The many inexpensive mass transit options make getting around Singapore pretty easy. Of course, taxis always simplify the ground transportation dilemma. They're also very affordable and, by and large, drivers are helpful and honest, if not downright personable. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway service has lines that cover the main areas of the city and out to the farther parts of the island. Buses present more of a challenge because there are so many routes snaking all over the island, but they're a great way to see the country while getting where you want to go.
Of course, if you're just strolling around the urban limits, many of the sights within the various neighborhoods are within walking distance, but walking between the different neighborhoods can be a hike, especially in the heat. The STB Visitors' Centres carry a variety of free city maps and walking tour maps of individual neighborhoods to help you find your way around.
Stored-value EZ-Link fare cards can be used on both the subway and buses, and can be purchased at TransitLink offices in MRT stations. These save you the bother of trying to dig up exact change for bus meters. The card does carry a S$5 initial cost and a S$3 deposit -- for a S$15 initial investment, you'll get S$7 worth of travel credit.
A better deal is the Singapore Tourist Pass, a card that allows unlimited travel on MRT trains and public buses for 1, 2, or 3 days. The cost is S$8 per day, with a refundable S$10 deposit. Passes can be purchased at the following MRT stations: Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, City Hall, Raffles Place, Harbourfront, and Bugis, and at the STB Visitors' Centres at Changi Airport and Orchard Road.
We recommend purchasing the latest edition of the TransitLink Guide for about S$2 at the TransitLink office where you buy your card. This tiny book details both MRT and bus routes with maps of each MRT station surroundings, and it indicates connections between buses and MRT stations. It also tells you fares for each trip.
Taxis are by far the most convenient way to get around Singapore. Fares are cheap, cars are clean, and drivers speak English. Taxi stands can be found at every hotel, shopping mall, and public building; otherwise, you can flag one down from the side of the road. Most destinations in the main parts of the island can be reached fairly inexpensively, while trips to the outlying attractions can cost from S$10 to S$15 one-way. That said, I caution against becoming too dependent on them. During the morning and evening rush, you can wait a maddeningly long time in the line, and sometimes if you're at a destination outside the main city area, they're few and far between. If it's raining, you might as well stay put; you'll never get a cab.
If you do find yourself stranded, there are a few things you can do. If you're at an attraction or a restaurant, you can ask the cashier or help desk to call a taxi company and book a cab for you. If you're near a phone, you can make your own booking: CityCab and Comfort (tel. 65/6552-1111), TIBS (tel. 65/6555-8888), and SMRT (tel. 65/6555-8888. During peak times, I have the best luck with SMRT. There's an extra charge for the booking, anywhere between S$2.50 and S$3.50.
Taxis charge the metered fare, which is from S$2.80 to $3 for the first kilometer (6/10 mile) and S20¢ for each additional 300 to 400m (984-1,312 ft.) or 45 seconds of waiting. Extra fares are levied on top of the metered fare, depending on where you're going and when you go. At times, figuring your fare seems more like a riddle. Here's a summary:
For trips during peak hours, between the hours of 7 and 9:30am Monday to Friday, and 5 and 8pm Monday to Saturday, meters tack on an additional 35%. If you're traveling within the Central Business District (CBD) from 5pm till midnight Monday through Saturday, you also pay an additional S$3 surcharge. (To accurately outline the boundaries of the CBD, I'd need to fill a couple of encyclopedic volumes, so for this purpose, let's just say it's basically Orchard Rd., the Historic District, Chinatown, and Shenton Way.)
Additional charges rack up each time you travel through an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme underpass. On the Central Expressway (CTE), Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), and selected thoroughfares in the CBD, charges from S50¢ to S$3 are calculated by an electronic box on the driver's dashboard. The driver will add this amount to your fare.
And for special torture, here's some more charges: From midnight to 6am, add 50% to your fare. From 6pm on the eve of a public holiday to midnight the following day, you pay an additional S$1. From Changi Airport, add S$5 if you're traveling Friday, Saturday, or Sunday between 5pm and midnight. Other times, it's S$3. And for credit card payments (yes, some take plastic!), add 10%.
For sightseeing trips around town, your best bet is the SIA Hop-on bus. Plying between Suntec City, the Historic District, the Singapore River, Chinatown, Orchard Road and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Little India, and Sentosa, the Hop-on comes every 30 minutes between the hours of 9am and 9pm daily. Unlimited rides for 1 day cost S$12 adults and S$6 children. If you flew Singapore Airlines to get here, you have to pay only S$6 adults and S$3 children if you flash your boarding pass. Buy your tickets from the bus driver when you board. For info, call SH Tours, tel. 65/6734-9923.
By Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)
The MRT is Singapore's subway system. It's cool, clean, safe, and reliable, providing service around the central parts of the city and extending into the suburbs around the island. There are stops along Orchard Road into the Historic District, to Chinatown and Little India -- chances are, there will be a stop close to your hotel.
Fares range from S70¢ to S$2, depending on which stations you travel between. System charts are prominently displayed in all MRT stations to help you find your appropriate fare, which you pay with an EZ-Link fare card. Single-fare cards can be purchased at vending machines inside MRT stations. See above for information on stored-fare cards for multiple trips. (One caution: A fare card cannot be used by two people for the same trip; each must have his own.)
MRT operating hours vary between lines and stops, with the earliest train beginning service daily at 5:15am and the last train ending at 12:47am. For more information, call the TransitLink Hot Line at tel. 1800/225-5663 (daily 24 hr.).
Singapore's bus system comprises an extensive web of routes that reach virtually everywhere on the island. Use an EZ-Link stored-value card to pay for your trips and a TransitLink Guide to find your way around. All buses have a gray machine with a sensor pad located close to the driver. Tap your EZ-Link card when you board and alight, and the fare will be automatically deducted. It'll be anywhere between S80¢ and S$1.80. If you're paying cash, be sure to have exact change; place the coins in the red box by the driver and announce your fare to him. He'll issue a ticket, which will pop out of a slot on one of the TransitLink machines behind him. If you're not sure how much your fare should be, the driver can assist.
For more information, contact either of the two operating bus lines during standard business hours: Singapore Bus Service (SBS; tel. 800/287-2727) or the Trans-Island Bus Service (TIBS; tel. 800/482-5433).
By Rental Car
Visitors to Singapore rarely rent cars for sightseeing, because it's just not convenient. Local transportation is excellent and affordable, you don't have to adjust to local driving rules and habits, plus there's no need to worry about where to park. Still, if you must, contact Avis at tel. 1800/737-1668); they operate counters in all three Changi Airport terminals daily 7am to 11pm.