Friday, August 8, 2008

To The Public Transport Workers Of Singapore

When I was 6, my ambition wasn't to be a doctor, or an author, or a journalist, or any of those jobs often mentioned in those newspaper pullout advertisements for scholarships.

I wanted to be a bus driver.

Hazy as my memory may be, I still vividly remember the day in kindergarten when the teacher told us to mime out our ambition.

I went up to the front of class, my side facing the class (like how you would normally view the bus driver from the bus cabin) and just drove. Steering that imaginary wheel of mine, handling the pedals and pressing those 3 nifty buttons at the side that controlled the 2 doors.

My classmates volunteered answers.



'Taxi driver?'


'MRT driver?'


'Bus driver!'

And there it was. I didn't want to be any driver. I wanted to be a bus driver. Even to the 6 year-old me, there was a world of difference between driving, and driving a bus.

At the age of 6, I already took great pains to know everything I could about buses. I knew that those old buses I took every day was a Nissan UD, that some buses had more steps than others, mainly because of where the engine was sited.

And when they started rolling out the Mercedes O405 buses on SBS, I was overjoyed. They looked absolutely classy and posh, with carpeted air-conditioning ducts, plush seats, and a modern-looking exterior. And a majestic engine roar that sounded absolutely different from the whine of the Nissan UDs and the characterless white noise of the Volvo B10M Mk2s that I was used to.

I knew I had to drive one.

And when I grew up and realised that bus drivers were paid only slightly more than a factory worker, and alot less than a doctor, journalist or engineer, I quickly abandoned all hope.


I never lost interest in buses though - on some days, I sit right up front on the top deck of the double deckers, hearing the unmistakable hum of the ZF gearbox on those Volvo Olympians, thinking about the long heritage of those buses.

Back in the 70s, double-deckered Leyland Atlanteans plied the road. These were the first rear-engined in its series, which then evolved into the Leyland Olympian.

And when Volvo bought the design over, they made several minor changes and called it the Volvo Olympian. A few more updates, and it's the Volvo Super Olympian.

Finally, a couple of years back, it was superseded by the Volvo B9TL, with electronically-controlled engine systems, transmission and brakes much like how aircraft systems are designed.


I never got to drive that Mercedes O405.

But I got to drove a Mercedes diesel anyway - that's the army jeep I learnt to drive on.

And I got to work for SBS's parent company, Comfort Delgro, albeit for a week. In its HQ compound which happens to double as a bus depot.

I suppose I can't ask for too much eh? But then, Mediacorp compere/actress Kym Ng did get to drive a true blue Volvo Olympian for a drama serial. I'm still jealous.


And it's only when I learned how to drive, did I realise that it's no easy task driving public transport vehicles.

Public transport can either make or break a city. It's very much a part of life for many of us, and when shit happens, it can really ruin our day. That's why bus drivers, train station masters and their companies get all the flak from the public, from complains about punctuality to crowded carriages and decks.

Even if it's not their fault. Many people simply do not understand that often, crowded buses and unreliable schedules are simply a product of peak hour traffic jams. Or the inevitable vehicle breakdown. Or staffing problems. But when shit happens, people love to have someone to blame. And the poor transport workers face the brunt of it.

The public transport workers have to contend with the busy and chaotic roads of Singapore as their workplace while a large proportion of commuters have the luxury of peppering their comfortable workplace with ornaments.

Neither do they have to worry about putting themselves and dozens of customers at mortal peril when they fall asleep at work.

Neither do they have to stay glued to the seat for an hour at a time, without a minute of rest or even a toilet break.

Neither do they have to contend with 20-minute lunch breaks.

About half of public transport workers are already at work even before most of our alarm clocks ring. The other half knock off way past your bedtime.

And the worst part is, they aren't getting fair remuneration for the sacrifices they make. The basic pay for a new bus driver is $1,200. An average bus driver with a fair amount of seniority earns $2,300 a month in gross monthly wage, including allowances and shift pay.

Whenever you board a bus, you're entrusting your life to someone who's being paid this little to drive you to your destination safely.

For the kind of hours and stress they endure, it's really a pittance. They really should be paid more, and if it has to come from the pockets of the commuters, I'd be glad to understand that they deserve every extra cent that I have to pay for my safe bus or train ride.

Public transport workers in Singapore, I salute you this National Day. You deserve it more than anyone else does. Not even those men in white who are paid more than a hundred times what you earn.


Yusry said...

I never quite dreamt of being a bus driver, but I had lots of fun play acting a bus driver on my double decker bed.

And one of the first programmes I wrote when I had my first computer and dot matrix printer was a fare console system with ticket printing. :)

But indeed, you have written a fitting honour for these workers.

Happy holidays!

Ben said...

1,000 times, not, 100.

kc said...


they earn 1-2 million per year, not per month

so that's about 100k per month

100 times

Anonymous said...

this is the best post i ever read! thanks, please write more man

Lim Leng Hiong said...

I definitely agree; bus drivers are crucial to our city and their job is tough. They deserve our respect and cooperation.

BusDriver_PP said...

i ish sextremlees touchs by dis post floms chius.

nex times u ish takings deh bus i dribes, u no nids ish taps deh ezrinks kard.

Agagooga said...

Well, if they were paid more public transport fares would go up, and this would hurt a lot of poor people. Not to mention make most Singaporeans complain.