Singapore Congestion pricing goes electronic
By Peter Samuel
Congestion pricing goes electronic
Singapore authorities are due to begin variable pricing with toll transponders Apr 1. Since 1975 they have operated an area licensing system (ALS) in which only vehicles whose owners have bought a license can enter this central area, the license taking the form of a windshield sticker. More recently a road pricing scheme (RPS) was introduced which sold permits for use of certain major motorways during rush hours.
The new scheme called electronic road pricing (ERP) will automate these policies in a staged manner by collecting per trip tolls electronically, via transponders equipped with smartcard readers. It starts at two toll points on the East Coast Parkway, a motorway entering the city from the east in April.
Charges will be S$1 (60c) for a car 7:30 to 8:00am, S$2 ($1.20) 8:00 to 9:00am, S$1 (60c) 9:00 to 9:30am. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is supplying just over 1 million smartcard-taking transponders and will eventually install 720 antennas and 360 enforcement cameras in 360 toll lanes on the Singapore road system.
It is run by the government Land Transport Authority (LTA) which has said that it will watch how motorists react to the pricing before setting tolls for a bunch of other toll points around Singapore due to go on line Sept 1. The whole scheme as presently planned will take 2 years to introduce.
The Singapore government is well known for its willingness to take draconian measures. When it introduced central area licensing in 1975 it organized a large system of parking garages around the priced-entry central area and shuttle buses. They were only used to about 5% of projected capacity. Central city streets went from congested (over 100k veh/day) to empty (30k veh/day) because charges were set too high. Congestion worsened outside the priced cordon.
Electronics gives them the ability to be less heavy handed and to adjust prices with more subtlety to influence traffic conditions.
Singapore with 3 million people with percapita incomes similar to those of North America and western Europe has only 700k motor vehicles due to the worlds heaviest taxes and auctioned quotas on ownership of cars. These taxes and certificates have caused the available cars to be heavily used and indeed they run up higher per-car annual mileage than the US, according to the LTA mostly just within the 620 sq km land area of the city-state. (Compare Boston with a similar population has an urbanized area of 2900 sq km and 2.5m vehs.)
The LTA says: The Singaporean motorist is quite rational. Having invested heavily upfront in a car which is relatively cheap to use, he then capitalizes on his investment and drives as much as he can...With road pricing we can keep the crucial arterials and expressways linking our economic centres relatively smooth flowing, while sustaining a higher car population...Measures which are not location or time specific are blunt instruments for controlling congestion.
Singapores road pricing schemes are an attempt to manage road usage and raise revenues (though some of the high taxes on ownership are being reduced as road pricing comes in.) The LTA is also building a modest urban motorway system 225 lane-km will be added to the existing system of 3 major mwys in a $700m program over the next 5 years. There has been study of a an elaborate 30km underground road ring system (84 lane-km and 8 interchanges) in the central area costed at some $3.4b but there are no current moves to implement it. 160km of heavy rail and some automated guideways are under construction.
The electronic toll system being installed by Mitsubishi is a proprietary one which operates at 2.45GHz. It is operated from massive gantries over the roadway, needed so large because the system incorporates so much of the processing in the vehicle equipment and requires multiple messages back and forth between vehicle and roadside equipment.
Vehicle classification information is encoded in the tag and the toll transaction is completed via the smartcard and double-checked before the vehicle leaves the read-zone of the gantry-borne equipment. It is designed to operate multi-lane and open road at vehicle speeds of up to 180km/hr. Extensive tests of the system were conducted on a Singapore mwy in 1994-5. All vehicles using the system have to acquire transponders, and vehicles without working tags are treated as violators.
The LTA has said that it expects improving technology to make the new system obsolete within 10 years and that it is already looking for a second generation system to allow them to manage traffic more sensitively and accurately. (Quotes from White Paper A World Class Land Transport System, LTA 1996, contact LTA 65 375 7350 www.lta.gov.sg, Ichiro Arikawa MHI 212 969 9000)