Thursday, 1 March 2012

Singapore not moving to distance based road pricing yet

Asia One reports that the Singapore Minister for State for Transport, Josephine Yeo, has said that it will be some years before a satellite (GPS) based distance charging system to replace the current tag and beacon system will be ready.  The issue is reportedly whether accuracy can be maintained in the built up environment of Singapore.

Four consortia were selected last year by the Land Transport Authority to develop system options to evaluate how such charging could be introduced.  The firms are:

  • Kapsch TrafficCom;
  • MHI Engine System Asia & NCS;
  • ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems) & IBM Singapore; and
  • Watchdata Technologies & Beijing Watchdata System.

I wonder if Singapore is being a little too conservative with this.  Distance based charging, even that which varies by route and time of day is a very different concept to Singapore's existing sophisticated congestion charging system, so it need not have the accuracy often regarded as essential - as long as distance is reliable and any location based variations are not too tightly specified.  In any case, it looks like it may be a few years yet before Singapore moves on from the system installed in 1998.

Meanwhile,  Channel News Asia reports Singapore's prices will continue to be reviewed every three months.  The Singaporean Electronic Road Pricing system has its prices, and times of operation, varied at each charging point and each direction according to congestion levels.  Prices go up if congestion worsens beyond a specific threshold, and go down if traffic speeds up (lower congestion).  Revenue is not the purpose.

These reviews used to be six monthly, they are now three monthly.  Two gantries have seen prices drop to zero in the past two years, as Singapore has not been immune to slowing demand, in part due to higher fuel prices.   One politician wants more frequent reviews, but the Singaporean government is preferring certainty.  Note that the prices in Singapore vary by the following factors:
- Type of vehicle;
- Gantry location;
- Direction of travel;
- Time of day and day.

The time variations can be down to the 5 minutes, so that prices vary by small increments.  

It really is a model of sophisticated urban road pricing, with distance (and the ability to vary prices by individual roads with more flexibility and without having to build gantries) the logical next step.

Those considering urban road pricing could do worse than look at Singapore for a pricing model, it is by far the most efficient and well targeted of any such systems in the world today.  There is a lot about Singapore's culture, society and attitude to the law that makes some comparisons less applicable to Western cultures, but it is unbeatable in terms of applying transport economics to congestion in a city.

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