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Safeguarding our transport workers’ welfare: NTWU and the Bus Contracting Model

By March 8, 2020Current, People, Work

TL;DR – The BCM was a major change for Singapore’s bus industry, benefitting both commuters and bus sector employees. 

The BCM, no not the bak chor mee, is the abbreviation for Bus Contracting Model, which has been in place since May 2016.

The BCM, which was first announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in 2014, aims to provide better quality bus services to the commuting public and to introduce competition into the industry.

Prior to implementing the BCM, the LTA studied the operating models of buses in London and Perth and then adopted some elements from each to customise a model for Singapore.

Under the BCM, the LTA is the central bus planner and owns all bus assets and infrastructure – buses, depots and bus interchanges. As the central planner, the LTA will decide on bus procurement, construction of new bus depots and interchanges as well as introducing new routes.

So, what change has the Bus Contracting Model brought about in the bus industry?

A common identity

Since the LTA is now the owner of all buses, to ensure uniformity, a common livery for all public buses was adopted, similar to London’s red buses.

In a public poll in 2016, lush green was chosen as the official livery colour, being the public’s most preferred colour out of two options. The other option was bright red.

A lush green public bus

 

Eventually, all buses that are currently sporting SBS Transit (SBST) and SMRT corporate liveries will be repainted into the lush green livery.

Route packages

Under the BCM, all bus routes operated by SBST and SMRT buses were re-grouped into 14 packages and these packages will be tendered out in public bids.

These bids attracted keen competition from the local incumbents and foreign companies. The winner of the tender will operate the routes for five years and an additional two years will be added for good performance.

As of 2020, there are a total of four public bus operators: SBST, SMRT, Tower Transit Singapore (TTSG) and Go-Ahead Singapore (GASG).

Among the four bus operators, TTSG and GASG are the newer players entering the public bus scene in 2016 through the BCM model.

Bus Service 97 is currently operated by Tower Transit Singapore under the Bulim bus package.

 

Bus Service 518, operated by Go-Ahead Singapore under the Loyang package.

 

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The public bus operators are responsible for the daily operations and maintenance of bus assets and infrastructure, as well as collecting fares on behalf of the Public Transport Council (PTC).

Previously, fares were set by the incumbent companies SBST and SMRT. With the new BCM, the Government will retain fares collected and decide whether fare adjustments are needed. The operating companies will only collect revenue from advertising and leasing of shop spaces within bus interchanges.

Better journeys for commuters 

Under the BCM, the LTA aims to be more responsive to commuters’ travel needs and make changes to meet the demands by reducing waiting times and improving bus reliability, hence, raising overall service levels.

Bus “bunching”, in which two buses of the same service arrive together at the same bus stop and resulting in long waiting times for the third bus, are no longer common sights for most services.

Under the BCM, bus service levels are raised as the LTA will be more responsive to changes in service demands. To meet the increase in travel demand, the LTA has also rolled out new bus routes under the BCM to bring the public to their destinations faster and relief crowd levels on other popular routes.

The LTA has also purchased and deployed new buses onto busy routes to reduce waiting times.

Under the BCM, bus service levels are raised as the LTA will be more responsive to changes in service demands.

 

Speaking of which, the LTA has purchased brand new buses under the BCM and has been rolling them out for passenger services. These buses are replacing the older bus fleets as the LTA intends to have a 100% wheelchair accessible bus fleet from this year onwards.

That simply means that the old SMRT bendy buses will be replaced by new wheelchair-accessible double-decker buses.

The LTA has purchased 111 additional double-decker buses from ST Engineering Land Systems. More buses mean better rides!

 

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By the way, did you know that the LTA has awarded a contract for the purchase of 100 three-door double-decker buses to two suppliers – Alexander Dennis and ST Engineering Land Systems, following a successful trial of three-door bus prototypes in 2017?

Each supplier will deliver 50 buses each, which means we will be seeing these three-door double-decker buses on the road as soon as this year!

100 three door double decker buses were purchased by the LTA. (via LTA)

 

That’s not all! The LTA has also purchased 50 diesel-hybrid buses and 60 fully electric buses, in a move towards a cleaner and greener public bus journey.

These buses will be equipped with new technologies and more passenger-friendly features such as wider boarding areas, audio-visual displays, and two wheelchair-pram spaces. In addition, a diesel-powered bus was converted to an electric-powered one as part of a prove-of-concept trial.

So yes, these buses are green outside and inside!

A diesel-hybrid bus

 

The Yutong E12 bus (via LTA FB)

 

With the new buses introduced, a new batch of certified technical specialists will also be trained to maintain these new buses.

Safeguarding workers

As seen from the examples mentioned above, routes formerly operated by SBST and SMRT were transferred to new operators.

In other words, these changes will directly impact all staff working for the companies that used to operate these services, from bus captains to maintenance staff to staff involved in admin and planning.

To ensure that all affected workers can have a smooth transition to the new model and do not lose their jobs as a result of a change in employer, the Public Transport Tripartite Committee (PTTC) comprising LTA, the Ministry of Manpower and the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) released a set of good employment guidelines to help safeguard workers’ job security.

In particular, the NTWU has played a key role in the transition, ensuring that the workers’ concerns are addressed and that the welfare of the workers is protected. The union also made sure that the employment terms offered to the workers are not worse than what they had previously. Working conditions for the bus captains have also improved significantly with upgraded staff canteens and more rest areas provided as a result of the union’s involvement.

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And more importantly,

The starting monthly pay for new local bus captains has also increased by over 25% since 2014, higher than the national wage growth of 18% over the same period. All these would not have been possible without the NTWU’s leadership,

said Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary on Thursday (March 5), in his Committee of Supply Debate speech.

More opportunities for workers

In the Ministry of Transport’s Committee of Supply speech, Dr Janil said that the Government will buy diesel-hybrid and electric buses from now on, adding that this is in line with its goal to have its fleet of public buses to run on cleaner energy by 2040.

Dr Janil also noted that the total transformation to electric vehicles (EVs) will be an extensive one and will require a change in consumer behaviours, adding that more electric vehicle charging stations will be rolled out by 2030, up from 1600 today to 28,000.

Apart from EVs, Dr Janil said that trials for autonomous vehicles (AVs) are picking up pace and the LTA, together with the NTWU and the four public bus operators, will develop a training and skills development plan to prepare bus captains for the eventual deployment of autonomous buses.

To start off, 100 staff will be trained under this new initiative.

These initiatives will pave the way for job upskilling and that means better salaries for the bus captains 🙂

The road ahead

The BCM as a whole has brought about changes to the public bus industry and has benefitted the commuting public as well as improving the work level of bus workers.

Moving forward, as dynamics change, the model will also have to be adapted to the changes to ensure that it remains sustainable over the long term so that high-quality bus services can be provided to the public.

Likewise, for the union. It also has to grow and evolve with the public bus industry, as what Mr Melvin Yong, Executive Secretary of the NTWU said,

“The union needs to continue to stay relevant as it serves a growing pool of public transport workers and work closer with the Government and other stakeholders to ensure ground feedback gets reflected timely and that issues and concerns are resolved promptly.”

 

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