Nearly two years since their launch, the river taxis that ply the Singapore River have failed to take off among Singapore commuters.
Introduced in January last year, the service was branded as an alternative mode of transport for those who live and work in the area as well as a way to ease traffic congestion on the roads. The river taxis are operated by Singapore River Explorer and Singapore River Cruise.
Today, the bulk of the service's clientele, however, continue to be tourists. About 70 per cent of Singapore River Explorer's customers are tourists, said its operations director Terence Ng. Singapore River Cruise could not be reached for comments.
Both companies cover routes that run from Jiak Kim Street in River Valley to the Marina Barrage, with each operator given 13 different landing spots along the river. The firms also offer 40-minute sightseeing boat tours that are targeted at tourists.
The area served by the boats is simply too small to attract daily commuters, said Mr Ng. Office workers in the area, such as Mr Aaron Lee, 27, who works at a private school in The Central mall, said he could easily walk along the river.
Those who live around the Singapore River also tend to drive their own car or have a chauffeur, Mr Ng added.
The river taxis came under the spotlight late last month when banker Ng Keng Nam wrote to The Straits Times Forum page expressing his disappointment with the service.
A Singapore River Cruise employee had quoted him $15 for a one-way ride from Fullerton to Robertson Quay last month. It was reduced to $3 when Mr Ng, 40, questioned the amount.
He also said he waited 50 minutes for a boat, and urged the authorities to "arrest the worsening standards" of the service.
The service contract stipulates that off-peak waiting time should not be more than 20 minutes.
When contacted, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which appointed the two companies, said it conducts regular checks on the shuttle services.
"Both operators have been found to be meeting the stipulated service standards," a spokesman said, adding that it welcomes feedback from the public.
Awareness, or the lack of it, could be another reason why the service has yet to make a splash with residents and office workers in the area.
Housewife Rashmi Jain, 48, who lives at Robertson Quay, usually takes the bus to get to Raffles Place. "I'm not sure how much the river taxis cost or where to take them from," she said.
Many also did not know that fares are cheaper if they pay with an ez-link card.
Singapore River Cruise charges a flat rate of $3 per ticket paid by ez-link. A ticket would cost between $5 and $20, depending on the distance covered, for cash payments.
Singapore River Explorer does not accept cash payment for its taxi service. Passengers can travel either along Jiak Kim Street to Clifford Pier for $3 one way, paid for via an ez-link card, or around the Marina Bay area for $4.
"Everyone uses ez-link for public transport these days. We want to promote the river taxi among locals by making it more convenient for them," said Singapore River Explorer's Mr Ng. His firm held two weeks of roadshows at Raffles Place earlier this year to raise awareness of the service among office workers.
National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said he is not surprised that commuters are not taking the river taxis.
Given the service's frequency and the boats' low capacity or the number of passengers they can take, "it is not possible for the river taxis to be on a par with other modes of transport", he said.
This article was first published on November 5, 2014.
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