Ministry of Transport Committee of Supply 2016 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 11 & 12 April 2016)

MRT Breakdowns – Dennis Tan

Two years ago, at the Committee of Supply debates, my colleague Png Eng Huat spoke about the reliability of our train services. Two years on, the regularity of train disruptions and the reliability of our MRT remain disconcerting issues.

In the past 13 months, we have seen at least 50 incidents of MRT disruptions reported, and almost half of such delays exceed 30 minutes.

There were 14 major MRT disruptions last year, up from 10. The most recent major one was a 4-hour disruption on the East-West line on 19 March.

Just last Friday, there was another train fault on the Circle Line.

In December 2015, the LTA started a new method of measuring service delay. Last week, LTA reported that the average distance clocked between overall breakdowns had increased. This was cited as a statistics for rail reliability. The Straits Times in its article of 7 April 2016 stated that: “it is hard for anyone to reconcile an improvement in reliability when major breakdowns have spiked”. Indeed, whatever statistics LTA may use, commuters who use the MRT everyday can attest for themselves the frequency of disruptions.

Singaporeans should not have to get used to this regularity of disruptions. We should expect our system to have far fewer disruptions. We should also be greatly concerned with the loss of productivity to all our workers and our economy arising from the man-hours lost to all delays over the last few years.

I would like to ask the Minister to let Singaporeans know what steps are being taken to affirmatively abate this unacceptable regularity of disruptions.

Safety Protocols for MRT Operations – Dennis Tan

On 22 March this year, two SMRT staff were killed when a MRT train collided into them while they were on track assisting with repair work.

Our MRT system is not new. I am surprised that such a simple accident can be allowed to happen here.  Not all reputable MRT operators in the world allow workers to effect repairs or maintenance on track while trains are in operation.

On the morning of 30 March, I filed my present Committee of Supply cut on safety protocols for MRT operations. Later that day, LTA and the Ministry of Manpower issued a press release requiring SMRT to carry out the following measures if maintenance works are carried out during train service hours w.e.f. 31 March:
a) Trains running on sections of the track where personnel are working on, must operate on manual and not automatic mode;
b) Trains to cease operating on the relevant section of the track before repair personnel is allowed on it;
c) Robust authentication between personnel on track and Operations Control Centre to verify track isolation;
d) Measures for isolation be in place until staff have left the work area and trackside; and
e) Watchmen to be deployed to alert personnel of oncoming trains.

I am surprised by this press release. I had expected these measures to be in place and are so-called ‘SOP’. If they were, the press release would not have been necessary.

I would like to ask the Minister:
(a) before the accident, what were the obligations for LTA to check on the MRT operators’ observance of safety protocols for maintenance and operations; and
(b) after the accident, will there be any new measures for LTA to check and ensure that MRT operators follow the requisite safety procedures?

Autonomous Vehicles – Png Eng Huat

Sir, the potential for autonomous vehicles to play a key role in our public transport service is exciting.  As mentioned in a press release by LTA last October, autonomous vehicles can radically transform our land transportation especially in two key areas of constraints – land and manpower.

The Committee on Autonomous Road Transport in Singapore (CARTS) was reported to be looking into some key roles for autonomous vehicles to play to complement our transport system in the hope of reducing road congestion during peak hours and manpower requirements.

While I am not sure how autonomous vehicles can help Singapore ease its constraint on land use, the technology can certainly help ease the manpower crunch in the public transport arena.

I do see the potential for autonomous vehicles to complement our public transport system especially in the area of feeder bus service, where the route is short and fixed, and standard fare applies.

I also see the potential for autonomous feeder bus service to take over from OMO bus service at night when the traffic is light and to stay operational longer as well.

Sir, I wish to ask the Ministry to share more on the roadmap for autonomous bus service to play a key role in our public transport system.

In the same report by CARTS, there was no mention of allowing private autonomous vehicles on our roads.  May I ask the Minister if private autonomous vehicles are also in the same roadmap to introduce self-driving vehicles on our roads?

Public Transport for Persons with Disabilities – Leon Perera

Madam Chairperson, our public transport system will not be truly public until it is fully friendly to Singaporeans with disabilities. I would like to make a few suggestions in this regard.

Firstly, do we have enough lifts at MRT and LRT stations? Currently, there is at most one lift per path. These lifts are typically small and accommodate up to two wheeled mobility devices (WMD). With an aging population, there will be more pressure on these lifts. A single lift also means a single point of failure. The priority queue system by itself cannot address all these points. Can the Ministry of Transport look into building at least two lifts for all stations as a long-term goal.

Secondly, SMRT. Comfort and other firms now provide some taxis that can ferry wheelchairs. However the fare they charge is generally at least $50 per trip. This is a burden to wheelchair users of modest means who need to travel regularly to locations less accessible by public transport, whether for medical appointments or for other day-to-day purposes. While transport allowance schemes are in place, these allowances are not always available or sufficient. Can the Ministry of Transport work with taxi companies to find ways to address the needs of this group, a group which will grow as the population ages?

Lastly, we can do more to ensure safety for wheelchair users on our public buses.  The current practice on buses is to just place the wheelchair rear-facing, back against a vertical wall, and apply the brakes. This will not ensure the safety of both the wheelchair user and other passengers who might be injured by a ‘flying’ wheelchair should an accident occur. There is a world-wide standard known as the Wheelchair Tie-down and Occupant Restraint System or WTORS. WTORS define different securement systems, including the 4-point tie-down system. Vehicles provided by some VWOs to ferry wheelchairs already use the 4-point tie-down system. I propose that our public buses be required to conform to international standards to ensure safety. Some of the new buses on display have a seat-belt system for improved safety, but this is still below international safety standards like WTORS.

Change of Rules for Bicycles – Dennis Tan

Recently, the Active Mobility Advisory Panel made their recommendations regarding use of bicycles and mobility devices. It recommended that bicycles and personal mobility devices should be allowed on footpaths. Although it is not presently allowed, we often see bicycles on footpaths. If introduced, steps should be taken to ensure that cyclists use the footpaths in accordance with any new regulations.

I agree with the recommendations for speed limits, use of helmet and use of standard bicycle lights.

Bicycle lights are important safety devices especially in the evenings. It is often difficult for a motorist to spot a cyclist riding on the road at night without any lights until one has almost caught up with the cyclist.

Whether it is bicycle lights, use of helmet or cycling on footpath and indeed any new measures which the ministry should choose to adopt, I feel that, if there is no effective public education  and effective enforcement especially early on after the introduction of the new measures, these measures will never be adopted by many cyclists.

I would also like to suggest that, for reason of safety, there should be a rule for keeping left, whether on footpaths, connectors or the road.

Next, Personal Mobility Aids (PMAs). An example of PMA is the motorised device used by elderly or people with some form of mobility constraints.

For the suggested ban on use of PMAs on roads to work effectively and reasonably, there must be user friendly pavements on every road otherwise such a ban will not be practical or fair.

Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) include electric skate scooters and kick scooters. Such scooters are regularly seen on the roads now. Again public education coupled with effective enforcement will be important.

On electric bikes (or e-bikes), I agree with the panel’s recommendations regarding maximum weight of 20kg, maximum speed of 25 km/h and the device width.  In fact with these safety measures, it may be suitable to let e-bikes be used on park connectors.

We can often see people using illegal or modified e-bikes on the roads or connectors.

Presently the onus is for manufacturers to apply to the LTA for their e-bikes to be authorised by the LTA. However, unauthorised e-bikes are still available for sale. Many e-bikes which are in use are not authorised models. Would the ministry consider only allowing authorised e-bikes to be sold in Singapore?

In respect of existing unauthorised e-bikes which may technically comply with the new proposed rules, may I suggest that the ministry should consider, at least on a one-off basis, to allow owners of such e-bikes to apply for authorisation and registration. It would be harsh to expect them to stop use of their bikes when they can comply with the new rules.

On the issue of registration of e-bikes, I think this is a good method of ensuring bike owners use their e-bikes responsibly.

The Panel has also recommended against allowing e-bikes which are powered by throttle. I received feedback that throttle may be more suitable for some users e.g. the elderly, as they do not need some strength to pedal and ‘kick-in’ the electric power required in current authorised models.

Control of speed by throttle is more precise. As long as the maximum speed of the bike is limited, the throttle does not make the bike unsafe.

Currently PMAs and even PMDs like e-scooters are powered by technology which is similar to throttles, but unlike e-bikes, safety may not be an issue.

In conclusion, the Panel has made many good recommendations. However, whatever measures to be adopted may only work if there is sufficient public education and effective enforcement, especially at the onset.

There must be sufficient resources and a willingness from all authorities responsible for enforcing the use of bicycles on roads, cycling paths, footpaths and connectors to make the proposed new cycling rules work.

Last but not least, may I compliment the good efforts and determination of the members of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel led by Parliament Secretary Muhammad Faishal.

The ball is now in the ministry’s court.

Enforcement of Bicycle Rules – Pritam Singh

Madam Chairperson, three years ago, I spoke on increasing cycling and pedestrian safety in this House. I rise to make the same call, in light of the recommendations of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel and the frequency of feedback from residents – especially elderly residents – about accidents and near accidents between cyclists and pedestrians on footpaths, zebra and pedestrian crossings and near bus stops.

I would like to ask the Ministry as it assesses the recommendations of the Active Advisory Mobility Panel to also look at how such rules can be enforced in light of the demographic shift taking place in our society with more elderly and senior citizens using walkways and footpaths.

Just a few weeks ago, I stood near the junction of Bedok Reservoir Road and Jalan Eunos to assess the flow and egress of resident’s vehicles from Bedok Reservoir Road and complaints of cyclists who dash across the zebra crossing to catch the flashing green man across the Jalan Eunos pedestrian crossing. In the hour of so I was at the junction, not a single cyclist, either a foreign worker, Singaporean or PR stopped to dismount from their bicycle. Rather, there were quite a few glares from drivers towards cyclists and vice-versa. Members may have also had residents complaining about cyclists who zip by, just as they are disembarking from buses at bus stops.

Madam Chairperson, while a code of conduct to alter behaviour is a start, I am concerned that it will not go far enough, even with an intense educational effort that would be required to compel a fundamental change of behaviour on the part of errant cyclists.

I believe it must be compulsory for cyclists who use footpaths and pedestrian crossings to dismount from their bicycles and walk across these areas, which are more prone to accidents and see heavy pedestrian traffic. In practice, the Ministry could consider how the stop line works for drivers in the US. Regardless if there is traffic or not, every driver stops at the stop-line or risks a fine. Likewise, we should implement a dismount and push rule for cyclists at critical areas and enforce it. In view of our crowded shared spaces during peak hours, such a clear rule is likely to make our footpaths, bus stops and pedestrian crossings safer, especially for our elderly.

Uses of ERP 2.0 – Leon Perera

Madam Chairperson, the new GNSS-based ERP 2.0 will allow real-time tracking of traffic and road usage. I would like to put across several questions and suggestions.

Firstly has the MOT done any simulations to show the net impact of the ERP 2.0 on total revenue collection? If not I would urge them to do so and to design the charging model to ensure that the net revenue collection remains neutral relative to the current distances travelled and current vehicle population. The purpose of the ERP system should be to ease congestion and not to raise revenue.

Secondly, the MOT has said that the data collected will be made available to motorists so that they can easily see what are the congested roads and avoid them if possible. How will this be done?

I suggest that the aggregated and anonymized data be made accessible in real time and in a user-friendly manner to the private sector so that third party app developers can provide innovative solutions to motorists, making Singapore a test-bed for such innovation.

Thirdly, the government has provided assurances that data privacy will be upheld. I would like to ask if the government can conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment or PIA, to give the public transparency that Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is collected, used, accessed, shared, safeguarded, stored and discarded in a proper manner. The US Department of Homeland Security conducts PIAs for several programs.

I would also like to ask if government agencies will have limitless access to this data or will there be safeguards against executive over-reach. For example if the Police want to access information on someone’s travel patterns, will they need a Court order or can they do so without one.

Equitable COE System – Daniel Goh

Madam Chair, as we move towards a car-lite Singapore and improve our public transport system to make it as cost-effective, reliable and comfortable as it was before, more individuals would choose to travel by bus and train rather than drive. However, it would take a generation to wean cars from our culture. For some, owning a car would remain an aspiration or a status symbol. For many others, owning a car is felt as a necessity, especially young families.

In a car-lite Singapore, cars will become even more a scarcity than it is today. Therefore, the socio-economic inequality and wealth gap between Singaporeans will become reflected in car ownership. The Government created Category A for social equity reasons and had to re-categorise it recently to keep the Category for mass-market car buyers after luxury car buyers swamped the category and drove up prices. This will become a cat-and-mouse game between the re-categorisation of Category A and the re-engineering of luxury makes to fit Category A, especially in car-lite Singapore.

Therefore, for a fairer COE system, would the Government consider adding a surcharge to the COE for cars owned by a single-generation household beyond the first car, and a multi-generation household beyond the second car. Like the Additional Buyer Stamp Duty for the property market, a carefully calibrated COE surcharge would help to reduce over-consumption on the part of the wealthy and help achieve some equity in the car market, especially in favour of young middle-income families. I understand a version of such a proposal was considered and rejected in 2013 by the LTA after public consultation due to the belief that it would be difficult to implement. If this is to be the reason again, would the Ministry explain the difficulties in implementation.

COE for Motorcycles – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Madam, I have previously made the call to review the COE for motorcycles and to abolish it for motorcycles in the class 2B category (engine capacity not exceeding 200cc). Another colleague of mine had also touched on this issue during last year’s COS debate. Many Singaporeans utiltise their lower capacity motorcycles for work and to feed their families. As such, an abolition or review of the COE will be a much-needed boost to them, especially in a weakening economy. Presently, a class 2B motorcycle will cost an estimated average of $11,000 with a Category ‘D’ COE costing an average of $6,106 in 2015. This is three times higher as compared to the average in 2011, which was $2,098.

The then Minister of Transport, Mr Lui Tuck Yew said in a response to my question on whether LTA will consider splitting the COE for motorcycles into three categories according to the engine capacity of the motorcycles which correspond to the Class 2, 2A and 2B licenses that “splitting would result in a much smaller quota in each sub-category and this may lead to more volatility in quota and prices.”

As such I would like to propose that the available Category ‘D’ COE quota for class 2B, class 2A and 2 motorcycles to be allocated in accordance to the percentage of these vehicles on our roads. This means to say that if the average Class 2B motorcycles population on our roads is 75%, then 75% of the available Category ‘D’ COE quota will be allocated for Class 2B motorcycles, adjusted according to the demand. I believe this move will address many of the concerns as expressed in the Minister’s reply to my parliamentary question.

Secondly, I would like to touch on the present COE renewal term for motorcycles. An estimated 40.1% of the total renewal in 2015 chose a 10 years renewal term compared with an estimated average of 63.4% between 2010 and 2014. Due to higher COE prices, more motorcycle owners are compelled to renew their COE every five years instead of ten. I would like to propose that motorcycle owners who have earlier chosen a five years renewal term to be offered the option to renew their COE for another five years, which I understand the present policy do not allow. Madam, these measures to improve present policy will address and mitigate the financial burden of our fellow Singaporeans who rely on their motorcycles to make a livelihood. I hope the Ministry will consider them.