A BUS DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE

I THANK The Straits Times for the articles on public bus operations (“Operating Public Buses: Lessons from London”; last Saturday; and “Results of trial to make buses run on time ‘encouraging'”; Tuesday)

As a bus driver, I notice that the input of the person behind the steering wheel is generally missing in discussions about improving the public bus system.

Driving a public bus comes with huge responsibilities.

The driver has to be alert for the 71/2 hours he is on the road, with few breaks between trips. He has to meet customer requirements, arrive at destinations on time and most importantly, maintain safety by being alert to on-board incidents or road hazards.

So his physical and mental well-being is also important when drawing up plans to improve the public bus system.

It is never the intention of the bus operator or its employees to hold up arrival times. Such accusations are unjust. Take, for instance, service 178, which plies between Woodlands Regional Interchange and Boon Lay Interchange.

The route is about 30km long. There are 34 bus stops along the way and more than 40 pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. The buses are dispatched from the interchange every 15 minutes by a timekeeper. But it can take two to nine minutes from the time the driver clocks out from the timekeeper’s office to when the bus actually hits the main service road.

This is because the driver has to walk to his bus, safely reverse it out of its bay and drive to the designated berth, where he waits as passengers board. If the bus travels at 60kmh (the speed limit allowed) non-stop from Woodlands to Boon Lay, it will take no more than 30 minutes to arrive. But in reality, it takes 80 to 105 minutes.

If the bus is held up by roadworks or traffic congestion, the next bus deployed may eventually catch up if it does not encounter similar obstructions on its trip. One suggestion to avoid this “bus bunching” is to dispatch the next bus only when the preceding bus reaches the first traffic light on the main service route. This is possible as all buses are monitored by GPS.

I appreciate the efforts, perseverance and commitment of all parties – from the Transport Ministry to the Public Transport Council to bus operators and my colleagues – for aiming to make bus rides comfortable and convenient.

Wong Kam Wah

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