Buskers can't busk at 8 spots in Orchard on Fri & Sat in Dec. 2022, 7pm-9pm due to crowd safety issues

Crowd crush fears among other concerns.

Ruth Chai | November 22, 2022, 03:14 AM

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Buskers in Singapore were informed that they will not be able to busk at eight locations on Orchard Road during the upcoming festive season from 7pm to 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays in December 2022.

These popular spots are located outside ION Orchard, Wisma Atria, Ngee Ann City, The Heeren, [email protected], Knightsbridge and Mandarin Gallery.

The eight days affected include Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, but not Christmas Day.

The disallowing of busking came as a shock to buskers here, one of whom received a Nov. 14 email sent by the National Arts Council (NAC), informing them about the restrictions.

Mothership.sg received a tip-off about the contents of the email from a busker.

Why buskers up in arms

Even though buskers will still be able to busk on Orchard Road from Sundays to Thursdays from 10am to 10pm, and on Friday and Saturday from 10am to 7pm, as well as at all other busking locations around Singapore, the hours blocked off are peak hours for buskers during the Christmas season.

Cutting off these locations and timings in Orchard will likely hurt earnings of buskers badly.

The Straits Times reported that one busker said he was able to earn up to S$10,000 in December alone as shoppers were more willing to spend during the festive season.

The implication is that any ban will cut earnings.

Another busker that CNA spoke to said earnings in December can be 40 to 50 per cent more than in the subsequent months.

The busker also called the ban a "very one-sided decision".

Restrictions kicked in this year

Such restrictions are not the norm, according to CNA.

Previously, advisories were issued to remind buskers of crowds at locations with high footfall, CNA cited NAC, while further explaining that blocking off of sites could not be feasibly carried out.

The blocking off of certain timings and sites now is facilitated by the new online booking system for busking.

The system, which was piloted just before the pandemic started, came to be used more widely after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and with the resumption of live busking activities in March 2022.

The booking site allows restrictions to be built in as the busking venues are listed online and buskers need to book a slot and venue before heading down to perform.

This is a contrast to how venues functioned previously, as licensed buskers were given a list of five fixed designated locations they can busk, and they had to sometimes negotiate for space with other buskers.

But the booking site has become slightly more flexible over time.

Changes to the booking site are now in the works, such as allowing buskers to share their booking slots.

Police explanation

In a follow-up statement, the Singapore police explained on Nov. 19 that the restriction of busking activities at Orchard Road during the year-end festive period was due to the need for crowd control measures, while referencing the crush that killed more than 150 people in Itaewon in South Korea as a reminder that public safety cannot be taken for granted.

The police said: "With the lifting of Covid-19 safe management measures and the resumption of travel, very large crowds are expected."

The police also provided photos of crowds in 2019 surrounding a busker on the footpath outside Ngee Ann City, and said pre-pandemic, buskers and ice cream sellers "reduced the passable space on the footpaths and further impeded the flow of people".

The police have also recommended to NAC to restrict busking activities at selected sites when crowds peak, with both organisations to engage affected stakeholders.

The Great Christmas Village event is resuming this year, which features various stalls, pop-up booths and display pieces along the footpath from Orchard Ion to Mandarin Gallery in December.

The police said the implementation of preventive crowd control measures is "critical" given the shortage of space.

This is especially so in the event of contingencies, as a result of incidents that may spark crowd panic, deliberate or otherwise, stampedes, crowd crush, and when evacuations may be required, the police added.

More than 150 revellers died following a deadly Halloween crush on Oct. 29 in Seoul’s clubbing district Itaewon.

Top photos via SPF