Daily din from buses at Ai Tong School: NEA takes action

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SINGAPORE: Officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) carried out surveillance outside Ai Tong School in Bishan, after receiving complaints from nearby residents about a late-night, or pre-dawn din caused by idling engines, especially from buses parked outside the school.

In a statement to Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Jun 1), NEA said it has also taken “enforcement action” against some of the drivers.

Under environmental regulations, it is an offence to leave engines of a stationary vehicle running other than in traffic conditions.

Residents of Bishan Point condominium told Channel NewsAsia that the school buses parked overnight on Ai Tong’s premises have their engines running for 10 to 15 minutes at a time before they enter and exit the school gate.

IDLE ENGINES A CONSTANT DISTURBANCE TO RESIDENTS 

When Channel NewsAsia visited the condominium between 9pm and 11pm on Tuesday night, three buses were parked at the car park of the school at Bright Hill Drive. Despite it being the second day of the school holidays, residents said the noise from idle engines was a continued source of disturbance.

One resident on the fifth floor said he is woken up by the noise when buses leave the school at about 5:30am, and again when they return as late as midnight.

“Before they leave the school, (the bus drivers) have to turn on the engine, drive close to the big gate, alight from the bus, open the big gate and drive out. Once they have driven out, they will park again just outside the condominium and alight to close the gate. The whole time, they leave the engines on, which can be as long as 15 minutes.”

A school bus outside Ai Tong School at about 5:30 am with its engine running while the driver closes the gate.

The resident said the cycle repeats when they return at night. He said he wrote in to the Education Ministry sometime last year to ask if the school parking space was being used for commercial parking. He said he has not heard back from the ministry, after an initial response saying they would look into the issue.  

“I don’t have an issue if they return by 10pm or even 11pm, but leaving the engine on when they return at midnight for that duration is too much.”

Another resident on the seventeenth floor also said his family’s sleep is disrupted when buses roll out of the school early in the morning and drivers leave the engines on while they walk out to close the gate.

But other residents said it was part and parcel of living near a school. One parent said residents should put up with the noise, as many moved for their children to have the opportunity to attend the school.

A security guard at the condominium told Channel NewsAsia he receives calls from irate residents in the morning, when the engines of the buses rumble outside. “They will ask me to tell the drivers to turn off their engines and even write down the licence plate numbers so the residents can make a complaint,” he said.

“If I have seen the drivers before, I will approach them and tell them nicely to turn off the engine while they open the gates to drive in or drive off. Some are willing to do it, some are not.”

NEA said it received three cases of public feedback on idling vehicle engines from residents since the start of the year. Two involved cars of parents waiting along Bright Hill Drive while the third was about a bus parked outside the school.

NEA said it was worked with the school to distribute educational pamphlets to parents and bus drivers to raise awareness about not leaving the engines of their vehicles idling.

“In addition, the school management has assisted in educating the parents and bus drivers to switch off their engines when vehicles are stationary, and has also requested its parent volunteers to ensure that there are no idling engines within the school compound,” the statement read.

NO COMPLAINTS RECEIVED: AI TONG SCHOOL

Meanwhile, Ai Tong School told Channel NewsAsia it had not received any feedback about school buses leaving their engines idle. It urged affected residents to get in touch with the school directly, so that it can work with them to resolve the issue. 

“We will work closely with the bus operators to minimise any disruption caused by the buses to neighbouring residents,” the school’s principal said in a statement. 

When asked if it would allow the buses to continue parking on its premises, the school said they are allowed to do so under the Overnight Parking Scheme, a collaboration between the Land Transport Authority and the Education Ministry that started in 1983. Under the scheme, registered school buses are allowed to park overnight on school premises. 

The school said the scheme alleviates the problem of illegal off-street parking by school buses. The Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) said more schools now provide school buses with parking space on their premises, as long as it does not endanger or cause disturbance to students and residents living nearby. 

Additionally, SSTA’s executive secretary Jeremy Ng said most bus drivers are aware of the rules and will not abuse the privilege of parking on school premises as it gives them the convenience of not having to park at heavy vehicle lots in more isolated places.

In June last year, NEA introduced stiffer penalties for errant drivers leaving their engines idle, with repeat offenders facing a fine of S$100 each time, up from S$70 previously.

NEA said it took enforcement action against more than 6,000 errant motorists last year. Reasons given by offenders included parents waiting for “a short while” to pick up their children from school and bus drivers turning on the air-conditioning before school dismissal to cool the bus interior.

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