New academy to raise skills and enhance training for bus captains

SINGAPORE - An academy for Singapore's bus captains will be set up in the second half of this year (2016), to train newcomers and deepen the skills of experienced drivers.

The courses offered by the centre - located at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East - will complement the existing training programmes of public bus operators.

The first being rolled out is a five-day, foundational course compulsory for all new bus captains, which will take them through core topics including safe driving, customer service, labour-union relations, and bus ticketing.

The Singapore Bus Academy is an "anchor initiative" of an extensive manpower plan for the bus sector, unveiled by Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo on Friday (May 6).

Mrs Teo said the Government wants to ramp up the pool of bus captains in Singapore from 9,200 today to about 12,000 over the next five years - a "significant increase" of 30 per cent.

"Our aim is to transform the bus profession so that it is more attractive, skills-intensive and respected. In particular, we will help the Singaporean core of bus professionals enjoy good career development and be ready for future transitions," Mrs Teo said.

The increase will support the industry's transition to a Government contracting model, under which bus routes will be tendered out in packages to operators to run, which in turn have to meet higher service reliability standards.

Anglo-Australian firm Tower Transit, the winner of the inaugural Government contract, will start operating nine of 26 routes later this month .

Mrs Teo said the sectoral manpower plan - put together by the Public Transport Sectoral Tripartite Committe - aims to attract and retain local bus captains to strengthen the Singaporean core, and to help them grow their careers.

It will support the national SkillsFuture movement, which aims to upgrade the skills of all Singaporeans and promotes lifelong learning.

Several key initiatives under the sectoral manpower plan include a faster pathway for non-drivers wishing to become bus captains.

The process of attaining a Class 3 driving licence will be accelerated,said Mrs Teo, so individuals can go on to the next stage of training for a 4A driving licence, after which they can be considered for the Omnibus Driver's Vocational Licence (ODVL) - the industry requirement for public bus drivers.

Currently, individuals need to hold a Class 3 licence for at least one year before applying for the ODVL. However, under the new policy, a minimum-mileage criteria will be used as a gauge of candidates' road-worthiness.

The ODVL will also be portable across the industry.

This means that bus captains who resign and join another bus operator will not need to re-apply for the ODVL, which can take sometimes take an average of up to two months.

As part of the manpower plan, a pipeline for future bus professionals will be built, said Mrs Teo, so young Singaporeans have careers in the bus industry on their "radar".

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), for example, has signed an agreement with Republic Polytechnic to introduce more bus-related content in the final year-curriculum of its diploma course in engineering systems and management.

An attachment programme with public transport operators has also been launched earlier this year at the Institute of Technical Education.

The Singapore Bus Academy and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) will also organise outreach programmes to help Singaporeans better understand career opportunities in the bus industry.

National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) executive secretary Melvin Yong said the union is happy with the setting up of the academy and the move to make the ODVL portable.

But Mr Yong said the NTWU will continue to push for a progressive wage model for bus captains.

The union will also work with the LTA to improve the working environment for bus captains, such as better staff facilities - like bigger rest areas and dedicated staff toilets - at bus facilities.