Thursday 26 October 2023

Reactions in Singapore to ERP 2.0

Following the announcement of the roll-out of ERP 2.0 in Singapore (using GNSS-based On Board Units for congestion pricing), there has been some comment in the media in Singapore about the new system and policy around it. Some of this is likely to be relevant to other jurisdictions considering mandating such technology into motor vehicles.

What do motorists and car dealers think?

The Straits Times published an article on 25 October by Lee Nian Tjoe on what motorists and car dealers think.

Dealerships generally said that they were ready for the rollout, as some had been establishing how to conceal wiring and have the equipment installed in their vehicles, but some still were awaiting information...

Ms Tracy Teo, marketing director of Komoco Motors, which represents Hyundai, Jeep, Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo in Singapore, said the company is awaiting information and instruction from LTA on the next steps.

One of the key issues is that getting such equipment installed in a wide variety of makes and models may present challenges for some varieties of vehicles. 

Comments from members of the public approached by the journalist were largely questioning with some concerns, such as the location of the OBU on the side of the passenger footwell.  One objected to the system having capability to have stored value cards inserted given how technology had moved beyond that. 

The article describes how a fleet operator was used to test installation of 500 devices in a pilot.

Should it have been rolled out in the first place?

A second article from the website Techgoondu is critical of the new system.

Author Alfred Siew describes it as:

the unwanted rollout of a costly project that has taken nearly 20 years to complete, if you count its early efforts. It is clearly outdated and inconvenient for users. Many questions have already been raised about this “next-gen” ERP 2.0 unit when it was unveiled two years ago. Most damning was why it was even necessary.

Part of this is unfair, as it is not a 20 year long project, but it is certainly was being thought about 10 years ago. Singapore needed a new system because "ERP 1.0" was creaky and obsolete, and needed replacement.  It would have been cheaper to go all ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) based, but certain features would not have been available, and it could have simply been an update of the current technology.  However, Siew notes correctly that the "next-generation" features around traffic information are largely available through apps such as Waze.  Smartphones are able to be used as the in-vehicle display is optional, so the question becomes what it would have taken to make smartphones work?  The key issues around reliability and linking it to the vehicle remain, but this is being trialled in Brussels now.

Siew describes the system as old technology, with the stored-value cards which are increasingly obsolete and an in-vehicle display reminiscent of pre-smartphone navigation systems.  Of course many cars have automaker installed telematics with some key elements of the ERP 2.0 system included, although not available for congestion pricing applications. Making Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) telematics systems available and suitable for road pricing is perhaps the "rosetta stone" for ubiquitous road pricing in the future.  Unfortunately efforts to do this so far have been very limited across the globe.

Siew finally criticises it for being a system with the capability to introduce distance based charging, but that capability is not to be used as of yet.  That doesn't mean that it won't  be and it is entirely understandable that a policy decision to do that would not be announced until the entire system is installed and proven, but unless it is used, it seems like an expensive solution to what is just an effort to replace an old system with one with less intrusive roadside infrastructure.

Of course LTA had signed the contract for the ERP 2.0 system some years ago and became committed to the project, so it had to be rolled out.  Hopefully it will all prove to be worthwhile and operate successfully for many years to come.

Distance-based pricing is unlikely anytime soon

Newspaper Today online published an article by Loraine Lee on 25 October saying that it was unlikely LTA would implement distance based pricing soon.

Key issues identified were:

  • How to apply it equitably, including the future of fuel taxes and vehicle registration/ownership taxes, so that those that travel the most are not paying disproportionately compared to what they do now.  
  • Questions over the location accuracy of the technology in parts of Singapore with tall building, and with tunnels (the latter is not a real issue, as systems elsewhere can clearly note when vehicles travelling on a road disappear and reappear at another location, that they must have been in the tunnel on that route). 
  • Need to consider the wider impacts of a shift towards distance-based charging on some road users.
The accuracy issues can certainly be addressed, as they have been in other GNSS-based road user charging systems in Europe, the United States and New Zealand, but the policy issues about Singapore's mix of taxes require some further work to disaggregate.  Clearly fuel taxation will be eroding due to the emergence of electric and hybrid vehicles, and a shift from ownership based taxes to usage based taxes is likely to increase car ownership, but reduce distance travelled by car and congestion, so some modelling will be needed to forecast the impacts on Singapore's traffic (and vehicle fleet size).  

The key point is the new system will provide options, and it would be a poor use of the technology to not have some form of distance based charging or at the very least use it to implement more 'virtual gantries' for pricing.  

Time will tell whether other cities will copy Singapore technologically (they should copy parts of it in terms of pricing policy), my suspicion is that the inclusion of a slot for stored-payment cards is unlikely to be replicated, nor is a in-vehicle display, but the core of the technology still has merits.  The options for using GNSS-technology for congestion pricing are:
  • Purpose built OBUs for professional installation in vehicles
  • Scaled down "self-installed" OBUs
  • OEM telematics 
  • Smartphones
Singapore has chosen the first, we will see if the next GNSS-based congestion pricing system selects an alternative.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting reactions to this and agree it mainly makes sense if they introduce distance based pricing in the longer term.

    On the point about equity, current fuel excise also has an outsized impact on those that drive more given its also quasi distance based, so hard to see a substantial difference there.

    On possible increase in car ownership this would seem to be restricted by the CoE (currently capped at 0% passenger vehicle growth), unless of course the argument is they may move away from CoE if they can price usage right to sufficient dissuade car usage.