Local bus companies proven wrong by new bus company, Tower Transit

By Ghui

It would seem that public transportation services are not frequently out of the limelight these days. Widely publicised breakdowns, the sensational bus driver strikes and the high percentage of foreign hires have all drawn backlash from Singaporeans, which in turn highlighted many social concerns that have been brewing for some time.

The government’s handling of the public transportation services has also affected its luck at the ballot box, especially back in 2011 was when the first of many MRT breakdowns started to occur. Complaints were rife on overcrowding and public displeasure at feeling like sardines in their own country was blamed on the PAP’s open door policy on immigration. This appeared to have had a significant impact on the PAP’s fortunes at the general elections. It was that year that the PAP suffered its largest failure.

Moving on from that bitter pill, the PAP seems to have poured in resources into public transportation services. There were, of course, still glitches and problems, but there were also overt overtures from the government to address the public’s unhappiness.

There was also a distinct change in the government’s tune vis-a-vis the employment of foreigners in public transport services. Up till fairly recently, the government was always keen to defend the open door policy on foreigners. But as election fever kicked off, PM Lee began to acknowledge that the influx of foreigners has indeed affected the employability of locals.

The resentment with the provision of transportation services seems to be two-fold. From the tone of netizen rants, it would appear that overcrowding has led to not only a less comfortable commute but also contributed directly to the decline and efficiency of the services itself. The decrease in the service levels was blamed on population growth leading to more users than the services can cope with and poor maintenance caused by the rush to hire less qualified but cheaper foreign staff.

Based on what we have seen in recent years, it is clear that the right balance must be drawn between cost effectiveness and quality control. While I am not suggesting that Singaporeans are necessarily more qualified than their foreign counterparts, there is certainly a perception that foreigners are hired solely because they are cheaper.

Many large employers, including SBS, have lamented that they had no choice but to hire foreigners because Singaporeans had no interest in the jobs that were up for grabs.

The response that Tower Transit recently received from Singaporeans has however shown the opposite to be true. Treating driving buses as a profession, with proper procedures for advancement and overtime benefits, is clearly more attractive than portraying bus driving as an dead end job.

According the profession due respect by limiting the job scope to a specific skilled task – as opposed to lumping all sorts of duties on a driver – goes a long way. For example, a bus driver’s responsibility is to drive safely and punctually. He shouldn’t have to worry about refueling or cleaning the bus!

There should also be a union that for bus drivers, such as Unite in the UK, instead of the one-size-fits-all NTUC. This would also go a long way in showing that bus driving is a respectable profession, which will in turn bring better hires.

Perhaps the key to keeping morale up among the staff is to provide the correct motivation. However profit-driven a company is, it needs to accept that people need to be incentivised to work. It is about give and take and any company wanting longevity will have to realise this. Based on Singapore’s public transportation woes, is it a case of preferring short-term profits over long term gains or public good?

Perhaps the first step Singapore needs to take is to rethink the sufficiency of its remuneration. It appears to be less of Singaporean unwillingness and more of just not dangling the right carrots.

Less emphasis on profits and more emphasis on the overall level of service should be the order of the day where public services are concerned. This will in itself reap long-term benefits for all involved.