Drive to promote public transport as roads struggle to keep pace with cars
Derrick A Paulo
MORE and more people are driving to work, and the Ministry of Transport (MOT) aims to put the brakes on this and steer people to buses and trains instead.
This will be a key part of the most comprehensive review of Singapore’s land transport system in 10 years. The drive to “aggressively” promote public transport is also, so far, the most specific and measurable target to be set.
Transport Minister Raymond Lim, who was given his portfolio in May, announced yesterday plans to develop “a new urban transport roadmap” for the next 10 to 15 years.
The final destination: A more sustainable transport system to support the growth in population, economy and people’s expectations.
One trend that the authorities hope to reverse is the decline in the share of public transport trips. From 67 per cent in 1997, it has fallen to 63 per cent in 2004 for the morning peak period, despite the heavy investment put into providing a good public transport system, said Mr Lim.
While the total number of bus and rail trips did not drop – rising slightly by 2.3 per cent – this has been overtaken by the 23-per-cent jump in daily car trips from a mere 10-per-cent growth in the car population. About 35 per cent of households now own at least one car.
The trend is to use a car increasingly once it is bought, due to the current vehicle cost system.
“Having paid heavily upfront on a car with a limited period for use before it has to be scrapped, owners tend to drive as much as they can. Another reason is that the additional cost for car usage, even after taking into account petrol taxes, ERP charges and parking, have remained relatively low,” said Mr Lim.
Over the next 15 years, though, annual road growth is expected to halve from the 1-per-cent annual growth of the last 15 years.
If private transport becomes the dominant transport mode, it would be catastrophic” and cause “huge degradation to the city’s liveability and quality of life”, said Mr Lim.
So, the ministry will focus on increasing the share of public transport trips during the morning peak period to at least 70 per cent over the next 10 to 15 years.
Mr Lim said it would be “quite a challenge” to win over a middle-class who can afford private transport.
“People must feel that ‘my other car is a bus’ or train, as the case may be,” he said.
To achieve that, the authorities will improve the bus system through bus priority schemes including full-day bus lanes, new service quality standards and more niche services for those willing to pay for faster or more direct travel.
The Land Transport Authority is also reviewing plans for new train lines, other then the upcoming Circle Line, to recommend to the Government.
At the same time, the MOT review will study how to calibrate vehicle population growth, which averaged 2.3 per cent per annum since 1991. Drivers can expect a sharper trade-off between increasing vehicle population and its impact on higher Electronic Road Pricing charges and more extensive ERP coverage.
Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, told Today the review was timely to “keep Singapore in pole position” relative to rising cities like Dubai and Shanghai.
He also welcomed the emphasis on public transport. “In Tokyo, many senior executives take public transport to work. It takes a change in attitude. It takes the pricing of private transport. It takes the Government making the investments and providing the alternatives,” he said.
Besides a more extensive rail network, trains should be “faster and more regular”, he said. “In Narita, buses come on the dot,” he noted of the city whose airport serves Japan’s capital of Tokyo.
One other outcome Mr Foo would like to see is better coordination between the MOT and the Ministry of National Development in urban planning. Punggol residents, for example, moved in before the Paya Lebar Expressway was completed, leading to extra traffic along the Central Expressway, he said.
Public Transport Council chairman Gerard Ee believes that the anecdotal evidence of the roads being “more congested despite the ERP” suggests there is a need to “question our vehicle population growth cap” of 3 per cent, which will be in place until 2008.
Besides public transport, Dr Paul Barter – assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy – would like to see creative alternatives involving car sharing, car rentals, taxis, bicycles and even in-line skates.
Otherwise, he said, it would take a long time to wait for a comprehensive public transport coverage.
The review will take about a year, and will also look at increasing mobile accessibility and including the public more in transport planning.
I find this article interesting, because you always hear taxi drivers speak of the ‘conspiracies’, and honestly, more often than not, they aren’t wrong. It all starts from the jams, my taxi driver was complaining, and how because COE prices have dropped, there are more and more cars on the road, causing this jams.
“It’s a gahmen conspiracy I tell you! They lower COE prices, so there will be more cars, then later, they will slowly raise ERP prices, and build more gantries! In the long run, they make more money!” says the uncle.
Funny. My first thought was, hey isn’t COE suppose to be the thing that limits the number of cars on the road? COE=Certificate of entitlement mah, if not why else would cars be so expensive in Sg? But then the uncle is not wrong, cause there are definitely more cars on the road – more new cars then old cars being scrapped. What’s more, there are more and more multi story carparks being build in hdb estates to handle the increase.
The uncle might not be that far from the truth. Even the article says one of the measures to combat this ‘increase’ might be “higher Electronic Road Pricing charges and more extensive ERP coverage”. It reminds me of the funny statement my friend used to joke about. He said “Soon there will be gantries that will beep when you leave your neighbourhood.” Maybe not that far from the truth, and perhaps that would ‘convince’ car owners to abandon their cars during ‘peak periods’.