“ERP gantries” to be built on Singapore River

Posted on 02 January 2013

Former housing minister Mah Bow Tan putting midas touch on river taxi business

A ubiquitous national icon, the ERP gantry, will soon be a feature on the Singapore River this year after the Urban Development Authority approved its construction this week. But unlike its counterparts on land, the proceeds from these gantries will go to the Singapore River Explorer, which won the tender to operate river taxis along the Singapore River.

The Singapore River Explorer is a joint venture between Global Yellow Pages (GYP), which is known for printing thick phone directories that are useful for killing cockroaches, and Leisure Empire, a mysterious company incorporated only in February last year.

First mooted last October by GYP Chairman Mah Bow Tan, the gantries were said to add vibrancy and colour to the otherwise drab and muddy river usually mistaken for a large drain by tourists. Mah also said that the tolls were necessary to keep the river taxi business profitable.

Indeed, according to calculations made by DUCKtours, which lost the bid after running its river cruises for five years, the specifications for the tender will create a “lose-lose situation” for all operators as it will be impossible for any company make a profit.

“To break even, each operator will need a ridership of 1,500 pax (of $3 taxi). The water taxi market is simply not that big, thus the reason for us ‘quacking’ at these specifications,” it ranted unreasonably in its blog, while accusing the URA of favouring Mah in the tender bid.

It however, did not take into account the possibility of the ERP gantry adding to the company’s bottomline. Calls to the company for comment were met with soft sobbing and strangled utterings of “kan-ni-nah…kelong…kelong…”.

“As a businessman, you must be able to confront the challenges ahead of you. Companies that do not have a sustainable business solution should innovate, or be replaced,” explained Mah, who previously served as housing minister and transport minister.

To keep operating costs down, the tour operator will be hiring Philippino tour guides to run the local cruises while the boats will be operated by drivers from mainland China.

“It will be interesting to see if Mr Mah can bring his midas touch to the private industry,” said self-styled political pundit Eric de Yaya. “No one imagined that money could be made out of the public housing market, or from traffic jams. But Mah did. Singapore needs entrepreneurs like him to keep the economy moving forward in 2013.”

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