Behind the wheel: A peek into SBS Transit’s operations at Ulu Pandan Bus Depot

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, SBS will host exhibitions at several bus interchanges islandwide.

Kelly Chin

Gets emotionally attached to fictional characters.

Published: 26 July 2023, 4:57 PM

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your day-to-day public transport?

In conjunction with Singapore Bus Service (SBS) Transit’s 50th anniversary, I had the chance to take part in an exclusive tour of the Ulu Pandan bus depot where 470 SBS buses are parked.

During the tour, I learned how bus captains perform their daily duties, how they are trained as well as the daily routines that each bus goes through at the end of each day.

Each bus captain’s day can start as early as 3am. They clock in at the cafeteria, where they find out which bus they will be driving for the day, and what time they would need to depart.

Our tour guide emphasised the importance of drivers leaving the bus depot on time. Even leaving one minute from the appointed schedule can cause a delay for the bus systems.


Bus captains use an employee app to check their schedule for the day. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/KELLY CHIN


He also shared that a bus captain’s work day can last for up to 15 hours, with breaks in between their morning and afternoon shifts. As such, amenities such as rest areas, a gym and a health station where SBS staff can check their height, weight and blood pressure are provided for their use.


Resting rooms come with lockers to store personal belongings. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/KELLY CHIN


The tour then led us to the Operations Control Centre (OCC), which operates 24 hours a day and serves as the primary point of contact for bus captains when they encounter various situations, such as breakdowns, accidents, or when a passenger feels unwell.

On the three projector screens, the OOC staff monitored each bus’ whereabouts, even those crossing the border, ensuring they reached their destinations on time and relaying instructions to captains.

One of the OCC staff members shared that, on days with heavy rain, severe delays may occur, leaving the bus captain with no time to eat or rest. He urges commuters to show consideration if buses are late to their destinations, or if bus captains park their buses at interchanges to take a short break.

We also explored the Singapore Bus Academy where bus technicians are trained through a series of interactive and hands-on modules of the different parts of the bus.

There, we got to experience opening and closing the bus doors with the module that simulates the vehicle, complete with the sound of the bell.


The bus doors made different sounds depending on if they were powered by electricity or compressed air. GIF CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/YRIKA CHAN


Taking a walk to the workshop area, we witnessed buses being lifted almost 2m into the air on skylifts for daily maintenance checks.

I was able to spot several technician staff doing maintenance during the tour. The size difference of the double decker to the person performing checks made me realise how much work goes into ensuring that the buses we take everyday function well.

The head of the workshop explained to us that, with the lack of manpower they face, it is impossible to perform maintenance checks on the hundreds of buses that leave the depot every day.

To combat this, they have installed sensors on the tires which will actively ensure optimal tyre pressure. This allows for easier prioritising of buses for maintenance.


There are 10 repair bays equipped with skylifts for safe and efficient bus undercarriage inspection and maintenance. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/KELLY CHIN


We then got to take a short joyride around the depot, where we experienced the refuelling and washing of the bus we were on.

Every night, when a bus returns to the depot, it gets a refuel and a thorough cleaning on the outside through one of the four drive-in bus washing machines.


The depot has 10 refuelling stations to cater to the numerous buses that return every night. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/YRIKA CHAN


After the tour, we had the opportunity to talk to Muhammad Hafiz, a 29-year-old who has been working at Ulu Pandan Bus Depot for five and a half years.

Hafiz is not only responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the SBS buses, but also the tools that he and his colleagues use daily.

He explained that the challenges of his job are not the heavy lifting aspects, but having to constantly adapt to evolving technology being used in his work.

Even though he is faced with these challenges, Hafiz enjoys making new friends and working with others to better his skills.

I left this tour having a deeper appreciation and understanding of the work that goes into ensuring a smooth and efficient journey for millions of Singaporeans every day.

For its 50th anniversary, SBS Transit will host exhibitions and performances at six different bus interchanges and MRT stations from Aug 10 to Sep 21. More details for the exhibitions can be found on its website.

You may like these