Debate on President’s Speech – Speech by Dennis Tan

(Delivered in Parliament on 15 May 2018)

Mr Speaker, Sir, the President said in her address for the opening of the second session of Parliament that with bold thinking we will create a metropolis that embraces the future. In my speech today, I will be focusing on certain issues relating to our transport.


In the Addendum to the President’s Address, Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, pointed out that good connectivity bolsters Singapore’s vibrant economy. I totally agree with him.

At the Committee of Supply Debates in 2016 and 2017, I said that we should be greatly concerned with the loss of productivity to all our workers and our economy arising from the man hours lost to all train disruptions and delays over the last few years.

I wonder whether the Government has ever done a study to measure the loss of productivity to our economy arising from train delays and disruptions between 2011 and 2017 – all the time wasted due to delays from getting to work and getting home after a tired day at work including the unhappiness, stress and anxiety generated.

Regardless of whether the Government may think that the worst of our rail unreliability and frequent train disruptions may be over, we must not forget the lessons learnt from the poor maintenance management, the poor planning of our rail system and infrastructure or the impact of train delays on our economy and commuters.

Even as the Government plans and brings about the expansion of our rail network, I hope the same lessons will provide a firm reminder to get the planning, equipment, infrastructure and even the ethos right, from the beginning.

As our MRT network increases with the building of new MRT lines, such as Thomson-East Coast Line, Jurong Region Line and Cross-Island Line, I hope Government will, for example, be learning from our experience with the North-South and East-West Lines and plan for a system with, not merely sufficient capacity when each line opens, but with provisions built into the plans for greater capacity for more or longer trains in all our new MRT lines and greater capacity for passengers in all stations.

Perhaps the Government can share more details of the new MRT lines that will assure the public that the designs for the new lines, trains and stations will be forward thinking and will cater to projected increase in our population and projected commuter traffic loads in the next 50 years.

Minister Khaw also stated in the Addendum to the President’s Address that we will develop a workforce of capable engineers and technicians. I hope with the rail academy as well as good HR practices, we will not merely develop a strong team of capable and experienced engineers and technicians in the years to come, but we should also aim to develop good managers in different aspects of rail operations and management including senior management.


The President mentioned the building of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) and the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) in her speech. I hope that we can start the building and operation of the HSR and RTS with the right focus on sound design, engineering and operating system as well as a good maintenance regime supported by a professional and well trained staff working with the right corporate culture, and avoid the design and maintenance issues we have seen with our MRT system and trains.

PMDs and bicycles: the lack of a good riding culture

The drive towards a ‘car-lite’ city and active mobility for the first-last mile connectivity for public transport have led to the Government’s focus on the use of shared bicycles and personal mobility devices (PMDs).

The new Active Mobility Act also allowed PMD users and cyclists shared use of footpaths which was previously prohibited. The popular use of shared bikes brought with it more problems as we have heard in this House in the past year.

If the Government truly thinks that a ‘car-lite’ city as well as first-last mile connectivity are important for the future of our transportation system and will, in the President’s words, play an important part in a metropolis that embraces the future, I feel that this is a critical moment for us to get it right as far as the safe and proper operation of transport modes for first-last mile connectivity is concerned.

If the Government wants to promote PMDs and bicycles for first-last mile connectivity, it needs to really focus on building a good riding culture, something that is really lacking at the moment. But we have to go about setting right this riding culture now and if not we may miss the boat again. And that is why I am raising this issue here today.

Think of the accidents or near misses involving PMD users and pedestrians. Think of people walking along footpaths or walkways being startled by inconsiderate cyclists or PMD users. Think of cyclists not stopping at red lights or cycling against the traffic. Think of PMDs using roads illegally.

In recent months, we have seen much publicity of LTA taking various enforcement actions against errant use of PMDs and e-scooters being impounded for illegal use on roads or illegal e-bikes being impounded.

While enforcement is important, it alone may have limited effect in creating a good riding culture. Only people who are caught are punished and sent for safe riding courses.

But what about those who ride dangerously or in breach of our laws and get away with it as our law enforcement officers cannot be everywhere?

Or those who ride inconsiderately frightening or inconveniencing others eg riding close to pedestrians or not giving way to those in need like the elderly or those with mobility issue?

Similarly, the Government’s plans to register all PMD users will not automatically create a good riding culture among users. Like current enforcement efforts, it may, to some extent, deter reckless or illegal riding at best. Deterring reckless or illegal riding alone cannot be our only end goals.

Enforcement has to be consistent. Inconsistent enforcement against errant cyclists remains an issue. We still see, for example, cyclists cycling against the flow of traffic or beating red lights but there is relatively little enforcement compared to PMDs. With the proliferation of shared bicycles and by allowing shared use on footpaths and walkways, we need to sort out our poor cycling culture too.

We need to evaluate how effective are our public education efforts in promoting legal, safe and considerate use of PMDs or bicycles to the majority of our people.

Public education is important and must go hand in hand with consistent enforcement. At the moment, education only reaches out directly to limited groups of people e.g. students, offenders, foreign workers or people who voluntarily sign up for such classes or read up on such literature online.

Ultimately how is the Government going to ensure that the ethos of safe riding and good riding etiquette can be understood by all, regardless of riders or pedestrians?

Many riders and pedestrians seem to have the mindset that they each have the right of way in footpaths and walkways and even on public connectors. To change this mindset, there is more for us to do to educate the public beyond what is being done.

Does the Government plan to expand its public education programme to reach out to the masses beyond its current efforts?

I will end this part of my speech with a suggestion to the Government to improve the situation for safe and considerate use of PMDs. Will the Government consider lowering the speed limit for PMDs to 15 km/h across all surfaces? Currently, PMDs are allowed up to a maximum of 25 km/h on park connectors. I think this is still an unsafe speed limit. I would invite the minister to take a walk with me along a busy park connector and experience whether it is safe for PMDs to travel at that kind of speed in a park connector especially during peak period. Moreover many PMD users exceed 15 km/h even on footpaths too.

Pollution from an expanding Changi airport

The President said that we will invest in infrastructure to keep Singapore one of the best connected cities in Asia, citing our Changi Airport expansion as an example. The Changi airport expansion is exciting and promises much about staying ahead as an international and regional air hub.

At the same time, the President also said that we want to live in a world class city and an endearing home –clean, green and efficient, fun and connected.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Mr Masagos said in the ministry’s Addendum to the President’s Address that since independence, we have pursued our vision of a liveable and sustainable Singapore, balancing environmental protection and economic growth.

Singapore is a small city. Our homes, our living spaces and our green spaces are never far from our offices, our industrial premises, our ports and our airport. For example, within a few kilometres from Changi airport, you will start hitting private residential estates, condos and HDB estates – Changi, Tampines, Simei, Pasir Ris. The popular Changi Beach is literally just at the door step of one of the airport runways.

Recently I raised some concerns in Parliament about noise and air pollution arising from the expansion of Changi airport and the possible impact of Singaporeans living near the airport and on the eastern and north eastern part of Singapore, pointing to aircraft as well as vehicular traffic emissions associated with the airport.

I mentioned that the toxic emissions associated with airports included various pollutants, including carbon emissions, which was the subject of Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia), a scheme implemented under the Aviation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill in March this year. Corsia is a carbon offset scheme; it does not mean zero carbon emissions from the aircraft plying Changi. With bigger airport and more flights, there will be more emissions and hence more pollution from the various toxic emissions.

I also asked about the present levels of the various pollutants as well as the projected levels when Terminal 5 opens. According to the minister, the ministry had not done any study on air or noise pollution and will consider my proposal of doing a study especially on air pollution.

Environmental pollution is a key consideration when building airports or airport extensions in many developed countries. The Government should ensure that the airport extension together with projected increase in flights will not lead to an increase in air or noise pollution affecting residents living within a radius of at least 10-15 km of the airport. That will hit the estates I mentioned plus I believe Bedok, East Coast and even parts of Marine Parade area.

I urge the Government to carry out such a study soon and in fact to monitor the pollution levels regularly on a long term basis as our airport and flights may continue to grow in the coming years. A metropolis that embraces the future must be one where developments and progress must go hand in hand with good management of our environment.

Maritime and how we can better support our shipping SMEs

In closing, let me end with some brief words on the third category of transport – maritime. First I declare my interest as a shipping lawyer and a member of the maritime community. I spoke on my concerns for the shipping industry in my speech during the Budget debate this year. I would like to reiterate my call for the Government to focus on helping our local shipping SMEs (as opposed to GLCs or the foreign-owned businesses operating in or from Singapore).

Our maritime business community consists of many more local SMEs up and down the value chain beyond ship and offshore building and port management. How can we help those who may not be able to benefit from the current focus on autonomous system, robotics, data analytics as well as for digitalisation under the current Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map or for that matter under any other ITMs? And how can we encourage SMEs to think beyond traditional categories of maritime businesses to come up with products and services that straddle across or beyond traditional categorizations

Mr Speaker, sir, I support the motion.