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Both Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) & Marina Bay Sands (MBS) IRs cease shuttle services September 11, 2010

Posted by hafizbam in Miscellaneous, Private operators.
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Buses to heartland and downtown areas stopped abruptly after directive by CRA

By Andrea Ong, Chong Zi Liang & Grace Chua

The two Integrated Resorts (IRs) ceased their shuttle bus services to both downtown and heartland areas yesterday.

At Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), the bus services ran as usual yesterday morning but stopped abruptly in the early afternoon, after the resort received a directive from the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA).

In it, the authority directed both IRs to “cease all their shuttle bus services with immediate effect”, apart from certain destinations spelt out in the law regulating casino advertising such as the airport and hotels.

Before the directive from the authority, RWS has said on Thursday that it was stopping the eight free shuttle bus routes which pass through heartland locations from 11pm tomorrow but would continue its services to Orchard Road and within the central business district.

That decision came after the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said it was investigating the free shuttle bus services. There have been concerns that the shuttle services were making it too convenient for heartlanders to go to the IR to gamble.

RWS said yesterday’s sudden cancellation could affect up to 4,000 people a day – the expected passenger load over the long Hari Raya weekend.

RWS’ vice-president of resort operations Noel Hawkes said the resort had been working with government agencies to ease congestion at the junction of Telok Blangah Road and Sentosa Gateway by providing bus services.

When RWS put together its transportation master plan, “that has always been one of our plans to have a heartland shuttle service, so that we would bring people here by public transport and avoid people having to take cars and jam up the junction”, he said.

Both IRs had to obtain approval from the Land Transport Authority for their bus routes.

Mr Hawkes also pointed out that the shuttle services were meant for visitors to the resort and not just for gamblers.

“The resort ia a huge place, the casino accupies 5 per cent of the total gross floor area,” he said.

The buses transported about 2,500 people to the IR each day and helped provide the critical mass od people for the resort to be a “vibrant, happening place 24/7″, he added.

Over at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), the only bus service that remained in operation yesterday was the airport shuttle. The airport and certain places frequented mainly by tourists are exempt from the CRA directive. Even before the directive, MBS had suspended at midnight on Thursday its paid bus routes serving Orchard Road and Outram, and its free shuttles to certain hotels. It did so “in cooperation” with MCYS, its spokesman said.

MBS “has never offered any free shuttle bsues to housing estates in the heartland” and its buses serve international tourists, its spokesman said.

Bus operators at a loss after sudden decision

Back on Sentosa, two of the five bus operators contracted by RWS yesterday expressed shock at the sudden cessation of services. They explained that as bus routes took months to plan, they would find it difficult to redeploy their drivers and buses.

Mr Sebastian Yap, executive director of Transtar Travel, said “This is very unfair to us. It’s too harsh to have a sudden change. I’m at a loss about what to do with my fleet now.” His company invested about $2 million in the RWS shuttle operation, purchasing 13 new buses and hiring 36 Singaporean drivers.

Mr Yap said he would try to redeploy as many of the drivers as possible, but some would probably be let go.

Mr Neo Tiam Beng of Transit Network Consortium hired 25 new drivers, both foreign and local, to ply the routes. His company bought nine buses for the IR operation at $200,000 each.  He said: “This is an IR, not just a casino. If we were ferrying people just to gamble, then as a Singaporean I will stop my service. But people are taking the bus with children, so how can they be gambling?”

He added that all 25 drivers he hired would probably be retrenched.

At the RWS bus depot, where the free shuttles usually dock to pick up and drop off passengers, posters announcing a “cessation of shuttle bus services” covered the giant notice boards that had previously displayed the schedules of the now-defunct bus routes.

Signs for queueing bays for the various heartland destinations were removed.

A few confused commuters, such as 56-year-old Tan Ah Leng,were spotted wandering in the depot. He and a friend had taken the shuttle from Ang Mo Kio at noon to the IR to shop.

“They should at least have stopped the buses tomorrow so that we can still take it back. How should I go back now?” the technician asked.

Madam Serene Tan, 52, took the shuttle with her husband and daughter, to look around the IR.

“How about the old folk? They will find it hard to get home now,” she said.

RWS said it will deploy about 100 staff around Singapore to let people know that the free bus services have stopped.

The above article was published in The Straits Times on Saturday 11 September 2010 pages A1 & A6.

Ministry probes free bus rides to RWS and MBS casinos September 9, 2010

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MPs raise concerns about Sentosa IR’s heartland shuttle

By Elgin Toh, Andrea Ong & Chong Zi Liang

The Government is investigating the free bus rides offered by the two integrated resorts (IRs) here.

The probe could have an impact especially on Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), which introduced free shuttle services between the resort and 12 HDB town centres a few months ago.

The investigation, announced yesterday by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), is to establish that Singaporeans are not being encouraged to go to the IRs’ casinos.

It comes amid protests from MPs like Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who told The Straits Times earlier that the free rides encourage Singaporeans in the heartlands to gamble at the casinos. He will raise the issue in Parliament.

When contacted about Mr Liang’s concerns, the ministry said in an e-mail reply: “We are investigating the provision of free transport by the IR operators.

“The IR operators will not be allowed to target the local market or provide incentives in any form for Singaporeans to patronise the casinos.”

Its move is in line with legislation introduced in 2006 to regulate casinos. The law, among other things, forbids casino advertisements in the mass media.

The National Council on Problem Gambling also views the free shuttle services with “great concern”. Its statement said it “disapproves of any marketing and promotion effort targeting Singaporeans and permanent residents to visit the casinos.

“We will work slosely with MCYS to address any possible social impact arising from casino gambling.”

Both IRs offer free shuttle services. The Marina Bay Sands goes between the resort and Changi Airport, as well as hotels in the Marina Bay area. The RWS buses are available at two spots in the Central Business District – International Plaza and Lau Pa Sat – as well as 12 HDB town centres, including Ang Mo Kio, Jurong East, Tampines and Bedok.

Most of its bus services run from 10am to 10pm on weekdays. On weekends, the last bus leaves for RWS at 2.20am.

Yesterday, The Straits Times went on 17 trips between 10am and 9pm, taking buses between RWS and HDB town centres in Choa Chu Kang, Tiong Bahru, Bedok and Bukit Merah. Most buses were 50-seaters.

On the day trips, one in seven commuters walked straight into the casino upon getting off the bus. At night, after the Universal Studios theme park closed at 7pm, two out of five headed for the casino, which Singaporeans have to pay $100 to enter.

Most of the 30 commuters interviewed said they came to know of the free shuttle after receiving RWS mailers in their letter boxes.

Among them was a 60-year-old retiree who took the 10am bus from Choa Chu Kang. He was bringing his family of six, including two grandchildren, to the Universal Studios theme park.

“We’re going because it’s my grandson’s birthday. I’ve never been inside the casino. The $100 fee is too expensive,” he said.

Teenagers and families with children formed the majority on the buses during the day, and were usually headed for Universal Studios or the food outlets. On the night services, the buses were half-full, mainly with workers.

Clerk Jeanette Chan, 45, who visits the RWS casino six times a month, said: “The buses make it really convenient as it stops at the indoor bus bay not far from the casino.”

Previously, she had to cross a road to get public transport home. “And when it rained, I got wet,” she added.

RWS, however, said a survey it did of 2,500 users of its free shuttle shows more than 60 per cent did not go to the casino. It also said that “we do not provide special casino incentives to Singaporeans.”

Six MPs interviewed whose wards are served by the free shuttle say the concerns over gambling ae valid. However, they feel people should keep an open mind as the free bus services benefit those who want to visit the other attractions on Sentosa.

Said Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tanjong Pagar GRC): “I don’t think it’s a big deal… if people want to go, they can easily make their way to the casinos.”

Like some of the other MPs interviewed, Mr Baey said none of his constituents had approached him about problem gamblers in their families.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said the shuttle to Sentosa should stop at 7pm when Universal Studios closes.

He added: “If the aim of RWS is to draw more to patronise the casino, then that is wrong.”

Quotes

No Casino Incentives
“We started our free bus shuttle service following feedback and the age-old perception that Sentosa was too far and inaccessible… As a Singapore-listed company here for the long term, Resorts World does not, and will not, promote irresponsible gambling among Singaporeans. We do not provide special casino incentives for Singaporeans.”
- A Resorts World Sentosa spokesman

Keep Out Of Heartland
“I was very disturbed when I heard about the RWS free shuttles running from HDB town centres. With such convenience, more people in the heartland will be encouraged to gamble at the casino. I hope RWS does the right thing socially – they should voluntarily stop these services. They can run them from hotels or from Orchard Road. But I don’t think they should run it into an HDB town.”
- Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa

Gamblers Will Find A Way
“If buses run through the heartland, people who are weak in their determination might be tempted to take the free bus to the casino. But we have to look at the issue from both sides. Those who really want to go to gamble will make their way there regardless of whether theres is a free bus service.”
- Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Sam Tan

What Casino? It’s A Free Ride
“I’m not going to the casino. Actually, I’m not even going to Sentosa. I’m planning to spend the say in Tampines Mall. So I’m taking the free bus from home in Choa Chu Kang to Sentosa. I’ll then hop on to the next bus from Sentosa to Tampines. It’s my way of beating the rising bus fares.”
- A 48-year-old unemployed Choa Chu Kang resident who declined to be named

Have Free Bus, Will Visit
“I might come more frequently now because of the free bus service. I’ve been to the casino at Marina Bay Sands too, but I prefer RWS… For MBS, I still have to change trains and walk a long distance from City Hall MRT. It takes a long time and it’s inconvenient for me to go home. This bus takes me very near my house.”
- Factory worker Tan Chin Hock, 68, who took the bus from Choa Chu Kang at 1pm. He left at 9pm and said he won $2,000.

The above article was published in The Straits Times on Thursday 9 September 2010 pages A1 & A6.

Personally, I feel that these concerns over the free buses leading to a rise in problem gamblers are totally invalid. As MP Baey rightly pointed out, determined gamblers can easily make their way to the casino. The buses would just be facilitating his travel. The ST survey as well as RWS’ own survey shows that the majority of the bus commuters are not utilising the shuttle to get to the casino. Do we then penalise the majority?

What irked me most though is the short-sightedness displayed by the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Community Development, Youth and Sports Mr Seah Kian Peng in suggesting the shuttle stops operating at 7pm once the theme park closes for the day. Perhaps he should do a little more research and learn that the theme park technically remains open till late to allow those who want to dine at its restaurants to do so -  minus the heat of the day.

The government cannot expect to have the best of both worlds. They chose to site a casino on the same premises as the theme park, each with their own totally different target groups of visitors. Isn’t that in itself a subtle way of enticing the unintended groups to gamble their lives away? For the benefit of everyone, keep the free shuttle bsues.

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