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Singapore Thinks Better-Smelling Buses Are The Key To Boosting Public Transit Use

Who could resist a mid-commute whiff of fresh flowers and peppermint?

Singapore Thinks Better-Smelling Buses Are The Key To Boosting Public Transit Use
[Photo: Flickr user SgTransport]

To tempt people out of their cars and onto public transport, Singapore has added a “signature scent” to some of its buses. This will not only entice customers onto the buses, but will make them calmer and happier as they ride. Or so the thinking goes.

“If we’re getting people to move from their private cars to more of the public bus usage,” Glenn Lim of Tower Transit Singapore (TTS) told BBC News,”we really need to incentivize them to do that.” Cars are expensive in Singapore, and owning one is as much a status statement as it is a transit option, but as its population grows, the city-state wants to encourage more enthusiastic public-transit usage. And what better incentive than a specially-designed air freshener?

The smell was designed for TTS by the Singaporean scent marketing company AllSense, and will waft through 100 of the company’s buses along three different routes. The aroma was designed to evoke the tropical climate and greenery of what AllSense calls the “garden city” of Singapore. The scent evokes the feeling of being fresh and cool–a not-unwelcome feeling when sitting on a crowded city bus in the tropics. Bus passengers will be able to enjoy notes of peppermint, eucalyptus, and damask rose, as well as ylang and sandalwood, as they commute. It actually sounds pretty lovely.

[Photo: Flickr user SgTransport]

But will the scent really entice people onto the buses? In many ways, buses are the most drudging form of public transit: They’re unreliable, subject to traffic, and involve waiting outside for indeterminate amounts of time (something Singapore is also addressing creatively, through its amusingly redesigned bus stops). But it almost doesn’t matter if the scent itself is a success: Buses are a crucial part of Singapore’s public transit landscape, and if the scents don’t work to get people to use them more, a new initiative to merge fare payment with credit cards probably will.

The scent also seems to be more about branding than anything else. TTS is the city’s third private bus company to start operating under Singapore’s bus contracting model–in which bus companies bid for opportunities to operate lines–and has been in service since May 2016. Distinguishing itself from the competition may be the purpose of this eau de bus scent: “We see ourselves as being in the business of moving people, not buses,” Lim said in a press release. “It’s a fundamental shift in thinking which recognizes that bus services are in some ways a lifestyle offering.”

Skepticism aside, a fresh-smelling bus would indeed be a step up from one that smells of sweat, and TTS’s signature scent has actually been designed with some specific psychological and physiological effects in mind. “Research has shown that pleasant scents can enhance moods,” Lim said in the press release. “Some scents also help to counter symptoms of motion sickness. Our hope is that as you step out of the humidity onto a Tower Transit bus, the scent will diffuse weariness from your commute, relax you, and make your journey more pleasant.”

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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