Ministry of Transport: Committee of Supply 2018 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 7 March 2018)

Zero-growth Car Policy – Pritam Singh

Chairman, the move in October last year to remove the car and motorcycle growth rate factor from the supply formula that has been in place since 1990 is a signature transport policy development of this Government.

The previous Transport Minister, Mr Lui Tuck Yew had indicated that some growth in car numbers was required to meet the aspirational needs of car-owing Singaporeans. This position has now changed.

In line with the Government’s move towards a car-lite Singapore and the newly implemented zero-growth car and motorcycle policy, these changes have provided new opportunities to review fundamental assumptions, beliefs and policies towards vehicle ownership in Singapore.

Decades ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew revealed that Singapore’s water security made every other policy bend at the knee. Today, raising the TFR is important, if not critical for Singapore.

To this end, is there scope to significantly tweak the COE system to support families with two or more Singaporean children with rebates for example? Smaller families have added mobility needs that are particularly acute when children are young – from birth to around 12-16 years of age. No doubt, there are some families with young children who may not need a car. But each family’s circumstances can be very different. The government has tried to raise TFR by offering a slew of incentives. However, the zero car-growth policy which kicked in last month also provides opportunities to review the current COE system and to assess how it can be updated to support other national objectives such as population replacement. Would the Ministry look into this prospect to support families with young children in particular?

In parallel, COE growth for motorcycles has also been frozen. However, many Singaporeans who own motorcycles are our low-income citizens, some of whom also use their motorcycles for business – for example couriers and delivery personnel. In light of a zero-growth policy for motorcycles as well, would the Ministry explore a cap on the maximum bidding price of a motorcycle COE, particularly if it is to be used to own a Class 2B motorcycle?


Safety in the Straits of Singapore – Dennis Tan

I declare my interest as a shipping lawyer.

The Straits of Singapore is one of the busiest waterways in the world. 84,000 vessels passed through the Straits in 2016.

Between 2007 and 2017, there has been an average of 9 collisions, 9 sinkings, 30 groundings and 71 contact incidents reported within our port limits and the Straits of Singapore per year.  This translates to about one reported maritime casualty every 3 days. This figure does not include major incidents involving loss of lives, pollution or navigational safety.

I am concerned whether the regularity of such incidents will lead some industry players to regard Singapore as an unsafe port thereby affecting our port’s reputation. Is the Government taking any measures to enhance safety and reduce the number of maritime casualties?

To improve navigational safety for all vessels, I would like to propose three changes for the current Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) in operation in the Singapore Strait:

(1) Ban crossings over the TSS for ships leaving or intending to enter the Port of Singapore from or to the Straits. Vessels should be required to make u-turns at either ends of the TSS at (i) South of East Johor Straits and (ii) South of Tuas to access the desired directional lane of the TSS or to enter our port waters or anchorages. Without ships cutting across the two directional lanes of the TSS, traffic flow and safety will be enhanced.

(2) Review the locations of pilot stations around our port waters or consider reducing its numbers to minimize the risk of ships drifting while lying in or near the TSS awaiting pilot boarding.

(3) Require all ships to install and switch on their AIS system while transiting the Singapore Strait. Such vessels should include wooden ships as well as naval vessels; some of which may not currently be doing so.

AIS helps to identify a ship’s callsign, speed and course of vessel which will assist navigators in all ships in the vicinity to avoid collisions.

Naval vessels often do not switch on their AIS. But in the interest of the safety of the many vessels passing by this busy waterway every day, there is a case to reconsider this.

Had the destroyer USS John S McCain switched on her AIS in August 2017 when she was near Pedra Banca, it might well have assisted the oil tanker Alnic MC to be better able to spot the McCain and take better measures to avoid collision or minimize the damage suffered which included injuries and loss of 10 lives.

The TSS is like a busy highway. If military vehicles using a busy highway are expected to follow all road safety rules, why should naval vessels be any different?

Congestion at the TSS or anchorages increases the risk of casualties. The consequences of any oil pollution resulting from a maritime casualty can be even more damaging. We should strive to enhance the safety of the Straits and minimise the risk of any casualties.

We may have to initiate discussions at the International Maritime Organization level for some of the measures I have suggested. But it will be worthwhile doing this in the interest of safety of lives at sea and the reputation of our port.


Bicycle-sharing and Geofencing – Png Eng Huat

Sir, bike sharing is not a new concept but the advent of mobile technologies has allowed bike sharing companies to go dockless.  What is really new about dockless bike sharing is the proliferation of indiscriminate bike parking.  These shared bicycles are usually parked haphazardly at void decks, footpaths, lift lobbies, stairways, and I saw 2 of them parked in the middle of Nicoll Highway yesterday.

The amount of fines collected from bike sharing operators for not clearing their illegally parked bicycles and number of bicycles impounded by LTA, as reported in the news last month, is probably just the tip of the iceberg, due to the lack of resources to monitor the indiscriminate parking and enforce the fine.

In last October, LTA had initiated an agreement with bike sharing companies to implement geofencing by end of 2017 to rein in indiscriminate parking by errant users.  I am not sure if geofencing for bike sharing is in operation already but from the looks of it, I doubt it is.

Geofencing will not solve the problem of indiscriminate bike parking.  It just confined the problem to a designated area and the boundary is not even accurate.  Geofencing may just turn into geo-dumping over time as the designated area would be flooded with shared bicycles, causing severe congestion and safety concerns, especially for elderly residents.

Adding QR code to complement geofencing is an improvement but such codes can be easily copied with a camera and printer, and you will have a list of parking stations to scan on demand to end your trip even if you are not at the designated parking spots.  And If the authority is going to such length to implement QR code geofencing to ensure bicycles are properly parked within a designated area, why not just implement a docking station?A quick search on the internet for bike sharing services around the world shows that most existing operations in big cities like New York, Melbourne, and Paris all come with docking stations.

While I do hope the proposed licensing framework would help to rein in indiscriminate bike parking, I am concerned that geo-dumping would become the next big headache for bike sharing services.  Sir, it was reported that there are about 100,000 dockless shared bicycles out there.  How many QR code geofencing stations are required to effectively tackle the indiscriminate parking problem?  I hope LTA can share more on this because dockless bike sharing has turned Singapore into one giant bicycle parking lot.


Personal Mobility Aid in an Ageing Society – Png Eng Huat

Sir, the proliferation of Personal Mobility Device (PMD) and Personal Mobility Aid (PMA) in our estates and footpaths is phenomenal.

PMD allows users, usually with no mobility issues, to zip from one place to another faster.  Some owners of PMD even use them to piggyback their children from schools, bus stops, or train stations.  PMD basically saves time for the users.

PMA, on the other hand, allows our elderly Singaporeans to get out of their homes to eat, shop, or just watch the world go by.  It allows them to continue to do the simple activities of community living, without which, they may be confined to their homes.  In short, PMA allows our elderly citizens with mobility issues a quality of life,

I am seeing more PMA in my estate now.  I am happy to see these elderly residents living independent lives.  However, moving about in a PMA can be challenging on existing footpaths.  PMA comes in all shapes and sizes.  All of them are larger than PMD and they move a lot slower.  The footpaths along the roads are certainly not PMA-friendly.  I had seen some PMA moving precariously close to the edge of some busy footpaths and I was worried they may tip over.

The footpaths from the nearest bus stops, train stations, hawker centres, suburban malls, neighbourhood centres, etc to the nearest HDB block or private estate need to be widen soon to accommodate these mobility aid.

I also urge LTA to do another round of initiative to mop up those remaining spots with barriers so that PMA users can have a smoother connection along our footpaths.

Last, I also hope LTA could initiate a whole of government approach to accommodate PMA in our society, which in my view, has given our elderly a fresh breath of life in their sunset years.


Safer Signalised Junction – Png Eng Huat

Sir, I have spoken about making signalized junction safer in the Committee of Supply debate in 2013, and again in 2015.

Traffic lights are supposed to give all road users a sense of order, safety, and security.  Our children are taught from young by their parents and in schools to wait for the green man signal to come on before they can cross the road.  When the lights are in your favour, it must surely mean it is safe to cross.  But as it turns out, this is not a given, depending on the traffic junctions you are at.

This presumption of safety is lost when signalized junctions are programmed with shared green time.  Such junctions allow vehicles to turn when there are no pedestrians crossing during the green man phase.  This, according to the minister, is to ensure smoother traffic flow on our roads.

According to ministry, there were on average about 3 fatal accidents and 40 injury accidents per year at signalized junctions involving a pedestrian or cyclist and vehicles turning right during the green man phase.  Although the ministry did not have the breakdown of whether these accidents happened at what type of junctions, 90 percent of our signalized junctions are programmed with shared green time.  I am sure there are many unreported near misses as well.

Last October, LTA was reported to be taking steps to make such signalized junctions safer after some accidents involving vehicles knocking down pedestrians who had the right of way came to light. There were two cases cited in the news, one of which was fatal.  It was reported that the fatal accident happened at a signalized junction with shared green time.

Not only pedestrians are not protected at such junctions, they may also be assigned 15 per cent blame as a Court of Appeal ruling in 2016 had shown, even though the lights were in their favour.

Sir, if the green man signal at such junctions cannot guarantee safety for pedestrians, then the anomaly must be resolved.  The president of the Automobile Association of Singapore was quoted to have said, “Overseas researchers have shown that pedestrians are better protected with the implementation of split-phase lights. Statistics have also shown that there is a larger decline in pedestrian incidents as well as multi-vehicle crashes when green time is not shared”.

I truly believe that ensuring a smoother flow of traffic on our roads will not cultivate a road safety culture.  Enforcing a little patience by doing away with shared green time at signalized junctions, on the other hand, will ensure road safety by default.


Safe Use of PMDs and Bicycles: Creating the right culture for safe and legal use of PMDs and Bicycles and starting this in schools – Dennis Tan

The introduction of the Active Mobility Act last year brought new laws over the use of PMDs and electric bicycles.

However, inconsiderate or reckless usage of e-scooters and its illegal use on roads have continued. Many elderly folks are terrified of sharing walkways with them.

Although electric bikes are now required to be registered and only pre-approved models are allowed to be used and riders are required to wear helmets, we still see illegal or unregistered e-bikes on the road and e-bike riders not using helmets.

Enforcement efforts by the authorities have stepped up last year. We read of publicity of e-scooters being impounded for illegal use on roads or illegal e-bikes being impounded. We see many banners hung on street lamps highlighting the PMD ban on roads.

To be fair, the increase in enforcement against errant e-scooter users is a step in the right direction. If insufficient efforts are rendered at this stage, we will have a long-term problem of illegal, reckless and inconsiderate usage. A poor riding culture will perpetuate.

Our cycling culture is a case in point. In my speech during the Second Reading of the Active Mobility Bill, I highlighted the legacy of the lack of enforcement against errant cyclists. Today we can still see cyclists riding against the traffic or not stopping at red lights on a daily basis. Inconsistent enforcement between errant cyclists and PMD users raises questions of selective enforcement.

Timely and consistent enforcement is important as it sets the boundaries for human behaviour. But law alone is insufficient. We need to create the right culture. In developed countries like Netherlands and the UK, cyclists comply with cycling rules not because they fear a fine but they grew up learning to put on the right behaviour.

We have a problem with our riding culture here, first with cycling, then with e-bikes and now PMDs. The lack of political will for enforcement and to create a right cycling culture in earlier years has made it much harder for us now. In the past year, the problem has been compounded by the popularity of bike sharing.

Enforcement alone without education is insufficient to change our riding culture. I support our current public education efforts. But we can do more as much of the existing efforts are voluntary, not prescriptive, and their reach is limited even if targeted at certain classes of cyclists.

I shared with this House previously that as a university student in England, I cycled on a pavement and got roundly told off by an old lady. As a pedestrian, the old lady was familiar with rules even if she might not be a cyclist.

I urge the Government to try and reset our riding culture by having a structured compulsory course in our schools for the legal, safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs. The next generation will grow up knowing what is right and acceptable

The course should cover all basic rules and etiquette governing the use of bicycles, electric bikes and PMDs. Basic road traffic rules applicable to cyclists, PMD users and pedestrians should also be taught.

This course can be split up over different age groups over time. For example, start with an introductory course for pre-schoolers and have subsequent courses in early and late primary school levels. If a young child can learn to keep left on a skate scooter while riding along the footpath in the park or to slow down and give way to an elderly auntie passing by, over time, it will help to engender the right cycling culture in the long run.

Meantime, please step up on our public education efforts for all age groups: more banners, posters, exhibitions or even a campaign on social media and television. Do this for all types, not just PMDs. When everyone knows the rights and wrongs, more people will refrain from wrongful or inconsiderate usage.

The Active Mobility Advisory Panel has recommended the registration of e-scooters. It may help to identify users and facilitate enforcement and hence better accountability. However, it alone will not resolve existing problems with our riding culture.

In conclusion, may I implore the Government to work towards creating a culture of legal, safe and considerate use of bicycles and PMDs?