Finance at SAS 908: Yeap Transport and the Private Bus Sector

For nearly three-quarters of Singapore American School students, the school day starts with a trip on a school bus. Yeap Transport has been our bus service provider since 1993, and we have found our partnership mutually beneficial for 26 years. However, we know that students and parents sometimes express concerns about pickup times, trip lengths, fees, or—with two serious accidents in two years—safety measures. For context, this week we explore the realities and constraints of Singapore's private bus sector.

Facts and figures

Bus operator Yeap Transport reports that 135 buses transport 2,989 students from 805 different locations to SAS each morning. Riders are picked up near their homes and are kept safe by our contract conditions, which mandate seat-belts for all, one child per seat, a bus not older than ten years, on-board cameras, GPS tracking, first-aid kits and fire extinguishers, and a monitor (or bus auntie) on each bus. Yeap guarantees bus access for all students and a limit of fifty-five minutes per route, except for a few distant or niche areas. The company has an excellent record of getting our students to school on time; only five to ten morning buses are late per month, typically due to highway jams, blocked side roads, or inclement weather.

Besides providing comfortable, safe, and dependable transportation for SAS students, over the last ten years Yeap Transport has kept the costs to parents relatively low through economies of scale and efficiencies in management. In fact, our bus fees have consistently been among the lowest of Singapore's premium international schools. Increasingly, schools are putting such fee information in their parent portals, so we have found it difficult to make such comparisons in the last two years. A chart originally included in this article inadvertently contained incorrect information, and we apologize for the error.

Challenges and constraints

Behind the scenes, Singapore's private bus companies face a number of challenges. Most of the buses our students ride are owned independently by contracted drivers. Yeap's owner-operators must therefore recoup the costs of buying, licensing, and maintaining their buses before making any profit. Over the past decade, the price of a new 45-seat bus with cleaner emission standards has ballooned to $372,500. Other variables include bidding for a Certificate of Entitlement and purchasing diesel fuel; the prices for both have fluctuated widely in the past decade. The Yeap bus fleet's average age is only six years, and while this means safer, more reliable vehicles for our students, it also reflects significant investment by bus owners. Drivers also face a lack of affordable bus parking, with a stay of two to three hours in a nearby lot costing around $20.

The government's emphasis on upgrading public transportation has raised other challenges for the private bus sector. With more SMRT services available, fewer companies and groups need private bus services. This makes it difficult for owner-operators to secure other contracts. Typically, bus owners cover about a third of their total monthly expenses through SAS fares, so they must secure other regular and ad hoc clients to stay in business. Our drivers appreciate that some SAS parents have recommended them for shuttle services between their companies and MRT stations. Another challenge is filling our bus monitor positions due to the nature of the work, with limited hours in two or more shifts per day. While Yeap Transport works to match prospective monitors with bus operators, these positions are becoming harder to fill as the government offers retraining for older Singaporeans to keep them in the full-time workforce.

Student safety and other concerns

With two serious accidents in the last two years, we understand that parents may worry about our bus service's safety protocols. The good news is that Yeap drivers are well-trained and experienced, and their buses are modern and reliable. Every driver and monitor holds a Vocational License issued by Singapore's Land Transport Authority, and our drivers have an average of 10.5 years of driving experience. Upon joining the company, drivers are instructed in standard operating procedures and then assigned to driver-supervisors for a settling-in period. Bus monitors also receive instruction and mentoring. Yeap bus crews attend regular training programs adopted from the American Yellow School Bus industry and enhanced through partnerships with the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Traffic Police.

Both accidents occurred as students were crossing a road after drop-off. Obviously, letting students off only on the same side of the road as their housing would be ideal. Unfortunately this is not always possible. An intensive review of all 135 routes has resulted in a number of drop-off changes, but due to one-way roads or restrictive routing options, some students must continue to be let off across the street from where they live. While elementary school students must be met by an adult, middle school and high school students often walk home alone from their drop off point. Yeap and SAS have been exploring options to promote safe pedestrian and road-crossing practices. Possibilities include viewing a traffic-safety video before school starts in August; inviting the traffic police to meet with students; or offering lessons about Singapore's traffic and pedestrian expectations for new students and rising sixth graders.

Parents sometimes express other concerns about our bus services, usually involving costs, scheduling, or student behavior. As shown in the chart above, our fees remain competitive compared to other schools' services and to hiring a private driver or taxi each day. Regarding routes and timings, parents see only the tip of the scheduling iceberg through their own child's experiences. Yeap continuously modifies routes to accommodate new riders or families who move, and each change can mean knock-on effects for pickup order and timings. Our activity bus stops continue to be a topic of discussion between Yeap and the government; while we strive to use the safest possible drop-off points, we are not allowed to use public bus bays and even some of our long-established stops have been questioned by the LTA. When it comes to student behavior on the bus, parents should bring complaints to Yeap as quickly as possible. Behavioral issues are referred to school administrators for follow-up when appropriate.

We hope this article gives readers more insight into the realities faced by Singapore's private bus companies today and the efforts made by SAS and Yeap Transport to provide the best service possible for our community. The school has created an ongoing focus group chaired by Director of Student Life Kim Criens, which published their recommendations for bus service improvements for implementation here. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, or would like to be involved in the focus group, please get in touch by emailing kcriens@sas.edu.sg. We look forward to hearing from you.