Fancy a quick weekend getaway? Johor Bahru (JB) is an ideal option as it is just a short drive away. Many of us might be familiar with the public transport options to get you across the Causeway, i.e. the KTM shuttle, taxis or public buses. However, few would know how the day is like for a bus captain who operates the cross-border bus service that transports commuters between Singapore and JB.
I was curious as I sometimes hear of challenges faced by bus captains who operate such services during my regular ground visits with the National Transport Workers’ Union.
While there are multiple public bus services plying the Singapore-JB route, I hear most concerns regarding Bus Services 170 and 170X. Last month, I decided to follow SBS Transit’s bus captain Gobidass who operates the two services, to get a first-hand experience of the journey.
Regular traffic jams are real headaches!
8:30am: I boarded Gobidass’ bus 170X at Kranji MRT Station. Gobidass shared that he often does split shifts on 170X, which is a loop service. This means two trips in the morning starting as early as 5am and two more trips in the evening from 4pm.
Shortly after boarding the bus, we joined a vehicle queue along Woodlands Road opposite Kranji MRT Station. Both 170 and 170X service routes require them to go through Woodlands Road and I understand that they are the only Singapore-JB public bus services that use Woodlands Road. As a result, they are often caught in traffic jams caused by trucks and trailers queuing to return to Johor Bahru.
When such traffic jams occur, commuters are inevitably affected and may lash out unpleasant remarks at our bus captains. However, that is not all. While each round trip is scheduled to take around two hours, they could take as long as four hours to complete the trips, incurring overtime and returning late to the depot. This could delay subsequent trips, and is especially tiring for bus captains who are on split shifts, as they start early in the morning again on the following day.
Stricter enforcement on heavy vehicles or designated bus lane pls?
Heavy vehicles often hog both road lanes along Woodlands Road. Stricter enforcement is required to prevent the heavy vehicles from obstructing the left lane and attempting to cut queue at the front. A better solution would be that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) puts in place a designated bus lane along this stretch to allow public buses a smooth passage.
If not, expediting diversion approval is good too!
Gobidass told me that it is not uncommon for commuters to complain that Woodlands Road should not be used due to the frequent jams. Actually, our public transport operators (PTOs) used to be able to decide on route diversion if necessary. However, PTOs now must obtain diversion approval from LTA and approvals do not come timely.
The union proposes that LTA review the approval process so that PTOs can respond faster to traffic issues. Alternatively, LTA could review the bus routes for 170X and 170, to avoid Woodlands Road altogether and use Woodlands Centre Road instead.
These changes are required to avoid traffic jams and prevent service delays, allowing commuters to enjoy smoother bus journeys and bus captains to complete their shifts on time.
Commuters dashing across the roads? Really dangerous!
10.00am: We finally cleared the jam, checkpoint and got on the Causeway. Just when I thought the journey would be smoother and faster, I realised Gobidass was driving at a cautious speed and I noticed something disturbing.
There were commuters alighting from stationary buses caught in the jam in the opposite direction and dashing across the road in between moving vehicles. There were also persons on personal mobility devices such as e-scooters riding along the Causeway. These are such dangerous acts! They do not only endanger themselves, but also the safety of other road users, especially if drivers had to brake abruptly to avoid knocking into the running men (and women)!
Perhaps, LTA could look into building physical barricades to discourage travellers from dashing across the road, or deploy officers to ensure stricter enforcement.
Our bus captains deserve proper rest facilities
12pm: I’m back in Singapore and it is time for Gobidass’ break before his next trip. However, even if they have the time to rest, they do not have designated areas to park their buses, or a proper resting area to take their break and meals. Currently, this problem is unique to bus captains who operate the services 170X and 170.
While there is a bus park at Woodlands Regional Centre, bus captains lament that private cars often take up the bus lots. This usually means they end up parking their buses along the curbside of Woodlands Road and sitting at the bus exits to have their meals.
Moreover, these bus captains would soon lose the bus park and have nowhere to rest as Woodlands Regional Centre would be demolished in August to facilitate development of the Woodlands Checkpoint extension.
Did you know that at peak periods, service 170X could have 30 buses running concurrently and that more than 100 bus captains drive this service? The union proposes providing proper rest facilities near Woodlands Road for these bus captains. I suggest that a small container office and toilet be placed at this designated rest area, complemented with proper bus parking lots for the buses. We can do it because we have done it before. A similar facility was set up at the Marina Centre Bus Terminal.
We could also build a temporary bus terminal at the open field opposite Kranji MRT station as a rest stop for bus captains and boarding area for commuters. This could reduce the length of queue for commuters outside Kranji MRT Station. Our bus captains could also access the amenities of the MRT station such as toilets and food outlets. This temporary terminal could be used till the land is required for other developments or when the Woodlands Regional Centre reopens.
We can all work together for a better travelling experience!
Did you know that our cross border bus captains also carry the duty of ensuring that their buses do not carry any illegal or contraband item before they enter back into Singapore? They would thoroughly check their vehicles at the checkpoint and this acts as a counter-terrorism measure too. Gobidass shared he had found various such items before, ranging from drugs to cigarettes, and even a human being below the seats.
Our bus captains’ jobs are important and they work hard to service this landmark route. They deserve a safe environment to work in, and we hope that all commuters respect their duties.
The union will continue to engage the LTA and PTOs to improve the working environment of our bus captains. This would go a long way in helping our bus captains provide a pleasant and safe transport experience for our commuters travelling beyond borders.
This is a post by National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) Executive Secretary, Melvin Yong. Any extracts should be attributed back to the author. 20 July 2017.