SINGAPORE: Commuters in Punggol and Pasir Ris were greeted by a new face on their morning bus ride on Sunday (Sep 4), as Singapore's newest bus operator Go-Ahead Singapore officially began its bus services in the area, nine months after winning the Loyang bus package tender.
The company launched 13 bus routes on Sunday morning, starting with service 82, which left Punggol bus interchange at 5.15am. In all, Go-Ahead Singapore will run 25 services from the Punggol and Pasir Ris interchanges, as well as Changi Airport and Changi Village bus terminals. Another 11 services will start on Sep 18. The last service starts in 2017.
Early commuters waiting to board buses operated by Go-Ahead Singapore at a bus interchange. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
"It's been a long time coming, we've been working on this now for nine months - slightly shorter mobilisation period than we would have wished for, but it's enabled us to focus, deal with all the issues we had to deal with," said John Trayner, Chairman, Go-Ahead Singapore.
"As we learn where we're slightly off the pace, then we will improve it, and amend it, so it's an ongoing situation of looking for that continuous improvement."
Go-Ahead Singapore is the second foreign bus operator in Singapore after Tower Transit, which runs the Bulim bus package in the West.
Most commuters we spoke to welcomed the new operator, and say they're looking forward to what Go-Ahead might bring to the industry.
“Now that Go-Ahead is taking over, I hope I can see an improvement on the bus services, and the bus captains will serve the passengers better,” Beckham Er, a student, said.
"It's about making sure commuters won't have to wait for buses for too long, and have a comfortable ride,” added a retiree who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan.
But others said there were some bumps on the first day of services, with several commuters saying they experienced longer waiting times than usual.
"Usually we wait for the bus around 5 to 10 minutes, but now around 20 minutes have to wait, I don't know what happened,” said Shah Zarul, an engineer.
Responding to queries, the company said it "noted some teething issues in the morning, "and that they are "now resolved".
Following the start of bus services, the company said it now has to meet a number of performance targets. This includes managing bus headways, mileage and maintenance.
A Passenger Service Office operated by Go-Ahead Singapore at a bus interchange. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
"If a bus is scheduled to arrive at an eight-minute interval but is earlier, we will need the bus captain to slow down," Go-Ahead Singapore's managing director Nigel Wood said.
"Accordingly, we will strike a balance between managing headways, regulating intervals and maintaining appropriate speeds."
"We do acknowledge that there may be teething problems for a start," Mr Wood added. "We are aware of passengers’ expectations of their journeys and will continue to fine-tune our processes as and where required."
Go-Ahead Singapore's managing director Nigel Wood (2ndR), NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong (2ndL) and representatives from the NTWU. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
He added that Go-Ahead Singapore is "working closely with the LTA (Land Transport Authority) to minimise the effects arising from the change of operators."
Ahead of Sunday's launch, the company also told Channel NewsAsia it has completed its bus captain training, and has met its recruitment targets since taking over the Loyang Depot from the LTA in December 2015. It currently employs 700 bus captains - 329 from SBS Transit,who ran the bus routes before Go-Ahead took over, and 371 new hires.
Of the 371 new hires, the company says 67 per cent are from the driving industry, which includes former delivery and school bus drivers. About 300 of its bus captains are between 40-55 years old, with the youngest being 26 years old.
National Transport Workers' Union Executive Secretary Melvin Yong, who attended the bus service launch at Punggol interchange, said the union will continue to work with Go-Ahead and the LTA to ensure a smooth transition for those involved.
"The first group obviously have been driving for many years, and are concerned about whether there'll be changes in the work processes,” he said. “The second group, they are new hires from different industries, so to them everything is new, and I think they need a lot of guidance on what exactly is driving a bus, providing services in public transport.
Amid a manpower shortage in the bus industry, the arrival of new entrants Go-Ahead Singapore and Tower Transit have among other things, prompted a review of bus captain salaries, and several pay hikes in recent months.
SMRT raised its basic starting salary for its bus captains to S$1,950 from Sep 1. SBS Transit increased its starting salary from S$1,775 to S$1,950 in June.
Go-Ahead Singapore increased its starting salary from the S$1,865 it announced in February to S$1,950 in July.
"We will conduct an annual review but at the same time, we will monitor closely on what is being offered within the transport industry," it said this week.
Looking ahead, the company said it aims to introduce a "pre-promotional" career development course for its bus captains. It also plans to work with organisations like the Health Promotion Board to manage bus captain fatigue.