Value for Money

Last week, I read Lianhe Zaobao’s article on the National Parks Board’s (NParks) purchase of Brompton foldable bikes and wondered if it was the right decision.

As I am not familiar with foldable bikes, I asked NParks and a few regular users of such foldable bikes for their views.

First: why foldable bikes? NParks explained that the demand on its staff to do field inspections has gone up sharply. Our park connectors have lengthened: another 50 km were newly completed. Tree inspections have also been ramped in frequency to address the issue of tree falls due to adverse weather patterns. Rather than simply increasing manpower, NParks sought to find alternative methods that are cheaper and more sustainable in the long-term.

Providing staff with bikes was thought to be a simple and effective way to raise staff productivity as it enables the officer to cover more ground and do more inspections within the same time. And if the bikes are foldable, it would eliminate the need for an office van to transport the bikes and the staff to the areas of their daily rounds. Just like a good baby stroller, NParks officers could just rely on public transport and carry the foldable bikes up and down our trains and buses, without breaking their backs or inconveniencing the public. (Where such flexibility in deployment is not required, eg. within parks such as East Coast Park, NParks has non-foldable bikes for use by staff).

Each staff in the Park Connector Division typically covers 30 – 40 km a day in his daily work. A good foldable bike is hence considered an appropriate equipment for such staff. It offers us maximum operational flexibility in terms of usage and deployment. It enables our staff to get to the field sites directly and individually rather than needing an office van to transport them and their bikes to the various sites. This is a significant factor in raising productivity all round – manpower, time, vehicle.

Second: how was the particular brand, Brompton, chosen? NParks clarified that it had no particular brand in mind. It was open to considering all brands. Hence, the quotation on the Government website adopted general specifications to ensure that as many dealers as possible could come in.

Unfortunately, at the close of the quotation, only one vendor responded with two options, offering Brompton and another brand (at a higher price). NParks made some research, tested the equipment and after noting that the Brompton bid price was lower than the listed retail price of the same model, proceeded with the procurement.

Cyclists who are familiar with foldable bikes assured me that a Brompton bike, while costing more upfront, is durable and requires less maintenance, especially if heavy usage is anticipated. Its unique folding mechanism also makes it easy to carry and store. This is a useful feature for the female staff.

I have accepted NParks’ explanation.

It looks like NParks has bought the right equipment. However, it also looks like NParks might have gotten a better deal if there was greater participation in this quotation. I have asked MND staff to discuss this case with our agencies, to see if there are lessons which we can draw from this case. In all purchases we should always satisfy the criteria of “value for money” when public funds are involved.

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