Showing appreciation towards our bus drivers

7 Feb 2019

By Rexanne Yap

It was the first day of the semester. The Campus-Loop Red bus slowed to a halt at Lee Wee Nam Library and the doors opened with a hiss. I gathered my belongings and shuffled to the front of the bus. Reflexively, I smiled at the driver and thanked him.

He shot me a quizzical look when it dawned on him that I was speaking to him.

Feeling the stares of the other passengers behind me, my face flushed in embarrassment as I quickly hopped off the bus. The habit I picked up from my exchange programme in the UK seems to have created an awkward situation back in Singapore.

A culture of courtesy

During my five-month long stint at the University of Hertfordshire, I lived in Hatfield, a little town on the outskirts of London. Buses there were infrequent, costly and limited. Bus waits could last up to 35 minutes, single bus rides could cost more than S$6, and 53 bus routes in the area were cut or re-routed due to a 77 per cent drop in the city’s funding for public buses since 2010.

Despite the low efficiency and costliness of public transport services, the British still made it an effort to thank their drivers. Almost everyone would thank the driver with an enthusiastic “thank you” or “cheers mate” when they got off the bus. At my host university, students would even shout their thanks as they left from the back doors of the campus’ free shuttle bus.

No matter how packed the bus was, how bumpy the ride was or how delayed their arrivals were, hearing a word of thanks from the passengers always brought a smile to the driver’s face and made the journey pleasant.

A prime example - one night in November, the bus from the underground station to the university was delayed by 30 minutes, leaving commuters shivering in the cold and dark.

Despite that, nobody kicked up a fuss or blamed the driver when the bus finally arrived. Instead, the passengers were understanding when the driver apologised for the delay, and still thanked him for his service before alighting.

Turning the culture global

The culture of thanking bus drivers or public transport workers is so strong in countries like the UK, Canada and Australia that there have been internet memes made about the phenomenon on sites like Reddit. One of the most popular memes, depicting people who thank bus drivers as superior to other humans, garnered over 44,200 upvotes and likes in seven months.

Last August, popular online video game Fortnite also added the ability for its players to thank the bus driver before they parachuted out of the hot-air balloon battle bus and into the battle royale arena, after more than 11,400 international fans petitioned for the change on Change.org. Intrigued and inspired by the culture of gratitude, I decided to adopt this spirit of kindness. And so for the five months of my exchange programme, I joined in, showing my appreciation to the men and women who ferried me across Britain’s streets, until it became something natural for me to do.

Graciousness back home

Last October, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Mr Baey Yam Keng paid a visit to the public transport workers at Tampines MRT Station and bus interchange, to launch the Land Transport Authority (LTA) one month-long Public Transport Workers' Appreciation Campaign.

The campaign featured walkway banners, outdoor posters and contests on Facebook to encourage the public to greet and thank our public transport workers with the hashtag #ThankYouPTWorkers.

According to a Straits Times article published about the event, Mr Baey said: “When the bus captain waits for you, just say 'thank you' as you board the bus. It will really make their day, and these gestures will motivate them to deliver better service to the public.”

To cultivate the value of appreciation among youths, the SBS Transit CARES kindness month is another initiative held in 2017.

The initiative saw 1,200 students from Tampines Primary School writing cards and preparing gifts for 6,000 bus captains. Mr Gan Juay Kiat, the chief executive officer of SBS Transit, also distributed meal boxes to the bus captains.

Why campaigns do not work

But such initiatives will need time to hone an appreciative culture in Singapore. Thanking and greeting public transport workers are not yet habits that have been normalised in Singapore, and the short-lived campaign is just one of the many social campaigns launched by the government in 2018.

For a movement like that to kick off, it is up to individuals like us to step up. The habit of thanking the tireless workers of our public transport should start at the personal level, no matter how awkward it may seem.

One brave “thank you” to all the unsung heroes in our daily lives could be the start of a long-lasting culture of courtesy.