Friday, August 3, 2012

Few people commute by water taxi


Straits Times: Wed, Aug 01

WATER taxis have been around since 1987, but they have never been the go-to mode of transport for those living and working along the Singapore River.

In fact, many do not even know they can use the bumboats run by Singapore River Cruise and Singapore Ducktours. They think these are for tourists.

In a Straits Times poll of 40 people, 35 said they were unaware they could use these water taxis. But they said that even if they knew, the hot weather puts them off commuting by water.

Retiree Kenny Loong, 60, who lives near Robertson Quay, said: "Singaporeans like myself will not like being out in the sun. Our main priority is comfort and how we can beat the heat."

He expressed doubt that the pickup rate would be good for the service to be relaunched on Jan 1.

Singapore River Cruise and Global Yellow Pages have won the right to run the service at 10-minute intervals during peak hours. The fare for the service, to run from 7am to 10pm, is to be capped at $3 for one-way trips.

An express service, which makes fewer stops, will cost $4.

Water taxi rides are currently priced higher - $4 to $16.

Heat aside, some poll respondents such as bank employee Ravindra Joshi, 27, think a commute by boat will take too long. (See other report below.)

Other concerns include the inconvenience of boarding a boat in work attire, and the location of the landing points.

These limitations aside, half of those polled said they are game to give the boats a try.

Ms Lizzie Greenwood, 52, director of a telecommunications firm, said land taxis are scarce during peak hours, and water taxis could ease the congestion on the roads.

"It might be easier for me to take clients to and fro along the river instead of trying to hail a cab during peak hours. Water taxis will also take me to places where I can eat and shop," she said.

Water taxis will ply two routes to serve business operators, residents and office workers.

One, to be operated by Singapore River Cruise, will run from Rivergate condominium in Martin Road to Marina Barrage; the other route, to be run by Global Yellow Pages, will run from Jiak Kim Street in River Valley to the Barrage.

Details of the routes are being worked out. It is not known whether the existing route from Grand Copthorne Waterfront to Robertson Quay will still be run.

The jury is out on whether non-tourists will use the services.

Singapore River Cruise boat captain Chew Eng Hong, 68, said non-tourists who take the boats are usually expatriates who travel from Marina Bay Sands back to their condominiums at night.

Ms Pamela Wee, deputy director of Singapore Ducktours, which will bow out of the business in the new year, said its 16 Hippo River Cruise boats have been ferrying mainly tourists. Only 20 of the 1,000 passengers its boats carry are non-tourist commuters, she said.

To beat the heat, the Urban Redevelopment Authority said it will build sheltered waiting areas at the landing points.

Transport analyst Tham Chen Munn said that for the service to work, it has to be publicised.

"Looking at the big picture, I see it being useful in serving areas such as Raffles Place and Robertson Quay, since about 50,000 people work in the Central Business District itself," he said.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, former chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Transport, said water taxis are a good alternative to a land commute.

"If the roads are congested and the waterways are clear, it's certainly a viable option."



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