SANTIAGO, July 12 (Reuters) - European and Asian companies are eyeing a $500 million contract to replace 3,300 vehicles and overhaul the Chilean capital's much-maligned public bus network, Chile's transportation minister told Reuters on Wednesday.
In an interview before a presentation to investors, Paola Tapia said she has received interest from companies in China, France, Spain, England, Australia, Mexico, and Brazil, some of whom were looking to use Santiago as a jumping off point to compete in more bus auctions throughout the region.
"From the point of view of the number of participants, this has been a success, and we hope that it consolidates into concrete offers," Tapia said, adding that the ministry wanted to award the contract before March, when the current government ends.
"We think this business opportunity has to do not only with arriving in Chile, but also expanding to other countries throughout the region," she added.
Chile, like neighboring Argentina, is trying to attract private investment to improve its ports, roads and airports, and two major candidates in November's presidential election have also pledged to dramatically expand the nation's transport network.
Included in the contract is the replacement of half of the 'Transantiago' transport system - some 3,300 buses - with a more modern, environmentally friendly fleet, including at least 90 electric vehicles. The current system, with long wait times and frequent breakdowns, is widely unpopular, and has become a black eye for the current government of President Michelle Bachelet.
Among the companies interested, Tapia said, are Kowloon Motor Bus Company and MTR Corp Ltd, which both operate in Hong Kong. Both companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside normal business hours. (Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)