The tech firm behind Hong Kong’s only existing “real time” minibus arrival system says it was surprised to hear about a multi-million dollar government tender to fit thousands of green minibuses with real-time trackers, claiming there was little publicity or stakeholder engagement regarding the tender.
Executives at Hong Kong and New Delhi-based iGloble say they weren’t even aware of the tender’s opening, despite being arguably the largest and most active minibus tech firm in the city, and supplying systems for Hong Kong’s first and only “on demand” red minibus, AN Bus.
The HK$65 million minibus tracking contract, quietly tendered on 5 June, was awarded to HKT, a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s PCCW, on 11 September, according to TD’s website.
Transport officials said three companies took part in the tender, although officials would not name the companies taking part. Tender details and technical specifications are still unavailable: the relevant departments have stonewalled Transit Jam’s requests for the official tender document since August.
Claims of unfair tendering processes are often levelled at the government. A police source says government tenders are regularly written to suit the preferred bidder. “We see this all the time – the government wants one particular supplier, and then writes the tender. So for example, for vans, they can’t say Mercedes-Benz would win a contract but they could specify the vehicle needs to have a three-pointed star on its front,” he says.
Another source at a company supplying the Water Services Department made a similar comment. “They write the tender to suit [our company],” they said. “They know what they want, it’s just easier that way.”
But Transport Department’s Senior Engineer for Smart Mobility, Joe Hsie Kwun-kuen, says such accusations are totally unfair, and that the real-time arrival tender was open, public and receptive to any solutions.
He says the HKT solution proposed using Octopus to match minibus position with minibus route, solving a problem with tracking devices which need access to route information.
HKT’s idea, says Hsie, relied on the fact that minibus drivers already need to enter the route to their Octopus machines when they set off – this data will then be paired with the minibus position to give a more accurate picture of the minibus operation, he says.
Hsie says designs will start later this year and some data may start flowing by the end of the year.
According to HKT, the contract will involve around 3,500 green minibuses and 600 routes operated by more than 160 companies.
Tom Chan, Managing Director, Commercial Group, HKT, says the firm is delighted to contribute to the government’s smart mobility initiatives. “[The green minibus] is one of the most frequently used transportation in Hong Kong with over 1.5 million daily passengers. An efficient and real-time arrival information system will definitely offer greater convenience to the public,” he says.
“With our strong partner ecosystem, HKT is committed to leveraging more emerging technologies such as 5G, IoT, big data analytics and cloud services to further accelerate smart city development and uplift smart mobility in Hong Kong,” says Chan.
Meanwhile iGloble Founder and CEO Amit Shekhar says the actual installation of tracking devices is “a one-time thing” and a very basic technology today. His firm is fast developing data acquisition, telematics and connected machine learning designs for bus companies – Shekhar says its solutions in India, including bus operations and maintenance analytics and driver safety analytics using machine learning, could be rolled out in Hong Kong on top of positioning technology.
The company is developing tech that can generate safety alerts, for example, for certain driver emotions, erratic driver behaviour or passengers not wearing masks.