By Poyi (Natalie) Leung and Vítor Quintã
In the wake of the Transport Bureau’s (DSAT) announcement yesterday (see the article on the next page), TCM have stated that they will drop the appeal against the “four-minutes-late” controversy and will accept the offer to operate one of the five groups of bus routes under the new bus service model.
On November 24, 2009 the last day of the public tender for the new bus operation model that was originally scheduled to begin on October 16 this year, DSAT accepted TCM’s proposal and issued the company a receipt.
However, the bid opening committee afterwards rejected the proposal, insisting that TCM was “four minutes late” in submitting their tender documents.
TCM lost to the Government in the lawsuit at the Court of Second Instance earlier this month. On August 12, the bus operator filed an appeal with the Court of Final Appeal.
Nevertheless, in the press statement released yesterday afternoon, TCM said that “in order to cooperate with the Government in the bus service reform, safeguard Macau’s overall image as a tourist destination and protect the public interest and the overall development of Macau’s public transport industry, TCM, after serious consideration and negotiations with related parties, decides to withdraw all judicial appeals concerning the public tender, and accepts the invitation of the public department [DSAT]”.
In addition, TCM pointed out that they will strive to “stabilise their existing crew of 350 staff and ensure a normal operation and quality service” before Macau’s public bus services are to be liberalised.
Macau Daily Times tried to contact TCM executives for further comment and information, but none of them could be reached before the newspaper went to press last night.
If TCM was the winner, Reolian was the biggest loser as they now miss out on the third group of routes. Nonetheless, the joint venture of French-based Veolia and Macau’s H. Nolasco says they are still “happy” to join the new bus service.
“Of course we would prefer to have three sections,” future general manager Cedric Rigaud said, “but it’s a political decision and we respect it”.
Despite being a newcomer, “six months is the time we need” to start operations, he said. Reolian will need 400 bus drivers and, despite “some constraints,” the Veolia China projects director assured “there is a full contingency plan to handle all problems, including labour recruitment”.
Transmac to operate 15 fewer routes
Managing director of Transmac, Chan Hio Ieong, confirmed to reporters in her office yesterday that the company is assigned the first and fourth groups of bus routes, consisting of 10 and 11 routes respectively.
Chan said the new routes will mainly serve the residents in Fai Chi Kei and the Border Gate in Macau’s north, adding that Transmac will still be able to operate most of their existing routes.
Transmac currently runs a total of 36 bus routes.
Although it will have 15 fewer routes in the future, Chan said their profit will not be significantly affected and they will maintain the same number of drivers, currently standing at around 420, since the service frequency will be increased under the new operation model which promises less than a five minute interval during peak hours and between five to eight minutes during off-hours.
Transmac, TCM and Reolian will be paid by the Government according to how many buses they send out to the streets daily.
Chan disclosed that Transmac plans to purchase about 100 more vehicles during the next seven years, and each of them usually costs between MOP 700,000 and MOP 800,000.
Yet, Chan told reporters that bus routes 2, 3 and 7 will no longer be operated by Transmac, while they will get routes 15, 17, 25 and 25X from TCM in the future.
The managing director said Transmac “agrees to and understands it [DSAT’s decision]”, adding that the new operation model should be implemented as soon as possible in order to “minimise the cost in society”.
Chan said that it is not yet known how long the existing bus service concession contracts will be extended, but quoted the DSAT as saying that the three companies should become operational in mid-2011 at the earliest.
While Transmac supports the Government’s proposal, Chan foresees that with more buses expected to hit the roads in the near future, Macau will face more intense challenges in terms of the supply of drivers and road capacity.
The tense supply of bus drivers in Macau is also the underlying cause of the difficulty to improve their service quality as “they know that they can get a new job easily”, according to Chan.
Therefore, she urged the Government to introduce more measures and regulations to maintain traffic order as well as to control the operations of the increasing casino courtesy coaches in Macau.
Moreover, Chan confirmed to the Macau Daily Times that the Government still owes Transmac around MOP 18 million from the bus fare subsidy scheme.
“The Government usually pays us three months late. For example we will only receive the payment for May in August, and then in September the payment is for June,” Chan said.
Chan said the delays could hinder Transmac’s ability to maintain a healthy cash flow, adding that te company has expressed their concern to the DSAT in the hope that the situation can be improved when the new operation model is up and running, under which all bus fares go directly to the Government.