How to Get Around Singapore Using the MRT

Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is, as its name suggests, a commercial transportation system made available to the public in Singapore. It is known primarily for its rail network, including an intricate (yet simple) subway scheme. However, the MRT also operates some buses and even taxis. And since Singapore is a relatively small country, you can actually travel throughout most of it, especially when it comes to visiting tourist attractions, relying solely on MRT.

The first step to effectively utilizing MRT is to recognize where the service is available (i.e. its stations). This is pretty easy as on top of featuring the letters “MRT”, the logo itself looks very much like the front of a train or perhaps a bus to some people. MRT also has another logo which is actually an abstract shape that looks as if it is meant to form an “S”. But being that it is a bit difficult to describe, we’ve included a hyperlink to the image instead. Sometimes this shape can appear with the letters “MRT” and sometimes not. But either way, it’s quite unique, and now you know what it represents. And whenever you’ve identified either of the MRT logos, then that is a sign that public transportation, often a rail or subway station, is also in the immediate vicinity.

Navigating the MRT is Easy

Getting around on MRT is really easy. But for novices, navigating the system will of course take a little bit of research. Doing so is not difficult considering that the stations have a plethora of information posted for travelers to peruse.  This includes the start and stop times (first and last trains) as well as an up-to-the-minute train schedule.  And in that regard MRT trains run quite frequently (every few minutes) and are known to never be off-schedule.

It is a requirement for those who are not yet familiar with MRT to engage in some map reading in order to navigate through their stations. This is not only in regards to locating exits but also in pointing out the most-expeditious paths to nearby tourist attractions. Moreover some of the stations in and of themselves are huge, multi-level affairs. But there’s no reason to feel any sort of intimidation as there is more than enough signage to successfully lead you to your destination. And even outside of that, there are always the MRT employees (such as ticket agents) who are also responsible for providing you with guidance.

The stations also have maps of the immediate, outside area. And such displays are not only present near the entrance/exits but also deeper within these facilities. In fact just to point out how committed the MRT is to providing their customers with a user-friendly experience, some stations are even equipped with ‘Charging Points’ where patrons phone batteries can be refreshed.

5 Different Lines

The rail network itself is composed of five different routes or lines as they are referred to. And these are the “Circle Line“, “Downtown Line“, “East West Line“, “North East Line” and “North South Line“. And which line you use of course depends on where you are going within the Lion City. It is also worth noting that these routes intersect or are connected at some stations. This is especially true in the Downtown Core / Marina Bay area, where many of the nation’s premiere sites are actually situated.

How to Pay for MRT

So once you have decided to patronize MRT, next comes how to actually pay for the service. For the most part this system relies on computerized transactions, as in smart tickets. And these smart tickets can be purchased with cash, credit card or an electronic-money transfer system in Singapore known as NETS. And these tickets come in three different varieties.

Standard Ticket

The first is called a Standard Ticket. These allows holders to ride the MRT six times over a 30-day period.  And they are made available via devices which are somewhat similar to ATMs called General Ticketing Machines.  These Machines are located inside of the MRT stations. And they are multi-lingual, so visitors from different backgrounds have nothing to fret. (English is actually a primary language in Singapore.) Moreover, the purchase of a Standard Ticket requires a 10¢ (redeemable) deposit in addition to the fare price. And in terms of the fare, getting around Singapore, especially on MRT, is very-affordable.

Stored Value Smartcard

Then there’s another ticket option called a Stored Value Smartcard. The best way to describe these are as debit cards which you can top-up and keep using.  These are the cards that have the words “ez link” printed on them. They are for more-committed riders who intend to use the MRT regularly. For instance, Stored Value Smartcards can also be used to pay for public buses, certain taxi services and even some transactions outside of the transportation field. These are made available via the ticket offices (which are only open during official hours) located inside MRT stations. And they can also be purchased via the General Ticketing Machines. As of 2019, the price of a Stored Value Smartcard is $5, and holders are required to maintain a $3 minimum balance. But again, this option is more suited for those who use the MRT like daily.

Singapore Tourist Pass

There is also another ticket referred to as the Singapore Tourist Pass. This can be used on both the MRT and public buses. The beauty of this option is that it is designed specifically for those who are only going to be in Singapore for a limited number of days yet intend to get around a lot. As such, the Singapore Tourist Pass offers unlimited rides on the aforementioned modes of transportation, as patrons can buy the ticket for durations spanning from 1 to 3 days for the modest price $10-$20. Also as of 2019, acquiring this Tourist Pass requires a $10 deposit, though this is refunded if the card itself is returned within 5 days. It should also be noted that the Pass can currently only be purchased at Changi Airport and select MRT stations.

This may be a good time to point out that the currency which the Lion City relies on is known as the Singapore Dollar. As such you’ll be seeing quite a few dollar signs. And you can roughly estimate it as being of the same international trade value as the US Dollar (although the Singapore Dollar can be worth a bit more).

Turnstiles

So considering the nature of the ticketing system, it’s only logical that the turnstiles in the stations are also computerized. When on the verge of traversing through one, it is important that you study the color of the display light on that particular hub, whether it be a green arrow or a red X.  This is because different hubs can have different designations. In other words, the ones that are lit green are for entering, and the reds ones are for exiting.  Therefore you cannot enter through a turnstile which is highlighted red at the time.

Once you approach the appropriate turnstile you would like to go through, you would have to present your ticket/card to be scanned. The computer does it within a matter of a second and deducts the fare accordingly. Also perhaps ‘turnstile’ isn’t the best word to describe these hubs, as your body never actually makes any physical contact with them while passing through.

The green/red scenario also comes into play when entering and exiting the trains themselves. If you look down, you will notice that on the train platforms there are markings which the train doors are supposed to align with. And these markings are also found within the trains themselves.  It is basically a long green arrow with red barriers on either side. And fundamentally, this is to ensure that those boarding (or exiting) the trains don’t bumrush the doors.

And while we’re on etiquette-related matters, MRT stations are also equipped with escalators. And it is noteworthy to mention that, based on the local Singaporean culture, those who are patiently riding the escalators tend to do so by standing exclusively on the left side of it. The reason for this is so passengers who are actually in a rush can move up and down the escalator (on the uninhibited right side) unabated.

Singapore’s MRT Rules

Indeed giving passengers a pleasurable and safe experience is one of the primary goals of MRT. As such there are certain restrictions one should be aware of that may seem draconian to some but overall lend to a better experience. In fact one of things you may notice about Singapore’s subway stations as opposed to those in some other countries is that the Lion City’s own are very clean. And amongst the statutes they have in place for keeping them so are prohibitions against eating and drinking on trains as well as in the stations themselves. In fact if you are fined for such, the penalty can actually be enough to suck all the joy out of your day. 

Also forget about smoking on the MRT.  In fact Singapore is trending towards becoming a smoke-free country in general. Also in terms of personal safety, many of the more-modern MRT train cars are actually outfitted with CCTV.

Conclusion

Due to its modernity, cost-effectiveness and omnipresence, many people actually consider MRT to be the best way to get around Singapore. Indeed riding the MRT is a tourist attraction in and of itself for those aren’t used to it.  For instance, the trains are actually driverless, and the modern architecture of some of the stations are unlike anything you may have seen before. But more importantly there is a high-tech mapping system, being written and spoken primarily in the English language, to match. So even first-time visitors who wisely opt to traverse the Lion City on Mass Rapid Transit should not have any issues patronizing the service.

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