Refreshed river boat services by 2024 may provide commuting option to Sports Hub

Singaporeans will enjoy at least 25 per cent off ticket prices for sightseeing cruises and guided tours along the waterfront. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Cheaper tickets will be one carrot to entice more locals to explore Marina Reservoir by boat as the authorities aim to refresh the current cruise offerings and take another bid at providing a commuting option by sea to the Sports Hub in Kallang.

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

Boat and tour operators must provide this discount to encourage greater local ridership, an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesman told The Sunday Times.

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

These leisure and recreational experiences - that are targeted to be rolled out from January 2024 - aim to add to the vibrancy of Marina Reservoir as well as encourage local and international visitors to frequent the area, said the spokesman.

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 Sports Hub.

Observers said 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 wake of previous flops, they noted.

The 25 per cent discount will be an added incentive for Singaporean customers, but a key draw will be having a range of activities and events that are built around the Singapore River precinct, said Mr Benjamin Cassim, 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 business 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.

Said Dr Chiam: "(Not covering the whole route) will allow them to curate more focused and interesting recreational activities, such as more engaging storytelling and F&B (food and beverage) offerings based on the interesting sites along the routes."

Dr Raymond Ong, an associate professor and associate head of research at the National University of Singapore's civil and environmental engineering department, said operators could also choose to skip several stops if there is less demand.

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 rates.

Said Dr Ong: "Based on past experience, demand (to travel by boat) is not that high and there is little accessibility due to the absence of integrated river transport urban infrastructure planning.

"Capacities and speeds of the ferries are also much lower than those of land-based transport modes."

Existing 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 operated 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, with passenger numbers at about 10 per cent to 20 per cent of those before the pandemic, said its director Darren Tan.

"Business conditions are still very challenging as tourist visitorship has not recovered to anywhere near pre-Covid-19 days. As faced by many other companies in Singapore, manpower shortage and costs are also some of our biggest challenges," he added.

Both operators said they are also assessing the feasibility of commuting by river taxis, among other optional services.

Said Mr See Toh: "Singapore is very well-connected by public transport and its weather is unpredictable, so commuting by land might be safer."

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