Don't Call Him "Uncle": This Gen-Z Bus Captain Is Creating His Own Lane
When you think of a Singapore bus driver, what comes to mind is usually the image of a friendly older uncle. But if you happen to commute by bus regularly in the north, chances are you might be greeted by an equally friendly but unexpectedly younger dude.
Meet 24-year-old Syaz Mohd Salim, a public bus captain with Tower Transit Singapore who is used to passengers doing a double take while tapping their cards. Affectionately called "adik" by his fellow colleagues, he is one of the youngest bus captains in the company, having joined the industry right out of National Service.
While it is a rather peculiar profession for a Zoomer to be in, Syaz considers it a dream job, having developed a passion for buses growing up. Not only does he collect miniature vehicles as a hobby, he has always enjoyed commuting on public transport as a kid.
We chat with our bespectacled bus buddy on being surrounded by older colleagues, memorable and meaningful encounters with passengers, and what a typical day behind the big wheel looks like.
How long have you been driving buses and what inspired you to pursue a career as a bus captain?
I’ve been a bus captain for three years now. As a kid, I always enjoyed bus rides and would often imagine myself driving the bus I was in. The sound of the engines was another thing that amazed me. When I got on a double decker bus, I would race to the upper deck just to get a seat in the front row - for a "first person's" point of view!
How does it feel to be a younger person in this line of work? And how have bus companies made the job more attractive for younger people?
I joined at the age of 21, right after completing national service. Often called “adik” ["younger brother"] or “budak kecik” ["little boy"] by fellow colleagues, I’ve learned to humble myself and listen to older folks’ experiences more than I share my own. But I get an upper hand when it comes to learning new routes, technology and procedures haha!
I do have passengers turning their head twice to look at me. Some start a conversation by asking my age and whether I’m Malaysian or Singaporean. Some even mistakenly address me as “Uncle” while thanking me or asking for directions. It’s a little annoying at first but something which I laugh off after a while.
Different people have different needs. For myself, I feel that the salary offered is pretty competitive - not fantastic, but a reasonable range given the nature of our work and its long hours.
What are some of the other misconceptions you get about your job?
Many think that our job is simply ferrying people from Point A to Point B. On top of driving safely and ensuring pax safety, we constantly have to adjust our speed. The control centre will remind us occasionally to do so.
Factors like running time, crowd level, dynamic road situations and headway between buses influence service efficiency. Missing one green light at a traffic junction could also make a difference, so if we have left you running after the bus, please don’t take it too hard
Tell us about a typical day at work. Do you ply just one bus route or multiple ones?
I work six days a week on a rotating shift. I drive 10 different routes (and counting, because I want to learn more). Driving different routes every day allows me to enjoy different views.
A single shift can be as short as 7 hours or as long as 11 hours. Some duties are overlap, where you can be driving more than one service that day. As buses depart at different timings, a morning shift may start as early as 4.30am while an afternoon shift may end as late as 2am.
The number of trips in a shift depends on the distance of the service. The shorter the distance, the more trips we make.
What are some of the most memorable encounters you've had while driving buses?
A question I always have trouble answering because there’re just too many encounters! I'll share a positive one.
There was once during the Circuit Breaker when a man was running to catch my bus. He thanked me for waiting and went to sit behind. As I was driving, he came forward and said that he had forgotten to wear a mask, something which I didn’t realise too at first. I handed him an extra mask (which I brought for passengers just in case they forgot one). He explained that he was rushing for a job interview and totally forgot to put on a mask when leaving home. He wanted to pay for the mask but I said there was no need to.
About a week later, the same man boarded my bus. He remembered me and happily shared that he got the job he applied for! Not gonna lie but that news brought an instant smile to my face. I was so happy for him! It was indeed a tough period for a lot of people.
@yourbuscaptain 975 has always given me goosebumps \ud83d\udc7b #SGBus ♬ Paris - 斌杨Remix
There was a recent Tik Tok video (@yourbuscaptain) where a bus driver manning the 975 bus route drives through dark roads at Lim Chu Kang. Have you had any creepy encounters of your own?
First of all, my respect goes to all 975 bus captains out there. So far, I haven’t had any creepy encounters (except for creepy passengers haha!) - just goosebumps while passing by certain roads after midnight.
Once or twice, the bell has sounded - but there were no passengers on board. I took it as a mechanical issue (although such faults are rare) and continued driving.
Yikes! Ok let's talk about something else! What is the most rewarding thing about being a bus driver?
For me, it is satisfying to see a crowd in the bus. It feels great to know that I’ve played an essential role in the commute of about 400 to 500 people daily. I end off every shift with a sense of fulfilment despite being mentally and physically tired.
What advice would you give someone who might want to consider a career as a bus driver too?
You’ve got to enjoy what you do. The long hours and negative encounters may wear you out but if you can find joy in this line of work, it will not only be good for yourself, it will also be a good public service to the commuters who make use of our transport system every day.