A new road pricing system that relies on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology can help traffic management in many ways, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew on Monday, 3 November, and that it would not be financially prudent to continue with the current Electronic Road Pricing gantry system in the long term.
Mr Lui was responding to the questions posed by MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari.
Mr Zainal Sapari had asked about the 18-month evaluation study on the road management measures that had lead to the next generation ERP system based on GNSS, the difference between the projected cost of maintenance of the current ERP and the new proposed system, and the alternative use of land space freed by the existing gantries.
He also asked for the potential impact on motorists in terms of total ERP charges for long-distance compared to short-distance travellers and whether the Ministry of Transport (MOT) is confident that the outcomes in managing the transport system can be achieved under the proposed system.
Mr Lui said that the technical assessment made on the GNSS was based on three criteria;
- To control distance based congestion
- To communicate traffic conditions to road users
- To implement electronic road pricing
Based on the findings of the 18-month evaluation study, MOT had found the system to be able to meet all three criteria. The GNSS technology allows for distance-based pricing along congested roads, thus making it more equitable for motorists, Mr Lui said.
Under such a system, every vehicle becomes a sensor, which will allow the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to develop a more accurate picture of the traffic situation and intervene if necessary.The LTA can then broadcast this data to motorists to help them plan their journeys and avoid congested roads, he said.
LTA is planning to implement the system by around 2020, he noted.
Mr Lui declined to share details of the financial costing of the system as he said it might affect the ongoing tender for the project.
Last month, the LTA called a tender to develop this system; the tender is still ongoing, Mr Lui said.
He assured Parliament that the current gantry system will not be financially prudent.
“The annual operating cost has risen by 80 per cent over the last decade, and a large part of the system is coming to the end of its cycle, and it will have to be replaced, even if we do not move to a GNSS-based system,” said Mr Lui.
He added that the physical gantries also take up land which can be freed up for more roadside greenery. Although the motorists might miss the sight of ERP gantries when they are turned off, said Mr Lui.
Mr Lui cautioned that while a GNSS-based road pricing system may improve traffic management, it alone cannot ensure that Singapore’s roads continue to be relatively smooth-flowing.
Mr Lui said this would require a holistic approach involving vehicle growth, population controls, as well as enhancing and promoting public transport.
Mr Zainal Sapari asked if there was any issues regarding the system about privacy rights as the GNSS would allow the ability to track the whereabouts of the vehicles.
Mr Lui assured that the data from the system will also be aggregated and anonymised – which means it will not infringe on the privacy of motorists.
MP Cedric Foo asked if the new distance pricing would impact motorists, especially taxi drivers and business owners who require delivery vehicles to travel long distances on roads. He also asked if ERP areas would be enlarged with the new system, where motorists would be charged once they leave home, he jokingly commented.
Mr Lui replied that MOT will try to implement an equitable pricing for motorists and would try to offer as fair a solution as possible. Responding to the enlarging of ERP areas, he referred to the point made in May 2013, and said that the pricing will be based on congestion along the road.
Gerald Giam’s asked if the data collected from the system would fall under the personal data protection act and whether the Ministry will make public what the information would be used for.
Mr Lui reiterated his point on anonymised data and said that modern handphones already have functions which would allow individuals to be tracked, and therefore he thinks that it would not be of any concern.