Go-Ahead up to speed after a bumpy start

It now has more than the 700 drivers it was looking to hire and is ready to launch a new route in April

Go-Ahead's new managing director David Cutts says the firm has learnt from its teething problems.
Go-Ahead's new managing director David Cutts says the firm has learnt from its teething problems.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Bus operator Go-Ahead Singapore, which was dogged by recruitment problems after its launch last September, now counts more than 750 bus drivers in its ranks, said its new managing director David Cutts.

This exceeds the 700 that it was looking to hire and also readies the firm to launch a new route in April, said Mr Cutts, who was appointed last Thursday.

It is a welcome change from the situation just five months ago. Then, it had to borrow drivers from SBS Transit and SMRT under sub-contracts after 20 bus drivers left just two weeks after Go-Ahead started operations on Sept 4. The last of these contracts ended early last month.

Go-Ahead, the second foreign bus firm to break into the Singapore bus market, also saw an unexpected change of management in November, with former managing director Nigel Wood returning to London - where Go-Ahead is headquartered - for personal reasons. He was succeeded by Mr Cutts, who was previously the deputy chairman.

But the firm is in good shape now and is looking for new ways to improve commuters' experience, Mr Cutts told The Straits Times in an interview on Wednesday.

The company has a fleet of about 380 buses and operates 24 bus routes in the eastern part of the island. It plans to roll out its 25th and final service, No. 68, in April - serving the Pasir Ris and Tampines area, via the Tampines North industrial estate.

In November 2015, Go-Ahead beat seven other short-listed firms to win the Loyang tender, giving it the rights to operate 25 services.

The first five months have been anything but smooth, but Mr Cutts said that the firm has learnt from the bumpy ride. To better monitor staff morale and concerns, it now organises focus groups, has informal engagements and better work scheduling, to keep staff happy

"Our attrition over the last couple of months has been very low. We are talking maybe one or two a week, sometimes zero," he added.

In Singapore, over 1,000 bus drivers resign every year - a turnover rate of about 15 per cent.

Go-Ahead also scaled back on interlining, a practice in which bus drivers ply multiple routes - a source of unhappiness early on.

While interlining is widely used by Go-Ahead in Britain, it is applied sparingly in the industry here.

Mr Cutts said: "What we didn't realise was that for many bus captains who were coming over from other operators, it was not what they were used to."

Now, fewer than 10 per cent of bus drivers - mainly those who ply feeder services - interline, driving two or more routes in a day.

The firm also plans to go bigger on technology in the coming months. It hopes to employ data analytics to analyse journey times between bus stops, so it can come out with more accurate bus schedules, Mr Cutts said.

It is also outfitting its buses with a telematics system - a device which can monitor a bus driver's driving behaviour, such as how hard he brakes, takes corners or accelerates. Mr Cutts said drivers can be guided on their driving habits.

"If they are driving more smoothly, they are burning less fuel and giving our passengers a more comfortable and safe journey," he added.

The extra attention to detail has not gone unnoticed. Recruitment executive Jennifer Tham, 27, who took service 2 last month, said the bus captain - whom she had earlier asked about the route, mentioning her stop - went the extra mile to wake her up after she fell asleep and nearly missed her stop. "It made my day, and I was really surprised he did that."

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport deputy chairman Ang Hin Kee said of Go-Ahead's teething issues: "New operators need to figure out the right management style and business operations, and transit in smoothly. That is a challenge for any new player, local or foreign."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Go-Ahead up to speed after a bumpy start'. Subscribe