Confessions of a party bus driver
The US may have its stretch limousines but party buses are Singaporeans' idea of an ostentatious and flamboyant night out.
Just ask Mr Mohammad Yazid, the 33-year-old driver of a minibus which has been retrofitted with the latest sound systems, a blinding LED- and laser-lit interior and yes, several smoke machines.
He has been at the wheel of a 13-seater Toyota Hiace for the past three years, ferrying revellers from club to club, bachelorettes on hen nights or partygoers at extravagant birthday bashes.
"We get looks from people all the time, from other drivers and pedestrians. It feels good," he says.
Mr Yazid is one of about 20 drivers from Unity Limo Party Bus Singapore, also known as Unity, one of a few companies that provide such limousine services here.
Nothing turns heads more than the laser trails, billowing smoke and loud music, he adds.
Rates for party buses start at around $75 for one-way transfers or $180 per hour, which is decent when the fare is split 12 ways.
Once, he drew gasps from children when he picked up a student from school, as his parents had planned it as a surprise birthday party for him.
But the majority of his passengers are expatriate partygoers or corporate clients, he says.
"I get such jobs about thrice a week, and some can last up to eight hours long," he tells The New Paper on Sunday.
There are caveats. Alcohol is not allowed to be sold by the drivers and smoking in the vehicle is not allowed.
Once, on a club crawl, Mr Yazid drove six obviously drunken ladies who stripped down to their undergarments and started dancing to the loud music.
One of them even asked him to spank her buttocks.
"I was so shocked, and I politely declined because it is my job to concentrate on the road and not be distracted," says Mr Yazid, who is married.
He laughs at the memory, adding that his wife also had initial concerns about the dangers in his job, since passengers do try to get the drivers to drink with them.
Mr Yazid says: "I had to reassure her that we are professionals, and we will never touch the alcohol."
By starting a service to ferry alcohol-fuelled revellers, the party bus drivers believe that they are keeping drunken motorists off the roads.
Mr Yazid has spent nearly $10,000 on cosmetic upgrades to his minibus, though there are other drivers who have sunk more money into what is arguably more of a hobby than a job.
As Unity functions more like a collective of passionate minibus drivers than a company, there is no standard layout for the vehicles. Each bus is designed according to the whims and fancies of the driver.
Of course, they also have to abide by regulations set by transport authorities, they say.
The pride among the bus drivers is evident, as is the friendly rivalry.
TNPS had asked to meet one driver but by the end of the interview, nine minibus drivers had turned up with their vehicles, eager to show the unique concepts of their cars.
One has a karaoke theme and comes with a pop-up 40-inch flat screen television. The driver of the vehicle, Mr Aidi Zunaidi, 40, spent nearly $20,000 on upgrades.
Mr Aidi jokes: "Some passengers have bad singing, but no choice, got to tolerate it. My trick is to turn down the volume a bit without them knowing."
He says that now and then, the drivers would gather at a random carpark to show off their newest modifications to the others.
But all the drivers vote that the most elaborate party bus belongs to Mr Md Ali, the 52-year-old driver who started this trend here in 2007.
Although he denies it, the others say his minibus pumps out the loudest sounds, the brightest light shows and the most smoke.
He is believed to be the first to come up with the idea after he realised that several pub owners needed a service to drive drunken partygoers home safely.
"A few decided to copy my idea, and the trend grew from one party bus to around 30 today," says Mr Ali.
"All of us here are doing this because we are against drink driving. We let our passengers enjoy the experience without hurting anybody."
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
- Always abide by the law. The sale of alcohol and smoking in the vehicle is strictly forbidden and breaking these rules can incur sizeable fines.
- Make sure you agree on the rate before you set off. Some customers may try to bargain aggressively when they are drunk.
- Be diligent and check your minibus for damage after each job. Vomiting in the vehicle, or damaging equipment or lights comes with a fee.