Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The No.5 Green Bus terminus.

Princess Elizabeth Estate was the terminal station for the Green Bus service No. 5 started way back in 1953. The No. 5 bus route began at Queens Street in Rochor, up Bukit Timah Road, Upper Bukit Timah Road, Hillview Avenue and ended at the small car park at Princess Elizabeth Estate.

The bus terminus was located between the row of shophouses (blk 16) and block 21 where I lived.
This was just beside the Princess Elizabeth Estate School.

At that time the car population was small and so the car park could comfortably fit 2 to 3 buses along with all the other cars. The car park then was not paved with bitumen but was covered with red laterite stone gravel.  I remembered that my white school shoes would get covered with red dust each time I crossed the car park! It was in the later 1960s that the car park was paved and had proper lots marked out for cars and the buses.

In 1971, the Green Bus Co merged with other chinese 'mosquito bus' companies to form the United Bus Company. The No. 5 bus route was then renamed as UBC Service 173. The route was extended to start from New Bridge Road in front of Singapore General Hospital and it went through Orchard Road via Stevens Road along this new route.
However, the amalgamation of the chinese bus companies did not suceed and by 1973, the government stepped in to re-organise the bus system and formed the Singapore Bus Services (SBS) monopoly.

The P.E.E. bus terminus c.1975  (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan)

The time-keeper's hut was situated under a huge spreading tree. Residents call this 'The Big Tree"

During my secondary school days (1968-1971), I had to rely on the No. 5 bus to get to my school at Dunearn Road. The buses in those days were, for want of a better word, atrocious. They were prone to frequent breakdowns, stuffy, leaked when it rained, had bad seats, was hot and noisy and worst of all, had poor drivers and surly rude bus conductors.

Some of these buses were like these shown in the photos below. They were the British-made Seddon and Vulcan buses which were the norm at that time.

The same few buses were assigned to this route and usually with the same drivers and conductors as well. So you often see the same staff on their rotational cycle many times each day. From experience, we learnt which buses to take or to avoid in order to have a better experience with the bus service. We knew which buses tended to break down more often and which unfriendly bus conductors to avoid.

I remembered there was an old driver whom we called "The Vulture" because he was haunched and when he drove the bus, he was always bowed over and seem to gazing only at the road immediately in front of him all the time. He was always assigned to drive one of the older half-cab buses that looked like this. We nicknamed his old bus the 'boneshaker' as it vibrated and rattled a lot.

I also remembered there was a very nasty chinese old conductor with white crew cut hair and un-buttoned shirt. He was bad tempered and was always shouting at the passengers, especially students. Woe be you if you got caught under-paying your fare!
The buses were always crammed to the brim and shouts of "ho lang loke" (let people out!) were usual.

The buses were with equipped with bells to signal the driver to stop at the next bus-stop.
To indicate your desire to stop, you press the buzzer once, yes only ONCE!
The conductor will press the bell TWICE to signal the driver to proceed after the passenger had alighted.

If you press TWICE by mistake to signal Stop, the driver, depending on his mood,  may or may not not stop!
You can't even protest if he doesn't stop where you want.

The most irritating thing about taking the Green Bus those days was that it always seem to run low on fuel, and 2 out of 3 times the bus you were riding on would make a detour to the depot at the junction of Clementi Road/Bukit Timah Road to top up its fuel tanks.

It was most annoying because of the extra 'wasted' time it took. The driver and conductor would get off to take a short break whilst the passengers were left sitting or standing in the hot crowded bus. All this while the diesel fuel was being pumped into the bus. There was no consideration about passenger safety at all!
Imagine the fumes you had to breathe in, and what if there was a fire? I can't imagine the horror. Yet this was a routine thing that took place on almost every trip. If you were lucky, the bus might be back out on its journey again within 10 minutes.

The dreaded Green Bus depot (bottom right)
at the junction of Bukit Timah and Clementi Roads.
The same site, at King Albert Park, is today occupied by the
MacDonalds HQ and Cold Storage Supermarket.

The depot at King Albert Park.

Around the early 1980s, another SBS bus service no. 193 was re-routed to end at this bus terminus at Princess Elizabeth Estate. Service 193 then had the unique distinction of having a bus route that connected 2 'royal' bus terminal stations - Princess Elizabeth and Prince Edward.

By the time Princess Elizabeth Estate was demolished in the late 80s, SBS service 173 was already re-routed to ply the new Bukit Batok New Town. SBS 173 still continues to serve the Hillview area today except that it no longer terminate there with the demolition of both Princess Elizabeth and Hillview HBD Estates.

Related links: Pictures of the Terminus at P.E. Estate


  1. I too have blogged about the bus-taking experience of our school days in the 60s as well as devoted a section in my book on this topic. But I only talked about the bus conductors and have totally forgotten about the drivers. Your post has brought back memories of these folks.

    I remember the gear stick was huge and reached to floor. Subsequently, when newer buses came along, I recall being really surprised at how short the gear stick had become. Also, the vibrations were terrible. When I was studying Ergonomics during my uni course, about how vibrations can lead to fatigue, my first thought was of these bus driver.

    Your post has brought back some memories of

  2. My good friend Chuck wrote this in my blog when talking about Beauty World:

    "I used to live at the Princess Elizabeth Estate at Hill View area near Bt Timah nine-and-a-half mile. I often took the no. 173 bus to Beauty World to watch movies".

    How about you, James? Did you do that also?

  3. Hi Chun See,
    Well in a way, yes. Beauty World was the nearest 'attraction' for PE residents with its big market, shops, theatres, and the 173 bus was the only direct transport.
    By Chuck's time, I think he took the 173 to get to Gala Theatre at Bt Timah Shopping Centre as by then the old Nanyang and Tiong Hua Theatres at the actual Beauty World would have been demolished.
    Nanyang Theatre was at Chun Tin Road while Tiong Hua was within Beauty World itself.

  4. No. Chuck was talking about Nanyang and Tiong Hua. Talking about Gala Theatre, I have been there once. Wonder what they have done with the place. There was a coffee house outside. Must go and check it out one of these days.

  5. Hi Chun See
    I believe the ex-Gala Theatre is now being used as a Christian Church.
    The place was full of maid agencies the last time I went (which was really some time back).
    Sadly, I think it has past its prime long ago.
    I remember The Ship Restaurant used to be very popular back in 'those' days.
    Just hope that the MRT will bring some life back to the place. The new MRT station is directly in front of the Bt Timah Shopping Centre (still under construction, of course)

  6. AnonymousJuly 12, 2012

    Now when i look at the pics, the bus terminal is small but in my pri school days it seems so big. I lived in upper bt timah & so seldom take the bus but i look forward to saturdays when my mum come to pick me up after my ECA and we will take bus #173 to Beauty world to shop. Missed the ice-kachang & stationery shop there. At least the stationery shop still exist. Currently it is located at the basement of Beauty World.

  7. Well, this bus terminus was where I had my most serious bicycle accident. The heavy bus usage created a large pot-hole at the entrance to the bus terminus cum car park. I rode into the pot hole and was thrown off the bike, injured my knees, chest and arms.

  8. AnonymousJuly 19, 2012

    Actually there was an old cinema right in the middle of old Beauty World, my dad worked there before!

  9. Yes, that would be the Tiong Hua Theatre, next to the 'new' market.
    Would your dad have some old photos of that place?

  10. James, have you got your timing a little off track? I remember these model buses were already being replaced during the late 60s with the Mercedes and Albion models. I remember this because an ex schoolmate of mine would wait till a Merc model came by before he boarded it.

    1. Bluecool, I stand by my dates. The Albion and Vulcans were already in use in the 60s while the 'new' Mercedes Benz bus was introduced to the No 5 service in 1969. How do I know that? I was one of the schoolboys who also waited for the new merc buses when I was in sec school. I recall the novelty of the buzzer on the new Mercedes replacing the bell which we schoolboys used to play with much to the anger of the driver when it was first introduced!