Living and breathing buses 24/7
Meet the bus enthusiasts in Singapore who have turned their hobby into careers.
As a bus enthusiast of over a decade, Mr Muhammad Naz Farihin has hit many milestones.
He sat in buses on their last day of service, drove a decommissioned SBS Transit bus in Hong Kong and was part of a successful community initiative to run two night service routes.
But riding on a bus as a passenger and eventually driving the same one was his wildest dream come true.
When 26-year-old Muhammad Naz Farihin wakes up in the morning, he does so right under a bus depot.
Not a literal one, but a scaled-down model with 120 buses on the second level of his bunk bed.
An old bus seat is next to his door, an electronic destination display salvaged from the front of a bus hangs on top of his wardrobe, and old destination plates line his wall. The rest of his room is packed with other local public bus memorabilia, such as a rare coin box, a dashboard from a retired bus and signs from old bus interchanges.
Mr Naz is one of an estimated 500 bus enthusiasts in Singapore now and also one of those who have fulfilled the dream of working in a bus company. He is now an operational support officer at A&S Transit.
His love for public buses began at the age of five, when his father started taking him on bus rides around and beyond their neighbourhood in Woodlands. Buses were like a gateway to new places in Singapore.
When it was time to pick a secondary school, Mr Naz chose one in Yishun so that he could explore new bus routes.
In 2011, at the age of 14, he found a community of like-minded people through Facebook and his interest extended to photographing and spotting rare public buses, and collecting rare bus-related memorabilia.
The Higher Nitec graduate from the Institute of Technical Education learnt how to drive a bus and earned his Class 4 licence at 19 during his national service.
When Covid-19 hit Singapore in 2020, he had just finished NS and got his dream job as a bus captain at SMRT Buses.
Newcomers had to undergo training of six to eight weeks, but his route knowledge gave him a head start, especially in Woodlands, where he had already memorised almost all 30-plus bus routes by heart, a trait which is not uncommon among bus enthusiasts.
In June 2022, Mr Naz joined A&S Transit, a private bus charter company.
He was drawn to the company because it had bought some buses from SMRT in 2021 that were decommissioned after being retrofitted and used as transport vehicles for Covid-19 patients. As it was rare for public buses to be acquired by private bus companies, many bus enthusiasts reached out to A&S, wanting to know more about the buses or to see them.
“The public buses which A&S purchased piqued our interest because the retrofitting was the first of its kind in Singapore,” says Mr Naz.
He says his career has been a rewarding one so far, with milestones such as a successful initiative in 2023 to run two night services – NS1 and NS2 – that ply one-way routes from the city to the heartland on Fridays, Saturdays and the eve of public holidays. He even got to drive a decommissioned SBS Transit bus in Hong Kong that was bought by a contact.
But the best moment was driving a double-decker bus that he rode on when it was used for SBS Transit services 71 and 94, before it was bought by A&S.
“Never would I have imagined that I would have the opportunity to drive something as unique as a double-decker bus in Singapore, and for it to become reality is really a dream come true," says Mr Naz.
He eventually got his childhood friend and fellow enthusiast Matthew Tay, 24, to join the company.
When Mr Tay was a clerk during his NS, he would spend his weekends volunteering at A&S, where he learnt the ropes by helping to diagnose bus faults, manage bus deployment and even train new Mandarin-speaking bus captains.
Despite getting numerous offers from local universities, the Temasek Polytechnic graduate took the leap and joined A&S as a full-time bus captain in July 2022.
“It’s a dream of most bus enthusiasts to be behind the wheel of the bus when we were younger. We regard bus captains as the cool guys – having command of such big vehicles, and being able to enjoy the melodious sounds of the engine the whole day,” says Mr Tay. “I think that a lot of our younger enthusiasts are just waiting... to hop into the industry as well.”
For Mr Naz, a self-professed extrovert, meeting new people from different walks of life is one of the reasons why he loves his job so much.
“I am essentially living the dream of many younger bus fans and I am where they would like to be in the future,” he says.
“Those who don't make the cut as drivers may find alternatives in departments such as bus operation control, or become interchange supervisors and managers.”
Mr Naz using hand signals to communicate with other bus captains on the road.
Both Mr Tay and Mr Naz have gone beyond their childhood dream of driving a bus.
Mr Tay moved to Tower Transit in August 2022 as an interchange supervisor, a role which met his long-term goal of being part of a bus company’s day-to-day operations.
As for Mr Naz, he now manages a fleet of 20 out of more than 80 buses at A&S, besides driving and training newcomers.
“If your passion is your work, and you enjoy every moment of it, then getting paid is just a bonus,” he says.