Singapore's newest public bus operator has got off to a smooth start, with those taking its services generally enjoying shorter waits.
The Anglo-Australian firm Tower Transit took over a total of 26 routes from incumbents SMRT and SBS Transit in May and June, and has helped bring about service improvements on most of the routes.
There are generally fewer instances of bus bunching and prolonged waits, Land Transport Authority (LTA) group director for public transport Yeo Teck Guan said last Thursday.
Tower Transit is the first to run bus routes under the government contracting model, which the entire bus sector will transit to on Thursday. Under this, the state owns all assets and operators are paid a fee to run packages of routes.
An LTA study which examined the reliability of 24 bus services was shared with The Sunday Times. Two bus services were not included as they do not operate on a regular basis - one runs only on weekdays and the other is an express service.
The study measured Tower Transit's performance for 12 days from June 27 when the new school semester started.
This was compared with the performances of SMRT and SBS in May, before they started handing over the routes.
Twenty of the 24 services showed fewer instances of "bus bunching", which is when buses arrive within two minutes of each other on trunk routes, and one minute of each other on feeder routes, as defined by LTA. One improved service, for instance, was Bus 941, a loop service in Bukit Batok. Under SMRT, 13.2 per cent of all arrivals were "bunched", but this dipped to just 0.4 per cent under the new operator. However, four services - 189, 98, 282 and 285 - saw more instances of "bunching".
Of the 24 bus services, 20 of them also saw reductions in instances of prolonged waits - defined as more than five minutes above the bus' scheduled arrival time.
Four bus services showed drops in reliability, which was the most pronounced for Clementi feeder service route 282.
When SBS Transit ran the service, 8.8 per cent of buses arrived late, but this rose to 15.1 per cent under Tower Transit.
Asked how it plans to boost reliability, Tower Transit Singapore's managing director, Mr Andrew Bujtor, said the firm has rolled out an incentive scheme to reward bus captains based on how well they can keep to schedule.
Extra training will be provided so that they work closely with service controllers, who monitor bus routes live from a remote location.
Service controllers regulate the speeds of buses plying the roads so that they reach their stops on schedule.
Mr Bujtor said: "Our service controllers also respond to traffic conditions such as obstructions by diverting buses so commuters further down the route face as little service disruption as possible."
National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said it may be "unfair" to compare the incumbents with Tower Transit. "Tower Transit (buses) have on-board terminals to indicate the spacing between the bus in front and behind, so its drivers are better informed," he said.
He was referring to the LTA's new Common Fleet Management System, which tracks buses in real time. Tower Transit is the first operator to make use of the system.
Most of the Tower Transit commuters interviewed said they were satisfied. Some noted that there was a higher seating capacity, with the services using more double-decker buses.
Ms Julia Jumaat, 45, an administrative worker, said: "Now I'd wait for about seven minutes for bus 78. Before, it was around 15 minutes."
But Ms Irene Chia, 45, a tutor, said that some bus captains occasionally drive slower than others. "Sometimes, two buses arrive at the same time," said Ms Chia, who takes 183 daily.
•Additional reporting by Rahimah Rashith