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Australian bus operator mulls entering ‘ideal’ S’pore market

 A day after the Government announced the restructuring of the bus industry, an Australian bus operator on Thursday (May 22) declared its intention to enter the Singapore market, with plans already under way to set up an office here.

SINGAPORE: A day after the Government announced the restructuring of the bus industry, an Australian bus operator on Thursday (May 22) declared its intention to enter the Singapore market, with plans already under way to set up an office here.

Tower Transit, which operates about 400 single- and double-deck buses in London, is among several foreign operators that are understood to be eyeing the route packages that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be putting up for competitive bidding in the coming years.

Its chairman, Mr Neil Smith, who is in town on a business trip, told TODAY the company hopes to set up shop in Singapore next month and is in the midst of assembling a bid team led by staff who will be transferred from London and reinforced with new Singaporean hires.

Mr Smith said it is the first time his firm is venturing into Asia. Singapore is an attractive option due to its stable environment and robust legal framework, he added. In fact, Tower Transit would be “reluctant” to enter most Asian markets, he said.

In deciding where to do business, the company targets what it considers to be “well-run and growing cities around the world”. In this regard, the Republic is “an ideal market for us to expand into”, he reiterated.

Still, Mr Smith said the difficulty of hiring bus drivers here – coupled with the Government’s strict foreign manpower regulations – could be a potential challenge for the company.

As a first step, he said Tower Transit would need to “establish a presence here very quickly” to understand the information that is required to put up a bid. It also needs to study the business environment and characteristics of the bus routes for which it is interested to bid, added Mr Smith.

Should the firm manage to win a contract, it will look into establishing the basic infrastructure to conduct business here, such as information-technology systems.

The LTA announced on Wednesday that, from the second half of this year, the Government would embark on a bus contracting model that would see operators bidding for a package of routes through competitive tendering.

Cities such as London and Perth have long adopted similar models. Tower Transit is a subsidiary of Transit Systems, which is also the parent company of Swan Transit, which operates about 500 buses from eight depots in Perth.

Other potential foreign operators that are believed to be eyeing bus routes here are joint-venture firm Veolia Transport-RATP Asia, French transport group Keolis and United Kingdom’s Go Ahead. These companies did not respond by press time to queries on their plans here.

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