Singapore's unfair advantage lies in its small size: the ultra-efficient government has been able to put together a public transport system that makes moving from point A to point B a completely effortless task. That means tourists looking to shop at Orchard Road in the morning, go to Singapore Zoo in the afternoon and make their late evening flight at Changi Airport can ride a bus or MRT and get to each place on time, almost without any friction or delay.
Luckily, the efficiency means that it's easy to ride Singapore’s public transportation system like a local from the minute you touch down. Here's how.
How to Ride the MRT
Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) was launched in 1987 and has grown continuously to cover most parts of Singapore, from its residential suburbs to its business and heritage hotspots to Changi Airport.
Five lines and some 120 stations snake throughout the island. Each of the stations has a name based on the line and a sequential number: the North-South Line’s Orchard Station, for instance, bears the station code NS22.
Interchanges throughout the MRT network allow travelers to change lines without exiting the paid area, though some of the more recently-built crossings force commuters to walk long distances from one track to another.
To get a clearer idea of the MRT system’s range, look at the official MRT network map.
- Hours: The MRT operates from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, but operating hours are usually extended during holidays and other special seasons. The MRT’s train frequency varies, generally arriving in 2-3 minute intervals during peak hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., to intervals of 5-7 minutes during the rest of the day.
- Fares: Prices are based on the distance covered, ranging from .83 to 1.25 Singapore dollars (around 60 to 90 cents). Use the Singapore Land Transport Authority Fare Calculator to estimate fares between stops.
- Ticketing: Both train and bus fares use a stored-value, contactless smart card called the EZ-Link Pass. To enter and exit the paid area, tap the card on the gantry; a screen will show the EZ-Link Pass’s remaining value.
- Where to Get Passes: You can buy EZ-Link Passes at MRT Stations, bus terminals, and 7-Eleven stores. Single-journey passes are also available. Read our article about Singapore’s EZ-Link Pass for more details on Singapore’s contactless transit cards.
- Accessibility: MRT stations have been designed from the ground up for accessibility, with ramps, elevators and barrier-free access; wheelchair-accessible toilets; and trains with wheelchair-accessible carriages. Allowances for visually-impaired and deaf riders—from Braille plates in elevators to strategically-placed signage and lights—have been made where possible. Read the Singapore Tourism Board’s official page on their accessibility accommodations.
- Getting to Changi Airport: Ride to Tanah Merah Interchange (EW4), where you can transfer to a train that goes directly to Changi Airport (CG2).
To plan your route, you can download and access a number of free apps or websites that let you input Point A and B, and generate a travel plan based on both points.
Singapore’s Land Transport Authority has MyTransport, which lets you customize a trip based on your favorite transport services. Meanwhile, CityMapper and GoThere.sg both offer trip planning functionality for both mobile and desktop, with slightly different graphic user interfaces.
MRT-Accessible Tourist Attractions in Singapore
Once you’ve made sense of the MRT, ride the rails to any one of these key MRT-accessible stops in Singapore:
- Botanic Gardens: Singapore’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site can be easily reached through the Botanic Gardens Interchange (CC19/DT9) that straddles the Downtown Line and Circle Line.
- Chinatown: Singapore’s Chinese ethnic enclave is most easily reached Raffles Place Interchange (EW14/NS26), Outram Park Station (EW16), or Chinatown Station (NE4). Read about Singapore’s ethnic enclaves.
- Kampong Glam: to get to Singapore’s main Muslim cultural center, take the MRT’s East-West Line to Bugis Station (EW12).
- Little India: Singapore’s Indian enclave can be reached by taking the North-East Line’s Little India Interchange (NE7/DT12) and Farrer Park Station (NE8).
- Marina Bay: You can visit Marina Bay and nearby attractions through Raffles Place Interchange (EW14/NS26), City Hall Interchange (NS25/EW13) Marina Bay Interchange (NS27/CE2/TS20), Bayfront Interchange (CE1/DT16), Promenade Interchange (CC4/DT15), and Esplanade Station (CC3).
- Orchard Road: Singapore’s primary retail hotspot can be reached through Doby Ghaut Interchange (CC1/NE6/NS24), Orchard Interchange (NS22/TE14), and Somerset Station (NS23). Read about shopping in Singapore.
- Sentosa: Singapore’s resort island can be reached by taking either the North-East Line or the Circle Line to HarbourFront Interchange (NE1/CC29), then ascending to the attached VivoCity Mall, where you can then ride the Sentosa Express people-mover to the island.
- Singapore Zoo: Ride the North-South Line to Khatib Station (NS14); from here, you can take the Mandai Khatib Shuttle to Singapore Zoo.
Riding Singapore’s Bus System
Singapore’s MRT may be fast, but the bus system has a better range. It's an extensive network that reaches all across the island, covering far-flung public housing estates too far to reach by train.
Two bus lines operate in Singapore: SBS Transit (sbstransit.com.sg) and SMRT Buses (smrt.com.sg); buses run throughout the island from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, with frequencies ranging from five to 30 minutes.
Like the MRT, Singapore’s buses use the EZ-Link Pass for electronic ticketing. You can also pay in cash, exact change only.
The same apps that can plan your MRT trip also help plot out your bus trip, too: MyTransport, CityMapper, and GoThere.sg can program an itinerary using both public transportation methods based on your point of origin and planned destination.
Riding Singapore’s Taxis and Ride Shares
Taxis are numerous in Singapore, though they are considerably more expensive. Look for a marked taxi queue stand to catch a cab, or summon one either by calling their number or by using their smartphone app to pick you up at your location.
Here are a few taxi phone numbers worth remembering, to use when you’re in Singapore:
- Comfort Transportation: (+65) 6552 1111
- CityCab: (+65) 6552 1111
- SMRT Taxis: (+65) 6555 8888
- Trans-Cab Services: (+65) 6555 3333
The two most commonly-used taxi apps are Comfort Delgro and Cabify/Easytaxi. Grab is Singapore’s ridesharing app. If you’re in a hurry, you can open up the app to order the nearest Grab car or taxi to pick you up and then drop you off where you need to be.
Taxi and Ride-Share Prices and Surcharges
Taxis and ride-shares have a complicated pricing scheme, due to congestion charges and other surcharges, which were instituted by the Singapore government to minimize congestion on the roads.
For example: on a regular, non-premium taxi ride, expect to pay between 3.20-3.90 Singapore dollars (around $2.50) for the first kilometer, then an additional 0.22 Singapore dollars (around 15 cents) for every 400 meters up to 10 kilometers, and every 350 meters beyond.
Additional surcharges will be tacked onto your fare if the following conditions are met:
Travel during peak periods: A peak period taxi surcharge of 25 percent of your metered fare applies if you’re riding a taxi from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m on weekdays (excluding Singapore public holidays), and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.;
Travel after midnight: A midnight surcharge of 50 percent of your metered fare applies for taxi travel from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Travel from certain areas: A location-based taxi surcharge applies for taxi trips departing from certain areas at certain times. These include:
- Central Business District (5 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.): 3 Singapore dollars
- Marina Bay Sands (6 a.m. to 4:59 p.m., Sundays and public holidays): 3 Singapore dollars
- Changi Airport (5 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., Friday to Sunday): 5 Singapore dollars;
- Resorts World Sentosa, Gardens by the Bay, Tanah Merah Ferry: 3 Singapore dollars at any time
Travel through certain areas: Congestion penalties called ERP charges apply if you pass under an ERP gantry in your taxi. Rates vary depending on the location.
Payment using a credit card: For credit card payments, taxis add an extra 10 percent administrative fee.
All these charges add up something fierce. That’s why we suggest using the bus or MRT at all times, and use the taxi only if you can avoid paying the surcharges listed here.
Tips for First-Time Commuters in Singapore
- Rush hour is the enemy. Trains are packed to the gills, bus queues lengthen considerably, and taxis impose surcharges that can almost double the fare. Avoid traveling from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on public transport whenever possible
- EZ-Link Pass—don’t leave home without it. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of cards in Singapore—you can use it on buses and trains; you can pay for purchases with it in select stores, and its cool design makes it a nice souvenir to take home with you!
- Buy a local SIM card for your out-of-network phone. For every aspect of your Singapore commute—from leaving Changi Airport to hailing a cab to planning a trip on public transportation, there’s an app to help you every step of the way. You should get a generous data plan to work with all the apps we’ve listed above, so buy a local SIM card (assuming your phone works with Singapore’s 4G network), download the apps you need, and commute like a local.