Is It Cheaper From Tampines To Bugis MRT By East-West Line Or Downtown Line?

Is the MRT Fare from Tampines to Bugis the same on the East-West Line (EWL) and Downtown Line (DTL)?

Distance-Based Fares were introduced in in 2010 whereby commuters pay a fare based on the total actual distance travelled from origin to destination for up to 5 transfers, as long as the transfers are made within the ruled timeframe. Recently, created a video for the Public Transport Council (PTC) where one of the train okatus mentioned that the cheapest fare is charged on any MRT train route from Tampines to Bugis.

However, I noticed that this may not have been a fair example, as Tampines EWL and Tampines DTL are separate stations with separate ticketing station codes of TAM and TPC respectively, connected by an out-of-station interchange. This means that passengers have to tap out and tap in to the next station within 15 minutes for this train fare to be considered as a transfer.

Using this logic, I thought, could the fare be potentially different from Tampines to Bugis, since the starting stations are technically different?

To check it out, I physically went on multiple MRT journeys to try the Distance-Based Fares out for myself.

Disclaimer: These journeys are meant to test out how the Distance-Based Fares will work in these specific situations. Do not actually attempt all of these journeys unless you like to waste time in your travels.

Bugis to Tampines using Downtown Line (DTL), Circle Line (CCL) & East-West Line (EWL)

Here’s the point in discussion – will the fare be different if I use Tampines DTL (TPC) to travel to or from Bugis instead? Even though it is in the reverse direction of the discussion statement, the same fare will apply.

For the purpose of testing out the Distance-Based Fares quickly, I will be using a Stored Value Smartcard.

While this is the direct train to Tampines, I’ll be doing it by the unnecessarily-difficult way by transferring.

Transferring to the Circle Line at Paya Lebar.

The journey to meet the Downtown Line at MacPherson is just 1 station away.

Transferring to the Downtown Line at MacPherson.

Another 6 stations to go to Tampines.

Heading out of Tampines DTL and excitedly heading to check my fare.

The fare from Bugis to Tampines using the Downtown Line (DTL), Circle Line (CCL), and East-West Line (EWL) costs S$1.64, as confirmed on the General Ticketing Machine.

Tampines to Bugis using East-West Line (EWL)

Next, I headed to the original simple and straightforward journey, travelling from Tampines to Bugis using the East-West Line (EWL).

After waiting for more than 15 minutes for my out-of-station interchange to time out, I tapped in to Tampines EWL (TAM) to travel to Bugis.

Just 10 stations back to Bugis.

Hmm, looks like I was just here less than an hour ago.

Tapping out of Bugis.

The fare from Tampines to Bugis using the East-West Line (EWL) costs S$1.64, as shown on the Add Value Machine.

So the MRT fare from Tampines to Bugis is indeed the same on the East-West Line (EWL) and Downtown Line (DTL).

However, could this same fare be due to the distance instead, since geographically the two journeys between Tampines and Paya Lebar are roughly a rectangle, so it’s going to be around the same distance anyway?

MacPherson to Paya Lebar using Downtown Line (DTL) & East-West Line (EWL) by Stored Value Smartcard

[PSA] Don’t actually do this.

Seeing that the fares between Tampines and Bugis using the direct East-West Line and the inconvenient Downtown Line, Circle Line, and East-West Line seem to be the same due to the geographical distance, I decided to try out something ridiculously extended.

Noting that Tampines TAM and Tampines TPC are two physically separate stations with two physically separate fare lines, what would happen if I use Tampines as an out-of-station interchange instead?

Will the system detect my transfer point and charge me an actual Distance-Based Fare? Or will it still charge me the cheapest point-to-point fare, ignoring my interchange at Tampines?

It’s time to try this theory out with a ridiculously long journey from MacPherson to Paya Lebar using the Downtown Line and East-West Line via Tampines.

This is a 1-station journey taking 2 minutes on the Circle Line, but meh, that’s too mainstream.

Heading to the very wrong platform to travel to Paya Lebar at MacPherson.

6 stations to the interchange at Tampines.

Tapping out at Tampines TPC.

The journey from MacPherson to Tampines TPC costs S$1.38. Clearly not the S$0.92 it would cost for 1 station from MacPherson to Paya Lebar using the Circle Line.

Heading to Tampines TAM through the unpaid linkway.

Tapping into Tampines TAM. Notice that my card value is the same as when I tapped in at MacPherson just now, and not the deducted value after tapping out at Tampines TPC.

Heading back to Paya Lebar on the East-West Line.

Another 6 stations to go.

Tapping out of Paya Lebar, and look at what’s showing.

According to the General Ticketing Machine, when I did my out-of-station interchange at Tampines, I received a refund of the full original fare.

This could also be interpreted as the ticketing system ignoring the out-of-station tapping in and out, to take it as a continuation of the single MRT journey, not as 2 separate MRT journeys.

Ignoring my visit to Tampines, the system charged me a regular MacPherson to Paya Lebar fare at the shortest distance, and I paid S$0.92 even though I travelled via Tampines.

Paya Lebar to MacPherson using Downtown Line (DTL) & East-West Line (EWL) by Contactless Bank Card under Account-Based Ticketing

[PSA] Don’t actually do this.

To double-confirm my findings above, I decided to reverse the journey, using my Contactless Bank Card under Account-Based Ticketing instead. Will my credit card respond the same way?

Heading back to MacPherson by the wrong way again.

I thought I was here just 30 minutes ago.

Heading to Tampines TPC through the unpaid linkway.

Tapping in to Tampines TPC.

Back in MacPherson using the Downtown Line.

Based on my TransitLink SimplyGo app notification, 2 fares were charged, one from Paya Lebar to Tampines, and another from Tampines to Macpherson. However, the Tampines to Macpherson fare seems off.

Checking my TransitLink SimplyGo account on the website 2 days later, I found that the total fare charged using my credit card was also S$0.92, ignoring my transfer at Tampines, just like the above journey with a stored value card.

So the theory that the shortest fare between your origin and destination is always charged seems true. Or is it?

Tampines to Bugis using Downtown Line (DTL), Circle Line (CCL), North-South Line (NSL) & East-West Line (EWL) via Bencoolen, Dhoby Ghaut & City Hall

[PSA] Seriously, DON’T actually do this.

Seeing that the Distance-Based Fares will indeed charge you the shortest point-to-point journey, even refunding the full amount charged when tapping in to the transfer station, let’s see what happens if I use the rule of transfer using different MRT stations within 15 minutes.

Heading into Tampines MRT Station yet again.

Getting really tired of this underground view.

Heading out of Bencoolen.

The fare from Tampines to Bencoolen costs S$1.64. Let’s see if this maintains when tapping out at Bugis later.

Transfers using different MRT stations are allowed within 15 minutes, and along with this new rule, you are allowed a maximum of 2 MRT trips in a single Distance-Based Fare within 2 hours.

Bencoolen has 2 neighbouring stations – Bras Basah and Dhoby Ghaut. I opted to transfer to Bras Basah MRT Station since it would be linked fully underground and to add 1 extra train line in this journey to make it extra ridiculous.

Bencoolen and Bras Basah are connected by the SMU Concourse at Basement 1.

Walking through the basement of SMU.

Tapping in to Bras Basah MRT Station.

Continuing my journey to Bugis on 3 short rides from Bras Basah. Seriously, don’t do this in real life when it’s perfectly walkable from Bras Basah to Bugis on Victoria Street.

Transferring to the North-South Line at Dhoby Ghaut.

Transferring to the East-West Line at City Hall.

Tapping out at Bugis for the last time of this self-proclaimed research, and I see a difference on the screen already.

A quick check on the Add Value Machine shows that there were 2 MRT journeys being made, one from Tampines DTL to Bencoolen, and another from Bras Basah to Bugis. As such, 2 separate but continuing fares were charged, with a total fare of S$1.64 + S$0.12 = S$1.76 for this Tampines to Bugis journey, making it more expensive.

So what’s the difference between transferring between 2 MRT lines at an out-of-station interchange versus a separate station transfer?

First, you have to understand the Distance-Based Fare rules for MRT journeys. Here’s what the rules are from the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s website.

If you pay using an ez-link or NETS Flashpay stored value card, travel fares are charged based on the total distance travelled across different public transport options.

This integrated distance fare structure means there are no additional boarding charges when you transfer to different buses or trains, as long as your journey follows these criteria:

  • You may make up to five transfers within a single journey, with a 45-minute allowance between each transfer.
  • You complete your journey within two hours.
  • You may enter and exit the train network more than once in a journey within 15 minutes. However, entry and exit at the same rail station are not allowed (Excluding transfers between the Downtown Line (DTL) and North-South Line at Newton MRT station, between the Downtown Line and East-West Line at Tampines MRT station and between the DTL and LRT at Bukit Panjang station).
  • Your current bus service must not be the same number as the preceding service.

Source: Land Transport Authority (LTA)

When I changed at Tampines when I travelled from MacPherson to Paya Lebar, the exception for this out-of-station interchange integrates my journey as 1 single MRT trip, and not an MRT to MRT transfer. Multiple train transfers are allowed with no additional boarding charges as long as within the system within two hours.

However, when I interchanged at Bencoolen-Bras Basah, only the “enter and exit the train network more than once in a journey within 15 minutes” condition was met as they are different stations. This then counts my onward journey from Bras Basah to Bugis as a continuation from hopping off at Bencoolen, on a second MRT journey, thus making the journey more expensive.

This does not mean that the train otaku was wrong in his statement in the video, as he said “As long as you tap in at Tampines and you tap out at Bugis, they’ll charge you the cheapest (shortest) fare.”.

I did not – I tapped out at Bencoolen and then tapped out again at Bugis, which means that I have 2 MRT journeys with the cheapest fare charged for Tampines to Bencoolen and thereafter Bras Basah to Bugis, within a single Distance-Based Fare.


If you are taking the MRT as a regular passenger going by the most logical way, rest assured that you will be indeed charged the cheapest fare between your origin and destination station even if passing through out-of-station interchanges at Newton, Tampines, and Bukit Panjang.

If you didn’t know (and now do) that you could transfer to another train station within 15 minutes, which then makes your journey time shorter, this potentially gets you a cheaper fare than transferring at paid interchanges as since your journey becomes faster, it is logically geographically shorter as well, and hence the Distance-Based Fare has a shorter distance to charge you with.

Knowing all these intricacies of the Distance-Based Fares including buses, by playing around with the Distance-Based Fare rules, you are also able to get a lower overall fare with 1 lesser boarding charge when making a return journey or have an errand to do at a middle point before heading off to your intended destination by not repeating your return journey the same way you did your onward one. This will save you around 92 cents every time you know how to mix and match your public transport journey with the Distance-Based Fare rules.

Now that’s a true otaku move which PTC probably wouldn’t want you to know about.

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