Transport Heroes Part 1 - Taking the road less travelled

SHE may be soft-spoken, petite and almost 60 years old, but she can confidently steer a vehicle that weighs almost 15 tonnes while ensuring the safety of all on board and her fellow road users.

Meet SBS Transit bus captain Elizabeth Choong. Having been a homemaker for 18 years, she joined the workforce four years ago as a jackpot assistant. However, unlike most of her fellow passengers who caught a quick nap or immersed themselves in their smartphones during their commute, she preferred to observe the way bus captains drove the buses.

“I’ve always enjoyed driving. During my commutes, I noticed that the bus captains looked very comfortable and confident handling the buses. It seemed like they enjoyed meeting new people too,” she said.

The skill displayed by the bus captains so impressed her that it ignited a desire to embark on a career path that’s less travelled by females. A few months into her jackpot assistant job, she applied for a bus captain job with SBS Transit but was considered more qualified for the role of Assistant Interchange Supervisor in the Passenger Service Centre instead. So passionate was Madam Choong to get behind the wheel that she turned down the offer. SBS Transit relented and her wish was granted. Since then, she has been conscientiously getting her passengers to their destinations safely and on time.

While Madam Choong, 58, initially found it challenging to handle such a heavy vehicle, her journey from housewife to bus captain has been relatively smooth so far. “I’ve not met any difficult passengers. Most of them are comfortable with my driving because I am a very careful driver!” the soft-spoken senior said with a laugh.

Proof of this came just two months ago when a Caucasian passenger praised Madam Choong for her driving. “She came up to me and said: ‘You’re a very good driver. You’re different from others.’

"Before I could respond, she had alighted. I think she complimented me because I chose to wait for a family when they were running for the bus from quite a distance away,” she recalled. 

The gratitude and praise doesn’t always come in words. Once, after helping a wheelchair-bound senior get off the bus, Madam Choong received a rice dumpling from the grateful gentleman.

While she is thankful for the public’s words and acts of affirmation, Madam Choong firmly believes that she is not the only one who deserves to be lauded: “The compliments made me feel appreciated and I was motivated to be even better at my job. I believe many bus captains work hard and would love to receive such accolades too.”

Of course, driving a bus can be demanding. The long hours can be exhausting, so Madam Choong makes it a point to stay healthy. “I am human, and I do get aches after driving for many hours. Occasionally, I run 10 kilometres at East Coast Park, which is close to my home in Marine Parade. I do Qigong too. I also believe in lifelong learning and encourage seniors to follow their passions and keep learning. I am aware that the National Silver Academy offers many courses and I intend to sign up for a course next year.”

Challenges aside, Madam Choong loves her job and has no regrets embarking on this path. In fact, being one of the few female bus drivers in Singapore has earned her some fame. She shared: “My husband once said: ‘The people of Marine Parade recognise you!'

“I replied: ‘Of course they do! I’m the female bus captain’!”

Article published on: 22/11/2016