Ranked among the best in the world, Singapore’s public transport system is so cost-friendly, efficient and hassle-free you'll consider renting a vehicle to be an unnecessary expense. Even in the outskirts of the city, MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and bus networks serve sufficiently well.
Buses and MRT Trains
On MRT trains and buses, a single-trip ranges from S$0.80 to S$2.00, depending on distance travelled. The Singapore Tourist Pass offers unlimited train and bus rides for a day at S$8. The underground MRT is much faster and the route much easier to understand than the bus, but the latter allows you to see more of the city. Plus, you get a quintessential Singaporean experience aboard a bus.
Tickets for the MRT come as touch-less cards, and can be purchased at vending machines (and only there!) at all MRT stations. Single-trip cards include a S$1 deposit, which you get back at vending machines at your destination station. If you plan to take the MRT often, consider buying a multi-trip EZ-link Card, which is more convenient and cheaper.
Taxis will take you to your destinations at reasonable costs, typically costing S$7-15 within the city.
Taxis are considered a form public transport in Singapore, and more affluent locals will often carry their shopping goods home by taxi. Taxis in Singapore are metered with fares beginning at S$2.80 to S$3.00 for the first 1km and S$0.20 for every subsequent 385m. SMRT’s stylish black Chryslers are the only exception, which start at S$5.00 and run at S$0.30 per subsequent 385m. Singapore taxis operate on a complicated surcharge system, the full details of which can be found on a little sticker pasted on the cab’s windows.
Surcharges abound and you'd do well to take note. Peak hour—another 35% is added to the total metered fare; after midnight—an additional 50% surcharge; public holidays—an additional S$1; taxis boarded in the CBD and prior phone bookings of taxis —additional S$3 surcharge each; and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) fees which depends on the number of gantries the taxi passes to get to the destination.
There is no surcharge when heading to the airport. Most taxis accept payment by credit cards (though not all, so ask first) with an additional 17% surcharge applicable. To make an advance booking for a cab, call +65 63425222.
Tips for Taking Taxis
Unhired taxis are usually rampantly patrolling the streets with the exception of 4-5pm when shift changes and most display a red signboard reflecting the destination the taxi driver is heading towards.
Most cabbies are friendly and helpful with suitcases, shopping bags and wheelchair passengers; SMRT offers wheelchair-friendly taxis. It might be good to write down your destination in English especially when heading to the outskirts of the island as some taxi drivers aren’t fluent in English or might not understand your accent.
Though rarely the case, one may also occasionally meet cabbies with poor route knowledge and require the extra furnishing of a map or directions to your destination. Note that within the Central Business District (CBD) you can only board taxis at taxi stands or in a building’s driveway. Outside the city however, you may hail them anywhere - except at traffic junctions, where most cabbies refuse to stop due to the obvious dangers. If you encounter a cabby offering you a flat fare back to your hotel from a popular nightspots, know that it is illegal and probably over-priced anyway.
In early Singapore, these three-wheeled carriages with bicycles attached at their front were a common form of public taxi service. Today, however, locals have no use for them. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that trishaw-peddlers strictly target tourists, and congregate around the River area and Chinatown where they can find them. Although few provide genuine sightseeing services, they continue to be popular with tourists for the unique experience offered. There is little space for haggling; a short ride sets you back about S$10-20 while an hour of sightseeing costs S$50 per person.
Renting cars is seldom an option for travelling within Singapore for it is neither cost-effective nor that efficient (unless you have a GPS). At major rental companies, prices begin at S$100 while rates at local companies begin a little lower at S$60 and throw in a discounted weekend package too. Petrol costs at S$1.80 a litre are not included and one will also have to contend with ERP fees which escalate quickly, almost magically, when driving around the CBD and town area.
Prepare a cashcard and ensure there is always enough value in it or there will be - you guesed it - a fine. Parking is pricey in Singapore too; in certain malls and buildings especially around town, parking fees are automatically charged to cashcards but in most areas, parking coupons need to be purchased from a licenced booth, post office or a 7-Eleven and displayed on the car's dashboard.
Driving Tips in Singapore
Singapore drives on the left (following UK) and requires drivers to be at least 18. Your home driver’s licence and an international driving permit are required for rentals. All passengers are required to belt up throughout the journey and if you're caught using the phone while driving, that's another fineable offence. Note that the speed limit on expressways is 90km/hr and 50km/hr on normal roads, and with speed cameras everywhere, you won't even know you were caught speeding until you receive a letter in your mail requesting for payment. If stopped by a cop, you'd do well to remember that bribery is a criminal offence in Singapore's court of law.
Singapore also has a strict ban on drink-driving with jail terms prescribed to guilty offenders. Strategically placed roadblocks are a frequent sight at night, especially on weekends, and although the legal limit for blood alcohol content is 0.08%, you may still be charged with drunk-driving if the police are certain you lack the full capability to control your vehicle.
The only thing flawless about driving in Singapore are the well-maintained roads. Local drivers lack road courtesy, so be prepared to face aggressive driving, speeding, tailgating, rare signalling, rampant rude overtaking and wild lane-changing.
Driving to Malaysia
Although driving to Malaysia is often the cause for car rentals, you should note that local car rental firms charge an extra levy of about S$25 for driving in Malaysia and Singapore cars are often stolen, robbed, and stopped by greedy cops looking for a bribe. It makes more sense to rent a car at Johor Bahru where petrol and rental prices are halved. Plus, you can drop your car off almost anywhere around the peninsular.
Travelling on bicycles around the island used to be unpopular, but attitudes towards this have recently changed. Cautious locals still favour cycling in parks such as East Coast Park, West Coast Park, and Sentosa where cycling tracks parallel the shoreline and mountain bikes are offered for rent from S$5-10 per hour. You will need to provide some form of identification to rent and take off around the network of parks and park connectors.
Parts of the Southern Ridges trail provide great avenues for cycling however for excellent mountain biking trails, head to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve or the nearby island, Pulau Ubin. Biker & Hike, a bike rental store, stands at 382 Upper Bukit Timah Road for the former while a cluster of bike rental stores is located beside the jetty for the latter.
Renting bikes in the city? Head to Treknology Bikes 3 at 24 Holland Grove Road which has been ranked most likely the best bike shop in Singapore. Rental rates start from S$35 per day.
Highly popular with visitors is the Singapore River Cruise, a traditional bumboat cruise that takes you around the southern area of Singapore River. Prices from point to point start from S$3 while an entire tour around the Central Business District area costs S$13. Night cruises are preferred for the city lights. You can also find a couple of cruises operating from Clifford Pier, including luxury yacht trips and themed dinners offered on traditional Chinese sailing boats. Prices range from S$20 for a generic cruise to S$35 for a cruise inclusive of dinner.
Planning a visit to the Southern Islands such as Kusu Island? Ferries run from Marina South Pier and a round trip ticket cost about S$15. Pack a picnic lunch for most islands are without eateries. If you are planning to visit Pulau Ubin hop onto a ferry from Changi Point Ferry Terminal located near Changi Village. It costs only S$2.50 for a one way trip.
Singapore is indeed one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in Southeast Asia with tree-shaded walkways lining roads and streets, and pedestrian crossings and traffic junctions at every corner. Street names are clearly signposted along roads and drivers though aggressive are cautious to give way to pedestrians as accidents are often automatically considered the fault of the driver. Scenic walking trails, great for sightseeing, are strewn around the colonial district and river area; for the truly adventurous, there is the au natural Southern Ridges Walk.
If you are travelling by foot often around the island, do bring along a cap, shades, or umbrella and bottles of water to constantly hydrate yourself. It's a tropical country and heat exhaustion is not unheard of. It is best to start out in the morning or evenings when it is cooler and spend your afternoons in air-conditioned malls, museums, or cafes. Travellers on foot should also note that jaywalking is illegal and offenders are fined up to S$300 with 3 months of jail time.