Singapore

Bus services better after 'quiet revolution'

But fare and route changes needed to not overburden taxpayers, says minister

A "quiet revolution" in the bus industry has led to better service levels, from shorter waiting times to less crowded buses, over the recent years.

But these enhancements have come on the back of subsidies borne by taxpayers - subsidies that are set to grow, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

To ensure that the burden on taxpayers does not become excessive, he said commuters have to understand the need for fare adjustments and regular optimisation of bus services, which may require services to be re-routed or merged.

Such measures are not popular among residents along routes that are being adjusted, he added, and the authorities are "constantly under pressure from residents" to retain bus services.

"Yet the need for rationalisation is important," Mr Khaw said, pointing out that bus services with low ridership would mean a waste of subsidies.

Over the past five years, he noted, the Government has spent $1.1 billion to help bring in 1,000 new buses and 80 new services.

The next five years will see subsidies hit $4 billion as the transition to the bus contracting model - where the Government owns all fixed and operating assets and operators are paid a fixed sum to ply services - is completed.

To meet the needs of a growing public bus sector, more than 1,100 bus technicians and engineers will be required here by 2030, said Mr Khaw.

Another quiet revolution is emerging through the use of more advanced technologies, said Mr Khaw, from Web-based diagnostic tools and predictive maintenance to ensure buses run smoothly, to the emergence of hybrid and electric buses.

These mean new maintenance challenges for bus technicians and engineers, he said at the signing of an agreement - between the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the four public bus operators and stakeholders such as the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES) - to raise the competencies of bus technicians, at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East.

A new certification for bus technicians, with industry-wide recognition, that is being introduced will not only enhance their employability but also prepare them for emerging technologies and create industry-wide benchmarks for the proficiency of technicians.

By the middle of next year, bus technicians can be certified at three levels, depending on their competency.

The certification, to be jointly awarded by LTA and IES, will require candidates to pass a test of proficiency and understanding of areas such as the propulsion and pneumatic systems of buses.

By the middle of next year, two other initiatives will be introduced to raise the professional standing of bus technicians and engineers.

Automotive and bus engineers will be able to have their experience recognised through a chartership, a form of professional accreditation, administered by IES.

The Singapore Bus Academy will also work with the Institute of Technical Education and bus operators here to develop a bridging course for ITE graduates who wish to become bus technicians.

busTransportKhaw Boon Wan