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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.

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