SINGAPORE: The Republic’s latest bus operator, Tower Transit, officially launched on Sunday (May 29), with the roll out of nine bus services. The first buses arrived at Bukit Batok interchange just after 5am,hours after about 90 buses were transferred over from existing bus operator, SMRT Corporation.
More than 20 bus enthusiasts or "spotters"- people who are well-versed in the history, routes and the different bus models - had gathered from as early as 3pm on Saturday to witness the milestone event. This is the first time another bus operator is being added to an industry that has otherwise lasted decades with just two players at any one time, and is also a move that will potentially inject competition among incumbent operators.
18-year-old Shahirwan camped out at Bukit Batok interchange from 3pm on Saturday, for the Tower Transit launch. pic.twitter.com/DTLcY50REc— MonicaKotwani (@MKotwaniCNA) May 28, 2016
One of the early birds was 18-year-old student Shahirwan Nur. He said he wanted to experience watching the first bus under the Government’s contracting model launch pull into the interchange, and also witnessed new signs being installed at the interchange. Mr Shahirwan said he has been following Tower Transit's training for a few months now.
He said: "Last night, I took the last bus service 945, which was SMRT's final service before it was handed over to Tower Transit. It is a momentous occasion to be here today because this is the first time we are having a third operator in a long time."
Another "bus spotter", Santhosh Kumar, echoed this point. He said: "The last time we had multiple operators was in the 1970s, so it's quite an exciting moment, and also for the fact that Tower Transit is the first overseas operator to operate in Singapore. A lot of firsts."
Channel NewsAsia understands some bus enthusiastswho were on holiday from Hong Kong, were also present to witness the launch.
Just after 5.30am, bus number 945 was the first to arrive at the berth to pick its passengers.
This was followed by 106, whose passengers included Mr Andrew Bujtor, Tower Transit Singapore's Managing Director, as well as MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC and Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers' Union Melvin Yong.
Tower Transit said 62 of its buses will be operating on Sunday, manned by about 130 bus captains. The company is also implementing a "buddy system" on some buses over the next few days. A more experienced bus captain will be guiding the driver to ensure operations run smoothly. The company said 94 buses will be on the roads on Monday.
Some of Tower Transit's first commuters. (Photo: Olivia Siong)
Mr Bujtor said he was confident the company could meet the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) high standards under the new bus contracting model.
He said: " In terms of monitoring the smoothness and comfort of our drive, we have a telematics system which is installed on some of our buses today and in future will be rolled out on our entire fleet.
"A lot of activity in the Bus Operations Control Centre is a new approach - regulating headway and active service control which requires a lot of cooperation between the Operations Control Centre and our bus captains. So we have done a lot of training with the guys on what things they can do from the Operations Control Centre perspective to regulate headway, to adjust trips, to adjust the service and to deliver that consistent gap between buses that passengers desire," he added.
Speaking on behalf of the union, Mr Yong said it is important to monitor the welfare of two groups of bus workers. He said: "The first group is what we called affected employees. Today is the first day they are joining the company officially. Yesterday, they were still driving the same route but with a different company.
"The other group is the new hires that Tower Transit has employed. They have been training with the company and today is their first day driving a revenue service. So we have been working closely with the company and will continue doing so to take care of the interest and welfare of both groups of bus workers".
This is the first of three phases of the rollout, which will see 26 bus services comprising almost 370 buses from three bus interchanges, including Clementi and Jurong East. They will terminate at the Bedok, Marina Centre, Shenton Way and Toa Payoh interchanges. The next two phases will be launched in June.
Tower Transit became Singapore’s third bus operator, after winning the Bulim Bus tender in May 2015. This comes after the Government switched to a contracting model, where the Land Transport Authority will own existing bus infrastructure, including buses and depots, but parcel bus routes out to various players.