Singapore's fourth public bus operator, Go-Ahead, has filled nearly all its bus driver positions.
The British firm, which is expected to begin running its 25 bus services in the Pasir Ris and Punggol areas in the third quarter of this year, said yesterday it has met more than 93 per cent of its targeted bus driver hires.
It has taken on board 655 bus drivers so far, 60 per cent of whom are Singaporeans and permanent residents.
About 350 of those hired are existing SBS Transit bus drivers who chose to switch companies.
Go-Ahead clinched the Loyang bus package last November with a bid of $497.7 million under the Government's new bus contracting model, which is aimed at increasing competition in bus services.
This allows Go-Ahead to operate 22 existing services currently operated by SBS Transit and three new services.
Go-Ahead expects to hire the remaining bus drivers by next month, said its human resources director, Mr Wang Poon Liang.
Overall, Go-Ahead has hired about 90 per cent of its target 900 staff, including 60 technical staff.
One of its new bus drivers, Mr William Chia, 65, said his daughter-in-law had told him about the job and he was attracted by the pay and benefits.
Go-Ahead offers drivers a starting pay of $1,865, and benefits, including a $1,000 joining bonus and free travel on all bus and train services.
Mr Chia said the training by Go-Ahead helped him get used to driving buses, which are more difficult to manoeuvre than the vans that he used to handle in his previous job as a courier driver.
"The training it provides is very good," said Mr Chia, who signed up with Go-Ahead in April.
One of the features the British firm is incorporating in its training is defensive driving, which Go-Ahead training manager Chris Tan said would help prevent commuters from falling over as a result of sudden swerves.
Referring to recent pay raises for bus drivers announced by competitors Tower Transit and SBS Transit, which now offer higher starting salaries of $1,930 and $1,950 respectively, Go Ahead's Mr Wang said it would watch the market carefully before deciding whether to react.
"People are still joining us. I believe our package is still competitive," he said.
The media briefing was conducted at Go Ahead's new Loyang bus depot, ahead of its official launch this Sunday.
Among its facilities is a lounge area for bus drivers. It provides daybeds for rest, similar to those at Tower Transit's Bulim depot, with separate rooms for men and women.
Tower Transit became the third bus operator here in May last year after winning the Bulim bus package with a bid of $556 million, which allows it to operate 26 bus services in western Singapore for five years.
Yesterday, Go-Ahead managing director Nigel Wood said it is "likely" to submit a bid for the Seletar bus package, which was called on June 7 and will close in October.
He stopped short of confirming Go-Ahead's bid in the third government bus contract, adding that the firm had to consider factors such as price but said that it would consider future packages.
He said: "Go-Ahead intends to stay and grow here."