S'pore bus captain, 23, turned down offers from 3 local unis to pursue his lifelong passion for buses

He joked that his job comes with a corner office and allows him to sightsee while working.

Gawain Pek | September 13, 2022, 12:43 PM

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At the age of 23, Matthew Tay has taken on a vocation that is considerably off-the-beaten-path in Singapore.

Turning down offers from three local universities, Tay made the decision to pursue his passion, and became a bus captain for private bus company A&S Transit.

He documents his bus captain journey on his TikTok account @idrivebus, which has multiple videos that have gained quite a bit of traction -- one video in particular that detailed the steps he took to become a bus captain garnered over 151,500 views.

On the account, Tay shares with his followers what he does as a bus captain, and how he got there in the first place.

Besides plying his route, Tay conducts vehicle maintenance, as well as cleaning the interior of the bus.

@99colours bus uncle but i'm 23 #sgbus #busdriversoftiktok #singapore #fyp ♬ As It Was - Harry Styles

He also joked in one video that the job comes with perks like a corner office, "boss not around you", and "sightseeing while working".

Passion rekindled

Tay's bus captain journey started in 2021, when he went for his Class 4 driver's license course during his national service.

Speaking to Mothership, Tay revealed that he was actually set to go to university back then.

He had already accepted an offer to study Business Administration at the National University of Singapore in 2020.

Spots were also offered to him in Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University.

"Back then from 2017 to 2021, my passion for buses was dying because the models were all getting more common and there was nothing interesting anymore", Tay admitted.

However, when a friend came knocking on his door with the opportunity to actually drive a bus, Tay's passion was slowly rekindled.

@99colours after 1 month and $1.2k later, this is the journey #busdriversoftiktok #singapore ♬ Say Something - Piano Covers Club from I’m in Records

After attaining his license, Tay would practice driving a bus over the weekends when he got time off from national service.

The more he drove, the more he realised that he "wanted to do something closer to my heart", Tay told Mothership.

Brushed off naysayers

With his mind made up, Tay then had to convince his parents.

At first, they were concerned if he could make ends meet.

When Mothership asked if he could reveal how much he was earning, Tay shied from the question as it was "sensitive".

Fortunately, seeing that Tay enjoyed what he was doing, his parents grew to be supportive. It helped that he was doing this on a part-time basis as well, and could still explore other jobs or positions within the bus industry.

Their blessings came with a caveat though.

If Tay could not make progress through the transportation industry, they reminded him that he "should probably go back to studying".

Not everyone was so supportive though.

Tay told Mothership that the harshest comment he received was that he was a "letdown" for choosing not to go to university.

In the face of such criticisms, Tay brushes them off, choosing instead to live out his passion.

"Passion is what fuels me," he said, adding that he doesn't see himself becoming "a corporate drone".

"I don't want to end up in a mundane 9-to-5 job and do something I don't like, because I'll be doing it just for the money and I'll eventually dread going to work each day," he said. "I want to have fun at my job so it doesn't end up being so draining."

Touched by his godmother

Another motivator was his godmother.

They met back in 2012 when she was plying the route for bus service 860 -- a veteran bus captain herself, she has been driving for over 10 years and sent both her children through university using her earnings from driving buses alone.

Over the years, they kept in touch.

She treated him like one of "her own children" by buying him meals to make sure he did not go hungry even when "she doesn't exactly earn a lot", Tay wrote in his video.

Three years after they met, the pair grew such a strong bond that she suggested she should become his godmother. Tay agreed.

@99colours @goaheadsingapore please take care of her 🫡 #fyp #busdriver #sgbus #tiktoksingapore #singaporetiktok ♬ original sound - 99颜色🌈 - idrivebus

His godmother's kindness and dedication touched him, which further inspired him to pursue the vocation.

Started off sketching buses when he was 7

Tay's curiosity about buses started way back when he was just a kid.

Tay at 10 years old. Photo courtesy of Matthew Tay.

Tay shared that he first gained an interest in buses at the age of 7.

Back then, he would sketch the buses he came across.

He later joined a group of like-minded friends on their bus spotting escapades.

"Our passion developed further since then," he said. "We used to just take photos of buses, but now we drive buses together."

Out of the five close friends he made, three of them are now bus captains.

Matthew and his friends posing with the buses they operate. Photo courtesy of Matthew Tay.

Prepared to put in the work

For Tay, being a bus captain is only the beginning.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Tay.

His goal is to work his way through the transportation industry, starting with the operations team in a public transport company.

"I'm doing this in the meantime while I continue my search for other opportunities in the industry", Tay said.

For Tay, he was prepared to "start from ground zero" to see how far he can go.

Top image via @idrivebus/TikTok.