Transport of tomorrow: Smart technologies increase productivity for bus operations

SBST, Go Ahead and Tower Transit staff
Technology helps bus operators monitor their fleet, schedule routes and make maintenance more efficient. PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG

The public transport industry is transforming. The Land Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) launched in February spells out initiatives that leverage emerging technologies to increase productivity, achieve smarter mobility and provide better service for commuters. The vision is to bring about an innovative land transport industry enabled by technology and a highly competent workforce. In the second of this three-part series, we look at how technology helps bus operators monitor their fleet, schedule routes and make maintenance more efficient.

Keeping your ride cool


Tan Lai Chua SBST
Leading hand Mr Tan supervises eight technicians at SBS Transit to carry out maintenance works. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Since April 2016, Mr Tan Lai Chua (below) and his team of eight technicians at SBS Transit have been using the Bus Mobile Maintenance System (BMMS) to carry out their duties.

The system allows technicians to use electronic tablets to record maintenance tasks and the data is automatically transmitted to a web-based central database. This means that management review and decisions can be done more accurately and in real time.

The 40-year-old supervises his team as they carry out monthly scheduled maintenance as well as repair works on faulty air-conditioning systems on 700 buses at the company’s Ang Mo Kio Bus Depot. They are the people who keep your rides cool and comfortable.

They keep the air-conditioning on buses shipshape by ensuring that their component parts are replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan.

Before the BMMS was introduced, technicians used paper checklists and records. The BMMS eliminates human error and the tedious time required to transfer the data from paper checklists to the electronic database.

There is also no need for physical storage space to file hard copies anymore.

Technicians can also access e-manuals to access information on parts and components, work instructions, drawings, electrical schematics and other information from the bus manufacturers.

When the BMMS was first launched, Mr Tan and his team faced technical issues such as slow server connections. They worked closely with the IT support team to resolve them.

As a supervisor, he also had to ensure that all his teammates were up to speed on the work processes.

He explains: “Initially, my older colleagues were not used to the idea of using electronic devices instead of paper checklists. So we added features such as adjustable font sizes and an “All OK” button so technicians did not have to tick off each item if everything was in order.”

To make the transition easier, Mr Tan gave his team members one-on-one training sessions.

He says: “Our efforts paid off and we were able to roll out the BMMS system successfully in our depot.”

Mr Tan is involved in both planning and supervision work. He checks on the schedules of the arriving buses which need their component parts to be replaced and plans ahead for the manpower to handle them. Besides this, he troubleshoots for faults with his team if they encounter issues when repairing faulty air-conditioning systems.

“I am a hands-on person and enjoy fixing air-cons the most. When the problem is fixed, I feel proud. It’s like I’m a doctor who is able to successfully diagnose and treat and illness,” he says.

Learning from others

Mr Tan has had the opportunity to go overseas to see how other bus companies operate. In October last year, he went on a one-week work trip to London to learn about Metroline’s operations in hybrid buses and what to look out for when
troubleshooting faults.

Metroline is a subsidiary of ComfortDelGro Corporation that operates bus services in London.

He says: “I found the trip to be very fruitful and useful as it gave me the rare opportunity to meet counterparts from the UK. I also gained insightful knowledge and skills from these overseas public transport professionals.”

In Singapore, Mr Tan attends courses regularly on safety and how to improve the quality of systems.

He says: “I’m excited about the new technology for buses, especially the hybrid and electric buses being used in London and China. I think that these technologies will help us to move towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly world.”

Running like clockwork


Wang Fu Chuan Go Ahead
Service controller Mr Wang manages the bus networks at Go Ahead Singapore. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

On any given day, passengers make more than three million trips by bus. But few give any thought to the people and mechanisms that ensure every journey is made without a hitch.

For Mr Wang Fuchuan (above), 32, this involves managing the labyrinthine network of buses. As a service controller with bus operator Go Ahead Singapore, he monitors bus services in real-time and resolves any emergencies or disruptions that occur.

From his seat at the Operations Control Centre, Mr Wang has a bird’s-eye view of bus operations around the island.

His eyes dart around the screen in front of him, watching the display for alerts and checking that buses are arriving on schedule.

But keeping bus operations running smoothly is easier said than done. For one, road conditions are highly unpredictable.

“I’ve encountered days when the morning started very fine and clear, and suddenly heavy rain created traffic jams and breakdowns,” he says.

“The situation can get very chaotic.”

If a bus breaks down, he has to clearly understand the situation from the bus captain, and then deduce the next best course of action.

He says: “If I determine that the issue cannot be solved remotely, I will immediately deploy engineers to the site.”

Receiving the right training

Mr Wang underwent on-the-job training under an experienced mentor to prepare for his role. The hands-on approach helped him to learn the ropes quickly, from operating the bus management system to responding to a road incident. Regular performance reviews also helped him to improve continually.

He looks forward to progressing to the role of senior service controller, and eventually an assistant manager.

“If given the opportunity, I would also like to experience job rotation with other departments to better understand their job scopes,” he adds.

He says one of the most satisfying parts of the job is seeing buses run like clockwork, because that means commuters have reached their destination safely and on time.

“Knowing that I can contribute to this well-oiled machine that works, rain or shine, motivates me to continue what I am doing,” he says.

On time, on target


Alan Neo Tower Transit
Senior manager Mr Neo ensures that commuter demand is met by scheduling regular and reliable bus services. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Not having a degree was no obstacle to Mr Alan Neo Zu Ming (above) in his decade-long career in public transport.

However, to enhance his knowledge, and with the support of his company, Tower Transit Singapore, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Management (with honours) from the University of Manchester in February. The degree helped him to gain insights on organisational management.

The 33-year-old, currently a senior manager (schedules) at Tower Transit Singapore, works to boost the efficiency of the bus system. He ensures that commuter demand is met by scheduling regular and reliable bus services.

“The most enjoyable part of the job is seeing the positive impact of your work not just on thousands of commuters, but
also on fellow colleagues and bus drivers,” he says.

Tweaking until it’s right

Mr Neo’s job is mostly deskbound. He analyses large datasets generated from bus operations to spot trends and identify potential problem areas.

For instance, operational timeliness is frequently taken into account. If a bus service is consistently early or late, its schedule may require adjusting. Depending on the demand, which is judged by how full buses are, he might allocate more or fewer drivers to bus routes. Schedules can also be tweaked to reflect drivers’ preferences.

With this continual adjustment, buses run more reliably as timings are calibrated to match traffic conditions at different times — they will be evenly spaced out and result in shorter waiting times.

Onwards and upwards

Mr Neo is grateful that he has had ample opportunities for advancement and training. Having previously worked in Hong Kong as a senior executive, he was promoted to a manager when he joined Tower Transit, then a senior manager, even though he did not have a degree at the time.

In December 2015, Tower Transit sent him to the United Kingdom for a three-week training stint. He learnt best practices from different divisions of the company on scheduling, rostering and ensuring that bus drivers are supported should they require roadside assistance. He uses this knowledge to improve the bus system here.

Says Mr Neo: “Nothing beats the satisfaction of knowing first-hand that drivers are happy with their assigned work and that passengers are satisfied with a safe and comfortable ride.”

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