4 things I learnt about public buses from the Tower Transit tour

The Tower Transit tour covers the daily operations and facilities found in Bulim Bus Depot.

Han Xinyi

Still doesn’t understand how the kopi c, o, kosong system works.

Published: 18 April 2023, 4:43 PM

As part of a series of exclusive local factory tours that are being run by non-profit organisation MyCommunity Singapore, residents are now allowed to enter never before seen facilities and peek into how industry professionals work behind-the-scenes under the Open My Factory programme.

Among the six tours is one that leads participants to Bulim Bus Depot, which has been managed by bus operator Tower Transit Singapore since 31 Jul, 2015. It serves as one of the company’s two bus depots.

With various facilities and areas to tour around inside, the tour guides provided plenty of facts and insights regarding the country’s public bus history and the work lives of Tower Transits’ staff.

Here are four things that I learnt about public buses and its operators during the tour:

1. Singapore’s first public buses started in 1925

It is not uncommon to spot or even board public buses operated by household names like SBS Transit or SMRT buses, but did you know that they are not the first public bus operators in Singapore?

In fact, public transportation by bus was not introduced locally until 1925, when a British-owned company called Singapore Traction Company (STC) replaced the then failing electric tram system with trolleybuses.

While making our way to the bus depot, our tour guide gave us a brief history into Singapore’s public bus history. During its early days, only 30 trolleybuses were serviced out for public use over two routes before expanding to cover other areas across Singapore like Bras Basah Road and Tanjong Pagar.


While STC’s trolleybuses were well-used among Singaporeans then, there were still issues like poor control over the bus’ exit doors that caused some commuters to fall off the moving buses before the doors were replaced. PHOTO CREDIT: PAUL JUDGE VIA FLICKR


STC also made use of motorbikes and omnibuses during their run in Singapore, though its reputation slowly diminished as a result of customer dissatisfaction and wage conflicts between its workers. 

The company was forced to discontinue its bus services in 1971 due to its eventual financial collapse, and three privately-owned Chinese bus companies soon merged two years later to form the Singapore Bus Services (SBS, now called SBS Transit), thus kickstarting a new era of public bus transportation.

2. Bus controllers work behind-the-scenes to ensure consistent service standards

One of the facilities that tour participants may peek into is Tower Transit’s control centre, where a group of officers actively monitor a number of bus services across different routes and interchanges.

Among the many facts that were provided about the control centre, the one that stood out the most is the importance of the bus controllers’ role and how integral their work is towards managing Singapore’s widespread public bus network.

Bus controllers are in charge of active service control, which includes components such as ensuring the punctuality of bus arrivals at bus stops and interchanges, balancing out the intervals between each arrival, and coming up with new bus routes when emergency situations arise.


They also have to monitor other factors of buses, such as checking that the air-conditioning is meeting industry standards at 22 degrees Celsius. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/HAN XINYI


They are required to work closely with bus captains to maintain public bus transportation standards, as well as to minimise the number of service disruptions or delays so that Singaporeans can get to their destinations with little to no inconvenience.

Members of this fleet are chosen based on their ability to multitask, how well they can communicate with others even when under stress, and public feedback. In fact, some bus controllers have been in the transport industry for years as bus captains before they were promoted to work in control centres.

3. Efforts are being made to introduce more Singaporeans to the automotive vehicle technician field

Did you know that the most frequently used part of a public bus is the doors?

While touring the Bulim Bus Depot, we came across the depot’s vehicle test and maintenance bays, where we were introduced to the different components of a public bus and bus operators’ constant need for vehicle technicians.

It was here that we were revealed to how most of the vehicle technicians working in Tower Transit consisted of workers from Malaysia, Myanmar and the Republic of China, with only a small number of local vehicle technicians being recruited presently.

While that is the case now, Tower Transit is trying to increase that number by recruiting engineering interns from ITE, so as to help upscale and expand their skill sets taught in school to include knowledge on maintaining different models of public buses.

Interns would have access to training facilities that showcase specific parts of a bus for them to take a closer look at its features and mechanics, and hopefully encourage them by the end of their internship period to take up interest in a career in automotive engineering.

4. Electric buses are being phased into Singapore’s public bus transportation

As of present day, Tower Transit is operating around 70 electric buses (also known as e-buses) around Singapore.

This is part of the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) efforts to push for an electrification of public transport, which aims to reduce emissions caused by public transport and instead convert them to become more sustainable.

Commuters taking e-buses can expect the vehicles to hold a capacity of 120 passengers, while also experiencing quieter rides in comparison to the average diesel bus in Singapore.

According to LTA’s Land Transport Master Plan 2040, more public bus fleets consisting of either electric or hybrid vehicles will be phased into Singapore’s public bus transport in hopes of them having “100 per cent cleaner energy”.

For those interested in partaking in the Tower Transit tour, it will only take place on Apr 21, May 19, Jun 16 and Jul 21 from 10am to 12pm. Tickets can be booked here.

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