end of operating hours on the day they expire.

Single tickets can be purchased for both MRT and buses, but it's a hassle, and in the case of buses it delays everyone else because the driver has to count fare stages to tell you how much you need to pay. In addition, no change is given for the bus and you will need to buy a separate ticket if you intend to transfer to another bus later in your journey.

Distance based fares have been introduced since July 2010 to further integrate Singapore's public transport fare structure. All commuters will be charged a fare according to the total distance travelled, on the bus, LRT and MRT, and make transfers without incurring additional cost. Fares are now computed on a journey basis, without a boarding charge being imposed for every transfer trip that makes up the journey.

By Rail

The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) are trains that are the main trunk of Singapore's transit system. They are a cheap and very reliable mode of transportation, and the network covers most points of interest for the visitor. All train lines use contactless RFID tickets. Just tap to scan your train ticket at the gantry when entering and exiting the train service area. Single-trip tickets cost from $0.80 to $2 plus a $1 refundable deposit, just insert your used ticket into the ticketing machine to get your dollar back. EZ-link or Nets FlashPay farecards (described above) are the easiest and most popular ways to use the MRT. All lines are seamlessly integrated, even if the lines are operated by different transport companies, so you do not need to buy a new ticket to transfer.

The MRT stations are clean and usually equipped with free toilets. Underground stations have platform screen doors between the train and the platform while most above-ground stations have Half-height Platform Screen Doors (HHPSDs) so there is no risk of falling onto the tracks. The North-East line is fully automated, as is the new Circle Line, the LRT and all upcoming lines, so it's worth walking up to the front of the train to look out a tiny window and realize that there is no driver! There are exceptions though, when a staff member comes in to drive the train. This is common when a train's automatic driving system fails. In this case, a tape will be put up behind the driving area to prevent passengers from interfering with the driver.

Distance based fares

Please remember these points to enjoy full benefits of distance based fares:

  • Pay with an EZ-Link or NETS Flashpay stored value card
  • Make at most 5 transfers within a single journey, with a 45-minute allowance between each transfer
  • Take at most 2 hours to complete a journey
  • Enter and exit the train network only once in a journey and
  • Do not take the same bus service number more than once in a journey

By Bus

Buses connect various corners of Singapore, but are slower and harder to use than the MRT. The advantage though of this is you get to see the sights rather than a dark underground tunnel at a low price. You can pay cash (coins) in buses, but the fare stage system is quite complex (it's easiest to ask the driver for the price to your destination), you are charged marginally more and there is no provision for getting change. Payment with ez-link or Nets Flashpay card is thus the easiest method: tap your card against the reader at the front entrance of the bus when boarding, and a maximum fare is deducted from the card. When you alight, tap your card again at the exit, and the difference is refunded. Make sure you tap out, or you'll end up paying the maximum fare! Inspectors occasionally prowl buses to check that everybody has paid or tapped, so those who are on tourist day passes should tap before sitting down. Dishonest bus commuters risk getting fine $20 for not paying or underpaying fares (by premature tapping-out) and $50 for improper use of concession cards. Another advantage of ez-link or Nets Flashpay cards is that you will be able to enjoy distance-based fares and avoid the boarding fee.

After midnight on Fri, Sat and before public holidays only, the NightRider services are a fairly convenient way of getting around, with seven lines running every 20 min. All services drive past the major nightlife districts of Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Mohamed Sultan and Orchard before splintering off. There is a flat fare of $4.00, the EZ-link card is accepted but the Singapore Tourist Pass is not valid on this line.

As mentioned earlier, Gothere.sg will give you options as to which busses will take you from your origin or destination.

By Taxi

Taxis use meters and are reasonably priced and honest, however, a shortage of taxis in Singapore means that they are often unavailable for hours at a time. Outside weekday peak hours, trips within the city centre should not cost you more than $10 and even a trip right across the island from Changi to Jurong will not break the $35 mark. If you are in a group of 3 or 4, it's sometimes cheaper and faster to take a taxi than the MRT. Be aware, however, that taxis are often remarkably difficult to secure, especially during peak commute or shopping hours, or when there is inclement weather. During these times it can be impossible to get through to a booking agent via telephone, and you can expect extended waits in taxi queues. There is a puzzling lack of action to address this persistent and frustrating taxi shortage.

Taxi pricing is largely identical across all companies at $3.00-$3.20 as a flag down rate (depending on the type of vehicle used), which lasts you 1 km before increments of $0.22 per 400 m (for the first 10 km) or $0.22 per 350 m (after the first 10 km). (The sole exception is SMRT's giant black Chryslers, which charge $5 and then $0.30 per 385 m.) Watch out for surprises though: there are a myriad of peak hour (25%), late night (50%), central business district ($3), trips from airport or the IRs ($3-$5 during peak hours), phone booking ($3.00 and up) and Electronic Road Pricing surcharges, which may add a substantial amount to your taxi fare. All such charges are shown on the bottom right-hard corner of the meter, recorded in the printed receipt and explained in tedious detail in a sticker on the window; if you suspect the cabbie is trying to pull a fast one, call the company and ask for an explanation. Note that there is no surcharge for trips to the airport. While all taxis are equipped to handle (and are required to accept) credit cards, in practice many cabbies do not accept electronic payment. Always ask before getting in. Paying by credit card will incur an additional surcharge of 17%. During rush hour in the city centre, or late at night on the weekends, it's wise to call for a taxi from the unified booking system at ☎ +65 6342 5222 (6-DIAL-CAB). Some taxi companies offer booking via SMS, online and mobile app.

Despite the costs involved, taxis may sometimes take you to distant locations outside the CBD faster than mass transport. An airport trip from the city centre may take less than 20 mins on a taxi but more than 30 mins on an MRT.

In the Central Business District, taxis may pick up passengers only at taxi stands (found outside any shopping mall) or buildings with their own driveways (including virtually all hotels). Outside the centre, you're free to hail taxis on the street or call one to your doorstep. At night spots featuring long queues, such as Clarke Quay, you may on occasion be approached by touts offering a quick flat fare to your destination. This is illegal and very expensive but reasonably safe for you. (Drivers, on the other hand, will probably lose their job if caught.)

Some Singapore taxi drivers have very poor geographical knowledge and may expect you to know where they should go, so it may be helpful to bring a map of your destination area or directions on finding where you wish to go. It may also be helpful to write down the address of your destination. Some cabbies may also ask you which route you want to take; most are satisfied with "whichever way is faster".

By Trishaw

Trishaws , three-wheeled bicycle taxis, haunt the area around the Singapore River and Chinatown. Geared purely for tourists, they should be avoided for serious travel as locals do not use them. There is little room for bargaining: short rides will cost $10-20 and an hour's sightseeing charter about $50 per person.

By Boat

Tourist-oriented bumboats cruise the Singapore River, offering point-to-point rides starting from $3 and cruises with nice views of the CBD skyscraper skyline starting from $13.

Bumboats also shuttle passengers from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin ($2.50 one-way), a small island off Singapore's northeast coast which is about as close as Singapore gets to unhurried rural living.

By Car

Car rental is not a popular option in Singapore. It is also hardly necessary for tourists since public transport sufficiently covers all areas of the island with a significant population base. You will usually be looking at upwards for $100 per day for the smallest vehicle from the major rental companies, although local ones can be cheaper and there are sometimes good weekend prices available. This does not include gas at around $1.80/litre or electronic road pricing (ERP) fees, and you'll usually need to pay extra to drive to Malaysia. If planning on touring Malaysia by car, it makes much more sense to head across the border to Johor Bahru, where both rentals and petrol are half price, and you have the option of dropping your car off elsewhere in the country. This also avoids the unwelcome extra attention that Singapore plates tend to get from thieves and greedy cops.

One rental company called smove offers electric vehicle rentals. With a $19 registration fee, you can rent the electric car from 15 minutes to a full day. Since the cars are battery powered, you save on the cost of gas. They offer their service in the Buona Vista area of Singapore.

Roads in Singapore are in excellent condition and driving habits are generally good with most people following the traffic rules due to stringent enforcement, though road courtesy tends to be sorely lacking. Compared to other major cities around the world like Sydney, Tokyo or Hong Kong, parking spaces are comparatively easier to find in the city centre of Singapore, although peak hour congestion can be quite severe. Foreign licences in English are valid in Singapore for up to a year from your date of entry, after which you will have to convert your foreign license to a Singapore one. Foreign licences not in English must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP) or an official English translation (usually available from your embassy) for them to be valid.

Singaporeans drive on the left (UK style) and the driving age is 18. The speed limit is only 90 km/h on expressways and 60 km/h on other roads.

ERP payments require a stored-value CashCard, which is usually arranged by the rental agency, but it's your responsibility to ensure it has enough value. ERP gantries are activated at different times, usually in the expected direction of most cars. As a rule of thumb, gantries found in roads leading to the CBD are activated during the morning rush hour while gantries found in roads exiting the CBD are activated during the evening rush hour. Passing through an active ERP gantry with insufficient value will mean that an alert is sent to your registered address. You will need to pay an administrative fee in addition to the difference between the remaining amount and the actual charge. You have a limited time to settle this otherwise your penalty becomes heavier.

All passengers must wear seatbelts and using a phone while driving is banned. Drink-driving is not tolerated: the maximum blood alcohol content is 0.08%, with roadblocks set up at night to catch offenders, who are heavily fined and possibly jailed. Even if your blood alcohol level does not exceed the legal limit, you can still be charged with drink driving if the police are convinced that your ability to control the vehicle has been compromised by the presence of alcohol (i.e. if you get involved in an accident). The police do conduct periodic roadblocks and speed cameras are omnipresent. Fines will be sent by mail to you or your rental agency, who will then pass on the cost with a surcharge. If stopped for a traffic offense, don't even think about trying to bribe your way out.

By Thumb

Hitchhiking is virtually unheard of in Singapore, and given the size of the country and its cheap, ubiquitous public transport, it's hardly necessary. Plus, it's also highly illegal.

By Bicycle

Using bicycles as a substitute for public transport is possible, although there's little cycling culture and amenities like bike lanes or bike racks are a rarity. While the city is small and its landscape is flat, it can be difficult to predict how ridable a route will be without scoping it out first. Buses, taxis, and motorists stopping to drop off or pick up passengers rarely check for cyclists before merging back onto the roadway, which makes certain routes especially treacherous. The ubiquitous road works around Singapore can also make cycling more hazardous when temporary road surfaces are not kept safe for biking, portable traffic barriers make it hard for vehicles to see cyclists, and construction crews directing traffic are unsure of how to deal with cyclists on the roadway.

Air quality can also be a problem. According to Singapore's LTA, Singapore has more than 178,000 diesel powered cars, taxis, buses, and trucks, which can make biking on Singapore's crowded roads very unpleasant. When the thick smoke from Indonesian fires descends on Singapore, air quality plummets even further.

There are few bike lanes in Singapore, and none in the city centre. The 2010 campaign, "1.5M Matters" seems to have little effect on the driving habits of Singaporeans, who often pass uncomfortably close to cyclists. But that may be because of the lack of a bicycle lane on the roads and motorists are very often forced to swerve into the adjacent lane in order to avoid hitting a cyclist. 22 cyclists were killed on Singapore roadways in 2008; the next year, 19. According to the Singapore "Ride of Silence" two cyclists are hit by motor vehicles every day in Singapore. Cycling on the pavements would be a better idea, but watch out for pedestrians!

Small folding bicycles may be taken on the MRT during certain times of the day, but large bicycles are a no-no. Bicycles may cross the Causeway to Malaysia (on motorbike lanes), but are not allowed on expressways.

  • Wan Sports Services, 55 Bussorah Street, 199471 (behind Sultan Mosque), +65 8246-7971. bicycle rental with end to end services from delivery to collection offering mountain, folding and city bikes. Supplies each customer with a detailed map/trip log showing biking trails, parks, landmarks. They recommend Arab Street for cycling activities because of its proximity to Chinatown, Little India, Orchard Road, Clark Quay, East Coast Park, Marina Barrage, Gardens by the Bay, Labrador Park, Sentosa Island and many other interesting and historical places for sight-seeing.

On Foot

Singapore is generally fairly 'pedestrian-friendly'. In the main business district and on main roadways, pavements and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful. Drivers are mindful of marked crossing zones, but are less likely be aware or respectful of pedestrians crossing at streetcorners on less busy streets where crosswalks are not marked, even though by law any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is presumed to be the driver's fault. In residential areas of Singapore, pedestrians can be frustrated by narrow and poorly-maintained pavements that often jump from one side of the street to the other or just disappear, and frequently are obstructed by trash cans and plantings. Jaywalking is illegal and punished with fines of $25 and up to three months in jail.

Classic walks in Singapore include walking down the river from the Merlion through the Quays, trekking along the Southern Ridges Walk or just strolling around Chinatown, Little India or Bugis.

An unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted, so bring along a handkerchief and a bottle of water. It's best to get an early start, pop into air-conditioned shops, cafes, and museums to cool off, and plan on heading back to the shopping mall or hotel pool before noon. Alternatively, after sundown, evenings can also be comparatively cool.

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