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Are NParks' $2,200 bikes too costly?

Some compare the Brompton bikes to the $575 Herman Miller chairs bought by the Ministry of Manpower. -TNP
Benson Ang

Sun, Jul 01, 2012
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) has bought 26 bicycles for its officers to use on patrols.

But the purchase has raised some eyebrows.

Some Singaporeans, including netizens, are asking if the chosen bikes - foldable Brompton bicycles costing $2,200 each - are too expensive.

The British-brand bikes - which cost $57,200 altogether - were bought after a tender was issued in January.

The purchase has attracted much attention in online forums, with some netizens comparing the Brompton bikes to the $575 Herman Miller chairs bought by the Ministry of Manpower last year which caused a stir.

Said a netizen in a HardwareZone forum: "Why do you need to spend $2,200 on a bicycle? Don't tell me a $220 (bicycle) cannot (be used)?"

Netizens also pointed out that BikeHop is not the authorised distributor of Brompton bikes in Singapore. The official dealer is Diginexx.

According to the NParks tender notice, which was posted online, the bikes had to be:
- Foldable
- Can be brought onto buses and MRT trains
- Have 16-inch wheels
- Between 11kg and 13kg
- Be at least a six-speed bicycle
- Suitable for long-distance use, on both road and off-road terrain.
- The supplier should provide at least one year's warranty and free basic servicing

Following the tender, there was only one bid - from bicycle shop BikeHop, which offered the Brompton bicycles.

When contacted, bike shops told The New Paper that there are cheaper models which match those specifications.

The store manager of bicycle shop Swiss Valley, Mr Alfred Goh, said that an entry-level bicycle by Taiwan brand Dahon costs only $900.

Said Mr Goh, 27: "Brompton is expensive because customers are paying for the brand, which is very established.

"But paying over $2,000 for a foldable bicycle which is meant for daily use is an overkill. A cheaper bicycle could have been just as efficient."

Mr Lynten Ong, 44, who co-owns bicycle shop TR Bikes, agreed.

He told TNP: "I'm pretty sure there are foldable bikes that probably cost half that price."

Some bicycle shop owners are also wondering if NParks could have found a better deal if it had looked harder.

But NParks said it adhered to government procurement requirements when buying the bicycles.

Its assistant chief executive, Mr Kong Yit San, told TNP that the bikes were bought mainly to enhance the productivity of its staff.

Said Mr Kong: "We did not specify the brand of bicycles in our quotation documents. Proposals from any supplier who met our quotation specifications would have been considered."

Only one proposal received

He confirmed that only one proposal was received in this case.

"Since the proposal met our specifications, and we found the quoted price to be reasonable after comparing with market prices at that time, we decided to proceed with the purchase.

"Nevertheless, we are mindful of the high level of accountability expected of government procurement.

"We will therefore continue to ensure that our processes are fair and transparent."

The marketing manager of Diginexx, Ms Vivian Yuan, confirmed to TNP that it did not know of NParks' tender.

She claimed: "NParks is aware that Diginexx is the authorised distributor. Most local bike companies do not follow Gebiz tenders as one would not expect government agencies to want to buy high-end bicycles for group use.

"A folding bike with 16-inch wheels is not a common commodity like tissue paper and pens.

"It would be fair to assume that (NParks') procurement or purchasing (departments) would want to seek out the various players in the industry to ask them to consider bidding for their bulk purchase tenders, thus doing their due diligence."

Ms Yuan said Diginexx would have also offered a five-year warranty on its frame, and a two-year warranty on its parts for the bicycles.

She also suggested that the stat board could have found cheaper alternatives to the Brompton or approached Diginexx for a quotation to save public money.

Mr Ong agreed with Diginexx's stand.

He told TNP that the cycling community was largely unaware of the tender's existence.

He said: "If we were aware, there would surely have been more bids."

Mr Ong suggested that NParks should consider informing major players in the business about future tenders, or at least putting up posts online informing bicycle companies about the tenders.

"That way, NParks can be transparent and still be fair to bidders."

When contacted, BikeHop managing director Lawrence Lim, 40, declined to comment.

'Cost of each bicycle can be recovered within four months'

The decision to buy the foldable Brompton bicycles was made after careful consideration, said NParks' assistant chief executive, Mr Kong Yit San.

He explained that the workload of NParks officers has increased significantly over the last two years, and the stat board had to find ways to boost productivity as an alternative to increasing manpower resources.

Before the purchase, its ground staff walked long stretches islandwide to carry out site inspections.

But with the bikes, its staff has halved the time needed for site and tree inspections.

Mr Kong explained that these savings translate to about $600 a month per officer. This means that the cost of each bicycle can be recovered within four months.

Level of flexibility

There is also a level of flexibility in the concurrent deployment of staff that was not possible previously.

"For example, we had to use a van to transport non-foldable bicycles to specific sites in the past."

TNP understands that NParks officers can now carry the foldable bikes with them on public transport.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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