Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Singapore GPS based distance trials for congestion pricing to start

According to Singapore website Today, the Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA) has announced that it has awarded tenders to develop the next generation of the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, in order to reduce dependence on physical ERP gantries.

Singapore is currently in its second generation of congestion charging system. The first was the Area Licensing Scheme introduced in 1975, that involved having a paper licence for driving into central Singapore. It was replaced with the tag and beacon/DSRC technology based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in 1998. It charges vehicles with on board units that use prepaid smartcards with stored value. Vehicles pass under gantries and get money deducted from the smartcards inserted in the on board units.

ERP has been a great success, with average speeds increasing 20% with its introduction, and prices altered regularly to maintain a minimum standard of service. Every six months, the LTA can change prices up, if traffic has slowed due to demand, or down if speeds have risen. Prices vary according to each of the 80 gantries across roads, with differences in direction of travel, and different charging periods. In short, every charging point may vary in price according to traffic volumes at that point.

However, the limitations with ERP have become increasingly clear. Notably the high cost of installing the elaborate gantries to detect the vehicles. The gantries have been elaborate in part because they have been using late 1990s technology, but also as they involve substantial two-way communications. Unlike most DSRC systems, Singapore's includes payment from the on board unit, so communications must be reliable in both directions. However, the biggest limitation has been the size, cost and unsightliness of installing new ERP gantries.  As a result, given the age of the current system, it is timely for the LTA to consider moving towards a GPS based solution that would allow vehicles to be charged on any roads economically, without the need for gantries.

Today reports that: 

Four groups of companies were selected for the trials to come up with the best solution - Kapsch TrafficCom AB; MHI Engine System Asia and NCS; ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems) and IBM Singapore; and Watchdata Technologies and Beijing Watchdata System.

Each group is to be given seed funding of S$1 million (US$0.83 million) to develop and demonstrate their projects. This includes on-road testing and may involve the installation of roadside equipment in order to facilitate testing.

The trials will last 18 months, but LTA claims it is still an early stage for development of any system.  Let's see if Singapore or Tel Aviv is the first city to introduce full distance based congestion pricing, or will it be another?

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