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Jurong East Smart Bus Stop – Redefining Bus Stop and Community Space Making

With more than two-thirds of Singaporean utilizing public transport to commute and along the aspiration of going car-lite by the state island’s government, we can expect the definition of bus stops to be more than a public transport transit point. With close to 5,000 bus stops in Singapore, bus stops have been a way of making public space just like many other familiar components in Singapore’s built environment such as HDB void deck, open gyms, community parks and town centers that bond people across the social fabric.  I wrote a piece about the 10 aspects of bus stops to be thought about 4 years ago, but that’s pretty much for the context of Malaysia’s bus stops where the simple task like sufficient shading is not catered for.

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The prototype bus stop, which is a brain child of DP Architect’s CSR Project Blind Spot, aims at redefining our transport system as part of the larger social infrastructure. This looks into the aspects of how do we make transitional points like this fun and enjoyable. While we have seen SMRT’s approach in Shop & Dine @ SMRT integrated concept, similarly could be done to bus stops too to ensure spaces are multi-function in this ever scarce land state island. Located in Jurong East Town Centre, Bus Stop Block 134 serves a crucial area of transiting local residence to the neighborhood amenities such as Jurong Regional Library and CPF center etc.

Perspectives of the Prototype Bus Stops, with the typical length of accommodating two buses
Perspectives of the Prototype Bus Stops, with the typical length of accommodating two buses

What does the bus stop of the future looks like? How do bus stops remain relevant where technology is evolving to the Internet of Things? How do we make waiting at bus stops fun? The product sees an integration of various hardware such as interactive smart boards, a swing, bicycle parking station, USB charging station, book exchange corner and also some artwork showcase along the rear of the bus stops. I suppose it has to be a balance of not over-doing things while ensuring practicality of what an ideal public transport system is like based on the 3Cs (Comfortable, Convenience, Cheap). Of course, then there are the green design feature of stand alone solar photovoltaics (looks like a capacity of 1.5kWp) and the green roof.

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To put it in context, there is a hawker center behind this bus stand. With vending machine and a small stall right adjacent to it, the clear width of ~1.5 meters behind the bus stops allow pedestrian movements through the area without going through the bottleneck front of the bus stop. Though, I would prefer it to be wider a bit as you have personal mobility devices such as bicycle or e-scooters who will not dismount but cruising through this area. As you may have seen here, the placement of the bicycle stands is rather awkward as it blocks the pedestrian traffic.

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A screenshot of the axonometric conceptual design of the bus stops to elaborate the design intention to the users. In my opinion, the infographic painted above is really for aesthetic purpose only as you barely notice as you walk pass. 
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This is probably the first bus stand to boast a huge, dedicated space to interactive boards. There are three smart boards with a large screen of 55 inches, which will provide informative content and services, such as bus arrival timings, locality map, news, and events. Two other smaller screens of 46inch provide interactive content and services such as e-books download by the National Library Board (NLB). Commuters can access a specially curated list of eBooks and articles by scanning the QR code displayed using their mobile devices. The link will lead to the NLB eReads portal which features a wide range of eBooks for all ages, eMagazines, and eNewspapers. Other services include a journey planner by Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and wayfinding (SLA in collaboration with ST Electronics (Training & Simulation Systems) Pte Ltd), as well as environment information from the National Environment Agency, such as weather information and the Pollution Standards Index (PSI).

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This has allowed a generous space for information and probably advertising space. Rather, it’s a physical testament to things to come for bus stops in the age of Internet of Things. Imagine the possibilities as you have other agencies jumping on board for different advantages such as PUB with the feedback of water usage from different HDB blocks, or LTA giving statistics of the ridership from the localized context so to enable people to plan their off-peak hours commuting.
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Another aspect to discuss is the role of such bus stops in supporting greater agenda such as active mobility. With recent LTA’s campaign on Walk Cycle & Ride, personal mobility devices such as bicycles and e-scooters are more common than ever before. This prototype intends to support the last mile solution by providing bicycle locking station. In fact, if I am not mistaken, this is the latest award-winning theft-proof bicycle locks design by Laselle students. It has two metal discs at the front to prevent thieves from dislodging the front wheel as well as an extended bar to allow users to lock all of the bike components in place. The prototype bus stand also has an existing bike lane that connects the area to Jurong lake district.

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However, a few of my reservations towards such design is cost effectiveness and spatial arrangement. A first observation is that even though there are 3 dedicated CCTV for the prototype bus stands, there isn’t any of it dedicated to the bike stand. Next, the mentioned metal discs of the theft-proof design bike stand are too far apart, which still allow the front wheels to be removed despite locking the bike at the extended bar. More importantly, the bike locking area does not have a roof cover and is arranged too close to the bus stand where there should be more space for pedestrians to move about during peak hours. In my opinion, while the theft-proof design sounds nice conceptually, it’s not space effective and cost effective. I would still prefer a dedicated area to provide double tier bike racks with CCTV and shelter, further from the bus stand (say within 10 meters). Having four bike stands are simply not sufficient for such high-density area, perhaps 10 units of double tier racks will be sufficient.

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I totally love the book exchange corner, in hope that it’s something organically driven by people who simply come and exchange a book or simply pick one to read about while waiting for the bus. In a context where a country’s civic mindedness is matured, well I think we can be sure no one will take all the books for recycling? But it’s always good to have advisory instruction (e.g take one only etc). As much as I love the idea of green roof and trellis planting that supports the idea of biophilic elements, I really felt that the idea of having a tree growing through the roof as if the idea of co-existence is really over done as it sort of created an obstacle in the high movement zone of bus stop. Perhaps, it is a biophilic approach to bridge the ants from the onset to the roof level. It seems that the greatest paradox of this bus stop is the introduction of swing, that well. doesn’t really swing. I suppose that the authority wants to safeguard themselves from any anticipated accident as there is not enough buffer behind to prevent people getting into the swing’s movement.

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I actually love the idea of having the rear end of the bus stand to be illustrated. We have seen how mural paintings transform backyard and dead spaces into an active one. By introducing arts, the neighborhood can personalize their very own bus stand. Imagine one where you can do 5 seconds survey chart, or simple collective creative drawings.

Lastly, is probably the highlight of the bus stop prototype, the USB charging station. With close to a dozen of USB head varieties, the cable outlets are actually rather hidden from the standing point of view. There isn’t any signage on the USB charging station at first glance actually, only until when I look beneath to find it. I suppose that a key consideration that was discussed is the length of cable which will dictate how this USB charging station will be used. The cable can only be pulled out to the size of your palm, which makes using it while standing impossible as you don’t have enough clearance. While that seems to be an ideal approach of ensuring people do not use while charging, this also means a great tendency of people leaving the phones there while chasing a bus ride, simply because the phones are not in their hands.

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While all of the new features mentioned above are exciting and promising for times to come, I think that the fundamentals of a bus stop, seating ergonomics can be improved. The design boasts armrests along the seats in consideration of the growing needs of the seniors and an ample waiting space for persons using mobility aids. However, according to some brief feedbacks I questioned some users, they would prefer an alternative of higher benches, to the waist line for example. They would prefer their seats to be orientated to the incoming bus so to save the trouble from orientating their heads every minute.

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This is one of the many existing bus stops where it’s cleverly tilted to face the incoming buses and ample of arm rests around for elderly usage. Actually, it primarily functions as a lean bar. There is also display or translucent panels around the seat to shield users in the event of a heavy storm where horizontal rain is a norm in this region. In other bus stops, an alternating height of benches allows the bus stand to accommodate different age group. But, we can understand the constraints from this prototype such as limited depth space and provision of space to access the interactive panel. In fact, the arrangement of seats can really be improved as one of them is directly in front of the USB charging station, which probably really intends to prevent people from using while charging their phones.

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Another aspect that is missing out from this latest prototype is something that’s being tested in 5 other bus stands at the moment, thermal comfort. These fans are being tested for 6 months since mid of this year. It’s programmed to run 15 minutes upon activation while feedbacks have seen suggestions like motion sensor equipped fans. There is absolute no doubt that thermal comfort, by the means of providing a localized high-velocity cooling approach, is the basic needs of the bus stops today. While pretty many components of the prototype bus stop, actually comes in secondary.

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While it really sounds nice as a whole, what’s important now is to have user feedback survey and establish the utilization rate of these devices. My concern will be the practicality of cost for this prototype bus stops if it ever is going to be used. The cost in both aspects of capital and maintenance. My concern is that while interactive boards and USB charging stations sound nice, how many people actually use it? Giving a fast pace urban context where people will own a smart phone and carrying their power bank everywhere, how relevant are those going to be? I totally love the book exchange idea as it’s practically zero cost and community driven. Oh and please take away the swing if it is never intended to be one in the first place.

Sometimes, Less is More.

You can share feedback on the bus stop by sending an e-mail to AUDE@ ura.gov.sg.