[Updated on 13 March 2013 at 3 pm to reflect new Parliament announcements]
The Government is looking into opening up competition for bus routes over the next two years, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew revealed in Parliament on Wednesday.
Lui said that his Ministry will pursue this possibility to ‘some extent’ before SMRT and SBS Transit’s public transport licences expire in 2016.
Responding to Pioneer MP Cedric Foo, Lui held up London’s bus transport model where seven operators compete to run and operate different routes as an example Singapore could move towards.
He said that the challenge for his Ministry would be in “putting together packages of routes together with the supporting infrastructure like depots and interchanges that will support this contestability framework.”
Lui added that he would not rule out the possibility of competitive routes for train services as well and could be open to inviting foreign players to bid for new lines like the Thomson Line.
"How to do so, in what time frame and the details, we will have to work out,” he said, adding that he hoped to see progress within the next three years.
Yesterday, Lui told MPs that the bulk of a $1.1 billion programme aimed at improving bus services should be completed two years ahead by end 2014.
In addition, buses will be given more priority on the roads, with the Transport Ministry spending about $50 million to extend existing bus priority schemes over the next two years.
Lui said that he had asked the LTA to work with SBS Transit and SMRT to accelerate the Bus Service Enhancement Programme. The programme, which involves 800 new buses being added to Singapore's existing bus fleet, was originally expected to be completed by 2016.
He added that he expects about 280 buses to be delivered by the end of 2013, but how speedy the programme will be completed depends on whether transport operators will be able to recruit enough drivers for the buses.
As for bus priority schemes, Lui said that the current bus lane scheme will be extended, with an additional 30 km of bus lanes expected to be added to the existing 180 km already in place.
The number of bus hubs, he promised, would be quadrupled from 10 to 40. These longer and larger hubs allow more buses to pick up passengers at the same time.