SINGAPORE - National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) executive secretary Melvin Yong has called on more Singaporeans, and women, to be bus captains as he pushed for greater tripartite efforts to level-up the skills of the trade.
In a blog post on Thursday (April 14), Mr Yong, who is also an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, recounted his personal experience manoeuvring a bus on a simulator and reiterated the need for a fundamental shift in mindset of a bus captain's job.
With the injection of 1,000 new Government-funded buses under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme and the introduction of the new Government bus contracting model, Mr Yong said there is an urgent need for more bus captains to join the public bus industry.
"Not only should we refrain from having more foreign drivers to ply our bus routes, there is also a limit to how many one can employ. We definitely need more Singaporeans to join the trade," he noted.
Since joined the labour movement, Mr Yong said he had learnt much about the industry and the challenges faced by public transport workers through weekly worksite visits.
Being a bus captain encompasses much more than just operating a huge vehicle, he said.
"A bus captain also has to manage more advanced systems in the bus as well as commuters today, who often have higher expectations."
With NTWU pushing for a more structured training regime for bus captains, Mr Yong said there is a need for a national bus academy to raise the professionalism.
"Perhaps then, our Manpower Ministry can reconsider bus driving as a skilled profession!" he said.
Mr Yong called on commuters to show respect to bus captains, some of whom had related to him anecdotes of dealing with abuse from the likes of fare evaders.
In January this year, a bus captain was assaulted by a man at a bus stop along Lengkok Bahru and was on medical leave for 42 days. All this, Mr Yong noted, because the assailant was allegedly unhappy that he had missed his bus stop.
Besides the Protection from Harassment Act that penalises such offences, Mr Yong called on commuters to "show respect, stop abuse", to build a healthy and positive workplace environment for bus captains, and to intervene as one community when they see any abuse.
He added that more can and will be done to attract more women into the trade, as less than 10 per cent of bus captains currently are female.
"Anecdotally, female bus captains also experience less encounters with abusive commuters," said Mr Yong, who is also the NTUC Industrial Relations Department director (field).
A recent health screening project piloted by NTWU involving close to 900 bus captains found that eight out of 10 had unhealthy Body Mass Index, blood pressure or cholesterol.
While public transport operators offer free health screening for their bus captains at varying age groups, Mr Yong felt this should be extended to all bus captains, regardless of age.
He has asked the Ministry of Transport to include free annual health screening as a condition in the bus contracting model.
It is also timely to do a holistic review of the working conditions of bus captains, Mr Yong said, pointing to key areas such as their daily work schedules, ergonomic intervention and fatigue management.
"A healthy worker is a happy worker, and a happy worker is a better worker," he said.
Ending off his post, Mr Yong compared bus captains to commercial pilots.
A pilot of an A380 jumbo commercial jet ferries around 470 passenger in a single flight, he noted, while a bus captain of a double-decker transports more than 200 passengers in a single trip during the peak period, making at least 15 trips a day for a feeder service and more than six trips a day for a trunk service.
He said: "Just like the pilot, our bus captain cannot afford to lose concentration on the road as he is responsible for the safety of thousands of commuters daily.
"As a community, let us show respect and appreciate the work of our bus captains. Together, we can make our bus captains the 'pilots' of our roads."