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sbs bus depot behind the scenes

Where Do SG Buses Refuel? We Took A Behind The Scenes Look At A $70 Million Bus Depot For SBS Buses

Behind the scenes of an SBS Transit bus depot

Taking the bus is part and parcel of our lives – whether it’s to work, school, or Orchard Road to hang with pals. But aside from scanning the bus for available seats, our experiences with these vehicles are typically very touch-and-go. If you’d asked me how often buses are cleaned and topped up with fuel, I’d just shrug and say “No idea, as long as the bus comes on time.” 

So when we got the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the Ulu Pandan bus depot, we thought it was a great way to fix our nonchalance about buses. Spoiler alert: we uncovered a tonne and boy do we have a tonne to share. So buckle your seatbelts – this is MTV Cribs, SBS Transit bus depot version. 

What is the function of a bus depot?

sbs transit ulu pandan bus depot

For the uninitiated, a bus depot is where all the buses disappear to at the end of the day. It’s decked out with facilities for fixing and maintaining the buses, including mega-sized cleaning machines, inspection workshops, and administrative offices. 

Don’t get it confused with a bus station or bus park which are mainly where buses are parked. There are some basic maintenance facilities at bus stations and parks, but not as extensive as that of a bus depot. 

An Operations Control Centre that looks right out of a TV show

operations control centre
We weren’t allowed to take photos of the OCC as there were sensitive data shown on screens but just imagine the control rooms you see in spy movies.
Image credit: Flickr

Let’s start with the “brains” of the operation: the Operations Control Centre (OCC). It’s everything you would imagine a control room to be: a myriad of screens everywhere and staff on headsets zoned in on their computers. During our visit, it was a whole shebang of multitasking as staff were furiously typing on the systems while barking orders into their mics. 

We later learnt that they were likely to be speaking with bus captains on the road. This might’ve been due to a bus captain reporting an incident, as the OCC is the go-to contact centre if bus captains need help when faced with situations such as bus breakdowns or passengers that require medical attention. Once reported, the OCC will dispatch the help needed. 

The OCC runs 24/7 and is also where data about the buses, like the speed they’re travelling at, is collated and analysed. Or, when ICA informs the OCC that there’s a heavy jam at the Malaysia customs, the OCC will then decide if more buses need to be deployed to deal with the jam. 

Mega-sized maintenance, repair & cleaning equipment

bus washing bay
These bus washing bays were humongous – think a regular car wash but twice as big.

Ever find yourself wondering if the bus seats you’re sitting on are … clean? Well, you’re surely not alone. We heaved a sigh of relief to learn that every bus gets a daily wash, a weekly manual wipedown, and a monthly manual deep cleaning. 

sbs transit bus depot sky lift machine
The sky lift machine in action.

With these workhorses running their routes day after day, it’s only natural that the buses go through regular maintenance and servicing – and it’s all done at the depot. 

Just like the bus washing bays – the equipment here are super-sized. Heavy duty sky lift machines are used to lift an entire bus in just 5 minutes, with just a push of a button. Once lifted, staff can start their inspection and maintenance of the undercarriage. NGL, it was too intimidating for us to stand under a giant bus so we opted to observe from a distance. 

sbs transit bus depot tyre storage
The tyre storage space. 

We also found out something pretty cool – the bus tyres are hi-tech! Each tyre is fitted with a sensor that helps detect issues such as cracking or underinflation, so staff don’t need to manually check them daily. If you think about it, a single deck bus has 6 tyres while a double deck has 8 tyres; it’s pretty tiring to physically check all of ‘em everyday.

refuelling station
A single-deck bus needs 150 litres of fuel while a double-deck bus requires 220 litres.

You rarely see a bus running out of petrol on the roads, and this is because buses are brought to the fuel station at the depot and refilled with diesel daily. 

money box

While most of us have converted to cashless payments, a handful of folks like tourists still pay for their trips with coins. Honestly, I’ve never given much thought to where the coins go – I just knew that it was impossible for bus captains to dig them out and provide change if passengers had paid the wrong amount of money. 

The mystery was solved when we saw where the money was stored – the money box is a container next to the bus captain’s seat, and it’s locked throughout the entire journey for safety reasons. Once the bus has finished it’s routes for the day, the bus depot staff will swap the money box with an empty container and tally the amount of money collected. 

Surprisingly, Malaysian ringgit is quite a common sight amongst the coins, especially with checkpoint buses as it’s cheaper to pay in Ringgit when you’re travelling back from JB to Singapore. 

bus internal engines

We also got to see how the “insides” of buses were maintained – something you don’t get to see everyday. This included the coolants being topped up, and the engine and gearbox oil being changed and disposed of. Somehow, all I could think about was how strangely similar the systems looked to human intestines. 

Fully decked-out bus captain training & welfare

bus door models

Not everyone is qualified to don the neon orange SBS Transit vest – we’re looking at you, mister 14-year-old boy who went for a joyride on a bus

Unsurprisingly, there’s a whole-ass school in the bus depot, where every bus captain and technician goes through LTA’s Singapore Bus Academy courses to train and prepare them for the road. Surprisingly, though, there’s no boring lecture-style classrooms here; think functioning bus doors and engines that help bus captains familiarise themselves with the systems. 

trainee staff
A trainee learning how to clean the bus doors. 

bus models
Ever seen a bus skeleton? Well, now you kind of have.

The depot also has stripped-down versions of actual buses so technicians can acquiant themselves with every nook and cranny of the vehicle. At first glance, we couldn’t tell what we were looking at. But after a little imagination, it was easy to picture where the bus captain and bus seats would go.  

bus captain seat
There’s also a telematics system that tracks the smoothness of each bus ride. 

Speaking of where bus captains sit – we also got to see the elusive bus seat that no passenger has ever sat before. We usually just see a bus captain here, but there’s actually a whole myriad of gadgets tucked here. 

Each bus has a driver assistance system that allows bus captains to seamlessly report any accidents back to OCC. There’s also the Golden Eye system that detects the driver’s fatigue levels and any surrounding distractions – while we weren’t privy to the details of this super secret tech, it’s always reassuring to know that our bus captains are looked after. 

ilink app

The company also developed an in-house app called iLink, where drivers can track their rosters, report any issues, and access e-learning classes as well. There’s even a scorecard where bus captains can keep track of their performance – such as the number of times there were hard brakings and speeding. 

sbs transit bus depot resting rooms and gym

Bus captains don’t drive for 24 hours straight – although some do take on early morning and late night routes. Staff who wish to kill time or work on their fitness can squeeze in a workout at the in-house gyms. There are resting rooms for them to refresh and nap in too, and there are designated male and female rooms for privacy. 

sbs transit bus depot staff canteen

They can also dine at the giant canteen – it’s fully air-conditioned with free WiFi so staff can take refuge from the heat. 

The bustlin’ operation of a bus depot

sbs transit bus depot

It’s safe to say that prior to visiting the bus depot, I knew absolutely zilch about our buses and what goes on behind the scenes. Little did I know that it takes a whole kampong to service and maintain a bus, and my indifference turned into appreciation for the work that goes into every bus my tushie sits on. 

So there you have it, an inside look into our local bus depot. The next time you board these vehicles, you’ll know where the coins are kept, how often each seat is cleaned and what the screens at the bus driver’s seat are for. 

More BTS content if you’re super kaypoh:

This post was done in collaboration with SBS Transit. However, all opinions are ours.
Photography by Alvin Wong.