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River boats may offer service for commuters to Sports Hub by 2024

Cheaper cruise tickets part of plan to enliven Marina Reservoir area in govt tender

Cheaper tickets will be used to entice more locals to explore Marina Reservoir by boat, as the authorities aim to refresh the current cruise offerings and launch another bid to provide a commuting option by boat to the Singapore Sports Hub in Kallang.

Singaporeans will enjoy at least 25 per cent off standard ticket prices for sightseeing cruises and guided tours in Marina Reservoir, which stretches from the Singapore River to Kallang Basin, according to tender documents posted online on Sept 21.

As more roads in the Civic District become car-free, doughnut-shaped boats, party boats and affordable transportation around the reservoir are among innovative water-based services that future operators can propose.

These leisure and recreational experiences - targeted to be rolled out from January 2024 - are aimed at adding to Marina Reservoir's vibrancy and encouraging local and international visitors to explore the area, said a spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Boats operated by Singapore River Cruise and Water B for leisure currently ply routes from River Valley to the Marina Barrage area.

When their licences expire on Dec 31, 2023, the two routes awarded under the new tender could expand river services to the Singapore Sports Hub.

Observers said the new plans under the tender will likely broaden activities for tourists and locals in the bay.

But getting people to commute by boat will be a tough sell in the wake of previous flops, they noted.

The 25 per cent discount will be an added incentive for Singaporeans, but a key draw will be having a range of activities and events around the Singapore River precinct, said Mr Benjamin Cassim, a senior lecturer for hospitality and tourism management at Temasek Polytechnic.

"This represents a clear opportunity for collaborative efforts by all river precinct stakeholders to draw in crowds from both locals and visitors, and this in turn will increase take-up rates for the cruise offerings," he added.

Dr Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said small operators may opt to run a part of the route just to be viable.

Tender documents state that the two boat operators need to serve at least eight of the 11 landing points along the route that they are allocated.

Whether local commuters will want to travel via boat remains uncertain, after previous attempts to launch river taxis in 2013 and 2017 were plagued by low take-up.

Associate Professor Raymond Ong of the National University of Singapore's civil and environmental engineering department said that based on past experience, demand for travelling by boat is not that high.

"There is little accessibility due to the absence of integrated river transport urban infrastructure planning," he said. "Capacities and speeds of the ferries are also much lower than those of land-based transport modes."

Current river cruise service providers said they are studying the tender as ridership gradually recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Said Mr See Toh Yew Leong, general manager of Singapore River Cruise, which has been operating boat rides in the area since 1987: "Our customers are at about 20 per cent to 30 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.

"But numbers are slowly picking up, with borders reopening and recent events such as the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend."

Business has similarly been lacklustre for Water B, which began operations in 2017.

Its passenger numbers are at about 10 per cent to 20 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, said its director Darren Tan.

"As with many other companies in Singapore, manpower shortage and costs are also some of our biggest challenges," he added.

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