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Largely positive reaction to public bus industry overhaul

Commuters express confidence that the newly announced government contracting model for the public bus industry, will raise service standards.

SINGAPORE: Reaction to the government's decision to adopt the bus contracting model has been largely positive.

Commuters are hopeful the measures can help raise service standards, while private operators are excited at the opportunity to enter the public bus market.

One of Singapore's largest private transport companies, Woodlands Transport Service, has been hoping to enter the public transport industry since a decade ago.  

"We've been in the business for many years - we know the market, we know the sentiments of passengers. So we believe that we are in a very good position to provide that service to the public," said Mr Roger Wong, the general manager of Woodlands Transport Service.

But the company may face stiff competition. Already, several foreign operators from the UK, Australia and France are eyeing a slice of the pie.

Tower Transit, with operations in Australia and UK, is one of them.

Said its chairman, Mr Neil Smith: "Good public transport involves very high level of coordination between the bus system and the rail system. So we're used to working with that coordination model in Perth, in Sydney and in London. I believe that's an area that can be developed in Singapore."

He also says any business here will be run by Singaporeans: "We don't intend to bring drivers or even management staff from Australia or England here, except in a transitional capacity.

"In London, where we have 1,600 employees, we have one full-time Australian and one part-time Australian and everyone else is from there. And we would see the same model here, that this business will be run by Singaporeans, by people we recruit here," Mr Smith added.

Commuters say they are hopeful the new model will bring improved service levels.

"It's competition. So when (companies) are bidding for the system - if they're not actually delivering something up to standard, probably someone else will come in and take over," Renz Tan told us.

Another commuter Winston Wee echoed this sentiment: "All along, we only had two (bus operators), so to have another one, or a few coming in with a strong background, it will be beneficial for all."

A bigger concern was whether fares would remain affordable.

"Definitely, (the transport authorities) have to monitor fares. Unless they provide better service and more convenience, it's justifiable to raise fares. But if everything is status quo, then the fares shouldn't be going up at all," said James Wong.

Analysts say there may also be a need to revise the current fare formula, which is based on distance travelled, whether by rail or bus.

"In future, the fare revenue income for buses will go to the Government. However, for the MRT, the fare revenue still stays with the operators. It seems that this is not a very ideal situation," said Professor Lee Der-Hong from the National University of Singapore. 

He expects the Public Transport Council to look into whether the overall fare calculation should be revised, or possibly, introduce a new fare formula.


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