Thursday, 9 May 2013

Singapore assessing GPS based urban congestion charging

The Star Online reports that the Singapore Land Transport Authority has been trialling a GPS based electronic road pricing system on one road for a year, with the intention being that such a system might replace the existing gantry based electronic road pricing scheme.

According to Yahoo:

"Kapsch TrafficCom, MHI Engine System Asia and NCS, ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems) and IBM Singapore, and Watchdata Technologies and Beijing Watchdata System were awarded the tender" in 2012 to develop a system within 18 months as replacements for the ERP system, each getting S$1 million (US$812,000) to do so.

Singapore's existing system has been the benchmark for urban congestion charging since it was introduced in 1997.  It charges different prices by location and time of day at all of the charging points, enabling differentiated pricing.  Prices are reviewed regularly up or down, depending on congestion levels, with the intention being to maintain minimal levels of service speeds.  As a result, congestion on Singaporean roads is relatively rare for a city of its size.   It is efficient pricing par excellence, and a far cry from the very blunt charge in London, and the slightly less blunt charge in Stockholm.  Revenue is not a relevant influence on prices.

If successful, the GPS trial could mean 80 gantries currently used for Singapore's congestion charging system would be replaced, and vehicles equipped with the existing prepaid card based tag system would need new charging equipment installed.

However, the report doesn't include good news for those with concerns about privacy, as it says it will be used to enforce other laws:

like catching speeding vehicles and those which beat red lights, spotting illegal parking or tracking hit-and-run drivers.  It can help find stolen cars, assist police in solving certain types of crimes, and aid in tracking offenders.

Singapore's authoritarian reputation appears to be the chief concern.

Some bigger questions arise, as such an all pervasive system that would charge for every kilometre travelled could replace the punitive ownership taxes, by focusing on usage.  Singaporeans seem to treat the ownership taxes as just another cost for owning a car, although the other deterrent to ownership is the limit on the number of cars that are registered - people buy and sell and bid for a limited number of permits to own a car that can double the cost of owning a car.  The result, according to the article, is only 12 in 100 own a car in Singapore, compared to 24 in 100 in Hong Kong, a similar city "state", which does not have restrictions on car ownership and punitive taxes (but car parking is largely provided by the market, which prices parking at a premium in this territory with land scarcity in its inner city areas).

Odds are that Singapore will transition to distance, time and location based urban congestion pricing within the next few years.

In the meantime, the Singapore Land Transport Authority is now assessing the outcomes of the trials to consider the next stage, which may be a tender for full implementation.  However, there is currently no deadline for implementation of a next generation ERP system.

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