By Regina Hong, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio
This post was inspired by Stand Up for Our Singapore’s Christmas Movement 2012.
Bus drivers are exceptionally gifted at resisting the calls of human nature, I deduce.
My friend and I used to have deep philosophical discussions about the universe and life on board of bus no. 961 as we headed to school, whilst trying not to bowl over our fellow commuters as the bus stopped and started like a bucking bronco. One of the things we wondered most deeply about was the power of a bus driver to resist the call of mother nature.
How is it possible that a bus driver is able to hold himself/herself back from answering nature’s call for more than one hour (depending on road conditions)? I hear that the human bladder is able to hold for eight hours (well, that’s what my teachers always said when denying people permission to the bathroom) but what about other kinds of calls? Like if that morning coffee turns out to be a secret instructor in teaching your stomach ninja moves? It’s hardly likely that you can ask your passengers to kindly wait while you hightail off in search of the nearest toilet. No other job I can think of has such an inbuilt requisite to suppress basic needs. For that alone, I am in awe of bus drivers.
Bowel issues aside, let us pause to consider the less glamorous side of people that bus drivers may have to deal with. Passengers who yell at bus drivers for not understanding English. Passengers who attempt to avoid paying their bus fares and grumble when they are caught red-handed (true story). Passengers who talk loudly on their phones as if everyone else were ten miles away. At least we as commuters get to pick when enough is enough, or simply escape in gleeful relief at our stop. To top it all off, they might even be assaulted whilst discharging their duties. It’s not exactly an easy job to hold, which could explain why some bus drivers look rather morose all day.
However, justification of driving as a tough and possibly dangerous job aside, it can’t be denied that bus drivers in Singapore do need to improve on some aspects. Most particularly, their driving skills. It is unfathomable why drivers deem it necessary to speed along over the limit of 50 km/h, then stomp down really hard on the brakes when they see a looming red light. The human body is incapable of defying the laws of physics and remaining in stable equilibrium when such hurtling is involved (unless you have suction pads on the soles of your shoes. Or supernatural balancing abilities). The volume of public feedback could decrease if bus companies just had their drivers meet the basic standard of being able to to drive safely and carefully.
As for complaints that some bus drivers are not fluent in English, it is a fact that some bus drivers are foreign and have never been exposed to English before. Moreover, fluency in a language develops over time, and even the amount of time required is influenced by numerous factors. Also, having a superb command of English is secondary to the more pressing need for bus drivers to commence service as soon as they can, so that they can remit money to their family back home. Considering this situation, perhaps someone could develop an app so that commuters would be able to input their destination for the bus driver. Bus drivers would then be able to tell passengers if their bus has that destination on its route. Sounds better than a shouting match between a fuming commuter and clueless bus driver.
Yes, we could attract locals with better pay packages, but that would come in the form of increased bus fares which would perhaps still do nothing to improve the service standards of bus drivers. Afterall, who can vouch that English speaking locals would be able to perform better than their foreign counterparts? It is inevitable that, in every walk of life, black sheep exist. Rather than attempting to blame bad driving skills and service attitudes on a driver’s nationality, the more pragmatic thing to do would be to focus on the root of the problem: bus drivers need better training before they are put into service, and commuters need to exercise more patience.
While there may be bus drivers with inexcusably bad attitudes, I have met bus drivers who discharge their duties with care and pride. It is this group of stellar bus drivers that I choose to remember when I’m at the mercy of bus drivers who are deeply immersed in their imaginary roles as F1 drivers. Hopefully, this small group of well-performing bus drivers will grow in the years to come.
In the meantime, I will remember to voice my appreciation for bus drivers who wait patiently for me to run after them in a crazed manner, who take extra care pulling in at terminals and bus stops, and who smile at boarding passengers. We don’t have to just think of thanking drivers during festive holidays. Sometimes, the smallest and most unexpected thanks might be the very ones that make a difference.