SMRT was cheapest in bid, but still lost

This article has been written by Mendi Ang, student

SMRT SALARY REVIEW
Did you know that the lowest bid for the bus routes was offered by SMRT, yet they still lost? LTA seems to be sending the messages that it is indeed serious about quality over price.

Singapore’s two public bus service operators had better buckle on their safety belts lest they get thrown off their seats. Under the Government Contracting Model adopted last year, they are in for a ride. Haven’t heard about this? Don’t worry – LTA’s got it covered in cute video infographics.

To put it briefly, local and foreign bus operators can now bid for bus route packages through a competitive tendering process. They will be paid a fixed fee for their services and get to keep advertising revenue whereas the government gets to charge and collect all fare revenue.

With SBS Transit and SMRT’s Bus Service Operating Licences (BSOL) set to expire on 31 August 2016, what better opportunity to revamp the public bus industry? The government will then have more control over public transport services and help lower the barriers to entry. Competition will also prove good to what seem like a duopoly in the local atmosphere. It will allow chances for local operators to learn from their foreign counterparts. While commuters can expect better services, concern over the fate of incumbent bus drivers and other employees are not uncalled for.

So, our government is THE government and it does what it wants to do… Before you set your mind on a rattle, this change is for the better and definitely not without thoughtful consideration. Measures are put in place to safeguard the welfare of current employees and ensure a seamless transition to the new model.

The Public Transport Tripartite Committee (PTTC) chaired by Senior Minister of State for Transport Mrs Josephine Teo, and comprising LTA, the Ministry of Manpower and the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU), was set up for the aforementioned purposes. The PTTC released the Guidelines on Good Employment Practices in the Public Bus Industry (the “Guidelines”) on 16 September 2014:

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These assurances have been incorporated into tender documents, and will be included in subsequent contracts with successful tenderers. On top of that, NTWU has set up a Bus Contracting Transition Committee to assist in the transition.

A new peak was hit just a few days ago when results of the first tender was announced. To make matters more interesting, the Bulim Package was awarded to Tower Transit Group Limited from the United Kingdom.  Tower Transit is sister company of Transit Systems, which has operations in Australia since 1996. The company itself began operations in the UK since 2013 and now boasts an operation of 650 buses and 2,000 employees.

Operations in Singapore will not be as easy as a ‘copy and paste’ for Tower Transit. The company has to adapt to our social-economic fabric and learn to work with the labour movement here. Quoting Mr Seng Han Thong, member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, “Tower Transit would have to learn to work with the union and the authorities, who may have management styles different from what it is used to.” In this aspect, the company is not without experience and appears ready to adapt.

When Tower Transit started out in London, it had to tackle low morale, ineffective schedules, late drivers and strained ties between depot staff and drivers. The issues got sorted out by Tower Transit Group CEO Adam Leishman and his senior team, with assistance of government regulator Transport for London (TfL). The company even climbed up the ranks from 20th to 10th on the London bus operator league table.

On the successful tender here, Leishman pointed out that its proposals emphasised on making driving jobs attractive as well as job redesign for flexible working arrangements and training. These initiatives are to attract women and the younger population. (Such HR efforts were also undertaken by SMRT: we hope to see more from Tower Transit). Leishman also added that “PEOPLE are our passengers, PEOPLE are our clients, PEOPLE are our workforce… What we try to do in our businesses is bringing that personal element back.” This sounds optimistic for the little red dot whose people are her most valuable resource.

In tune, chairman of Tower Transit Mr Neil Smith said their strategy of training people is for them to move on to better job prospects, “Our ambition would be that people would say, ‘If we recruit someone from Tower Transit, that person has been trained properly… And they are an attractive employee’.” The alignment of the company’s values with what the government has set out in SkillsFuture surely scores it some brownie points. Smith is also keen on developing insights on the shortage of bus drivers in Singapore.

Meanwhile… On its website

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