SINGAPORE – Public transport operator SMRT will continue to run 48 bus routes in Woodlands and Choa Chu Kang-Bukit Panjang, after its two contracts were extended by three years until August 2026.
In response to queries by The Straits Times, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it had considered factors such as infrastructural readiness, operational stability and market conditions before extending the contracts, which were due to expire in 2023.
LTA said extending the contracts rather than putting them up for competitive tender was found to be the most suitable arrangement.
It added that the two packages were extended at a “competitive service fee”, noting that there would be no change to the minimum service standards SMRT is required to meet.
Bus operators here need to meet several key performance indicators, including bus reliability and punctuality.
The Woodlands bus package comprises 20 routes, including cross-border service 950, and covers Woodlands Bus Depot, Woodlands Integrated Transport Hub and Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange.
The Choa Chu Kang-Bukit Panjang bus package has 28 routes, including several trunk services to the city and eastern Singapore, and covers Kranji Bus Depot, Gali Batu Bus Terminal, and Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang bus interchanges.
In August, SMRT clinched 26 bus routes in Jurong West, with a new five-year contract to start from Sept 1, 2024.
These routes, which were previously run by SBS Transit (SBST), were put out for tender in November 2022 along with 17 bus routes in Bukit Merah, which SBST retained.
With the extension of its two existing bus contracts and the acquisition of a new one, SMRT is set to be Singapore’s second-largest public bus operator come September 2024, with about 20 per cent of the market share.
This is ahead of foreign-owned Tower Transit Singapore and Go-Ahead Singapore, but behind SBST, which will still operate more than half of all public bus routes here.
Asked for comment, SMRT Buses managing director Tan Kian Heong said the company has been operating public buses for more than 40 years and has consistently done well in LTA’s quality-of-standards assessments for bus operations, maintenance and service.
Mr Tan said: “We are glad that the current Choa Chu Kang-Bukit Panjang and Woodlands bus contracts have been extended for three years from Sept 1, 2023.”
He said that bus passengers “in the Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang, Jurong West and Woodlands areas can continue to expect high service standards from us”.
Since 2016, public bus services in Singapore have operated under a contracting model, in which LTA owns the buses and related infrastructure, plans bus services centrally, and collects fare revenue.
The bus services are bundled into 14 packages by geographic area, and operators are appointed and paid to run these services through a competitive bidding process, at standards that LTA sets.
During the initial transition, only three bus packages were put up for tender, with then incumbents SBST and SMRT signing agreements with LTA to operate the remaining 11 packages under negotiated contracts lasting two to 10 years.
LTA said at the time that these negotiated contracts, which included Woodlands and Choa Chu Kang-Bukit Panjang, would be gradually opened up to competitive tendering.
The Covid-19 pandemic later affected the tendering timeline, resulting in several contract extensions.
A change in the financing model for the SBST-run Downtown Line on the MRT network also led to five SBST bus contracts being extended.
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