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Transport, Singapore

Christopher Tan
Saturday, Oct 4, 2014

Transport, Singapore

First public bus route package up for bidding

The Straits Times | Christopher Tan | Saturday, Oct 4, 2014

SINGAPORE - Singapore took the first concrete step towards overhauling its public bus industry yesterday by calling a tender for operators to run a package of routes for five years starting 2016.

The tender is expected to draw about a dozen bids, mostly from overseas firms. The move will effectively break up a three- decade-old duopoly held by SBS Transit and SMRT - paving the way for substantially higher service standards on the back of direct government subsidies.

Twenty-six bus services operating from the Bukit Batok, Clementi and Jurong East interchanges were bundled into the Bulim package - named after a new depot to be built off Jurong West Avenue 2 - for the inaugural tender.

It includes two new routes that will serve Jurong East and neighbouring towns.

Commuters can expect wider coverage and shorter waits. The current fleet of 290 buses serving the zone will grow to about 380 when a new operator takes over from the second half of 2016.

By the end of its five-year contract - which can be extended by two years for good performance - the fleet would have reached 500, or more than 70 per cent larger than it is today.

Modification to some of the routes could be on the cards, but the Land Transport Authority (LTA) would not comment.

It said service levels will rise significantly. At least half of all buses will arrive within 10 minutes, up from 30 per cent today. And intervals between buses will not exceed 15 minutes on any route, down from 30 minutes now.

These standards are believed to be unattainable with the current regime because bus fare rises are said to be perpetually lagging behind rising costs.

In the new model, operators bid for government-awarded contracts to run route packages for fixed periods. The Government also pays for operating assets such as buses and depots, but collects and keeps bus fare revenue. If revenues are insufficient, it will dip into state coffers for subsidies.

On the paradigm shift, LTA group director of public transport Yeo Teck Guan said: "We hope to get the best value for money."

Transport operators will submit bids in two envelopes: In one, they will outline how they plan to achieve service standards, and, in the other, they will cite the sum of money they need to do so.

LTA will open the second envelope only if it is satisfied with proposals in the first. It said "higher weightage will be given to quality".

The first tender closes on Jan 5, and will be awarded by the second half of next year. The winner will have around a year to start operations.

Mr Yeo said several companies had expressed interest, "but we don't know how many will actually bid". Among the firms are transport operators from Britain, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and China.

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