Fourth bus operator's drivers will be trained to advise passengers on what the journey ahead will be like
Go-Ahead looking to help staff get ahead Mr Wood at Go-Ahead Singapore's depot. The operator is looking to keep its workshop processes lean, smooth and digitised.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Don't be surprised if you get not just a hello from your bus driver but also a word about traffic conditions, when you board a bus run by Singapore's newest bus operator.

Go-Ahead Singapore, the island's fourth bus operator, said its bus drivers will be trained to communicate with passengers, especially when there are major delays caused by accidents or road diversions.

Said managing director Nigel Wood: "We will get our bus captains to communicate to passengers getting on and let them know, 'Sorry, there was a delay because of this.' They (the passengers) become more understanding."

As they are in contact with the operations control centre throughout their routes, bus drivers are more aware of traffic conditions, and can advise boarding passengers on what the journey ahead will be like, he told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview last month.

In arming its bus drivers with skills to be more communicative, Go-Ahead Singapore, which starts operations next month, hopes to tackle the frustrations of commuters at the "front end", he said.

Customer service is one of the modules conducted by the firm in its six-week training programme for bus drivers, who are trained to handle commuters through role play in different scenarios.

The British-based Go-Ahead will be the second firm to enter the Singapore market under the government contracting regime. It follows Tower Transit Singapore, which started operations in May.

Commuters said the customer service standards of bus drivers vary widely, so more training is welcome. Engineer Chris Chan, 28, said: "Some will give a cheerful greeting when you board, some try to explain why the wheelchair users have to board first. But many don't as well, so this is good."

But National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said: "The intention is good, but the way the bus captains convey the message has to be effective." Rather than passing information verbally, a buswide communication system can be used.

Mr Wood also gave an update on Go-Ahead Singapore's preparations, saying it is now in the final stages and "very close" to hiring all its 900 staff, including 700 bus captains. It will run 25 bus routes in the Pasir Ris and Punggol areas, launching in two batches from next month.

Mr Wood is confident Go-Ahead can deliver on the contract terms, which reward operators financially for ensuring buses arrive regularly, and penalise them if they do not.

Go-Ahead has some 26 years of operational experience in London and currently has 25 per cent of the market there. Its track record puts it in a good place, he said.

One way to keep buses on time, was to "advance" buses. "For example, if there's a delay coming out of the interchange because of traffic lights that cause a minute's delay, you can have the bus depart earlier. "So by the time it's past those traffic lights, it's on time," he said.

Go-Ahead is also looking to keep its workshop processes lean and smooth. Reports on bus repairs and maintenance will be digitised, with technicians using mobile tablets instead of paper forms. This will enable it to accurately predict how much stock of parts, like tyres, to keep at its depot, and also track the life-cycle costs of each vehicle.

Dr Lee said Go-Ahead's strategy of advancing bus times can be useful but operators here face challenging conditions, partly because bus lanes are not everywhere. "This contributes to delays en route. Even if you 'advance' the bus you can just as easily lose one minute along the way."