Singapore expanding toll options - move away from ETF to European style accounts

November 6, 2008

Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) which runs an extensive electronic toll system in the island state is offering the option of cardfree tolling for the first time November 5. Instead of having to insert a dedicated stored value card in the transponder motorists will be able to establish an account and have their tolls charged monthly - as in most North American, Australian and European electronic toll systems.

The Singapore toll accounts (called ERP for Electronic Road Pricing) will be managed by a local bank - DBS Bank.  Motorists wanting to establish a toll account will have to fill out a form on-line at one of two websites giving details of their vehicle, their transponder (called an IU or In-vehicle Unit in Singapore), address and other details. They'll pay $1.70/month (S$2.50) for managing their toll account.

The Singapore system will retain the option for doing an electronic funds transfer - a direct payment from a stored value card - of the kind done since electronic tolling was introduced just over ten years ago. Japan's electronic toll system also does EFTs.

LTA says motorists with accounts will be able to pay individual tolls by inserting their card in the transponder as before for electronic funds transfer (EFT), rather than having it charged to their account.

The options are being expanded with the first redesign of the Singapore transponder, an unusual 2.45GHz design by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, working with Philips and (now) CSE Global. The redesign is being called a Dual Mode In-vehicle Unit. Not only will it allow the establishment of accounts as well as EFT, but with the new transponder they will be able to use a family of credit and debit cards rather than just the NET CashCards that have to now had a monopoly. The new cards that are usable with the new transponder must meet a standard called CEPAS standing for Contactless E Payment Application Standard - apparently a widely used proximity card issued by MasterCard and Visa among others.

Satellite location finding units tested

Since 2005 the LTA has been sponsoring developing and tests of GPS or satellite location finding for road pricing - what they call assisted GPS or differential GPS that use supplementary locational signals to compensate for erratic satellite signal accuracy. They compare this with standard digital mapping or GIS. They report accuracies of 30m (100ft). By one account accuracy of the best systems is regarded as adequate 90% of the time on expressways in open areas, but only 30% of the time in dense city streets where satellite signals are distorted by large buildings in what is referred to as the urban canyon effect.

Singapore officials have said they expect to be the first to deploy GPS units for road pricing of all vehicles (Germany has tolled trucks with GPS units since 2005).

Summarizing, the Singaporeans are:

- broadening the options for electronic funds transfer payment by allowing a variety of cards to be used in transponders

- offering accounts to be debited North America/European style

- actively testing GPS

Chorus of complaints about false violation notices

The past year has seen a major chorus of complaints about non-reads of transponders and subsequent mistaken violation notices. Recently they said they had discovered problems with 2900 of the NETS CashCards out of a total of 4.5m in use. There were 250 to 300 cases per month, LTA said. Other reports were the cards failed in hot weather. Motorists can take their transponders and cards to authorized inspection centers for testing.

LTA several years ago reported error rates of only 0.07% or about 200 average per day of 280k toll transactions. Singapore's system has about 800 violations/day (0.3%) about 90% of which are due to insufficient balance in card for an electronic funds transfer. The other 10% are no transponder or no card in the transponder. 

Some no-reads had been attributed to motorists inserting the card in the transponder too late - when the vehicle is almost under the gantry rather than within the read-zone about 10m (34ft) ahead of the gantry.

Pricey transponders by US standards but heavily featured

Singapore IUs or card-usable transponders cost just over $100 (S$155) - about four times the cost of an American hardbodied transponder. Extra cost goes into the card reader, an LCD display, customer feedback and installation by technicians with a mounting bracket. IUs can also be rented at $3.50/day (S$5.15). By law all vehicles on the roads of Singapore must have a transponder installed.

The toll system in Singapore has from the start been based on variable pricing by time of day to discourage some vehicle use during times and places of congestion. Its revenue raising has always been secondary to the congestion pricing function. Variable message signs are used to indicate whether the toll is in effect.

Thanks to congestion pricing traffic flows noticeably more freely in Singapore, although it is often thick - level of service D or E in US terms. Toll rates are adjusted and new gantries are added to adjust pricing to changing traffic patterns. Pricing policy is to only discourage volumes that will cause a breakdown in flow, so average speeds are often well below free flow because of density.


1975 area licensing for 725ha (2.8 sq mile) central city called the Restricted Zone in which vehicles had to display a monthly decal to enter in peak hours

1995 transponders used on East Coast Parkway

1998 Sept - beginning of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP)

Tolls are collected at about 70 toll points which are highway speed all-electronic covering most one direction of traffic. There are usually a pair of heavy faced gantries carrying the readers and cameras, and mounting signs.

List of electronic tollroads, number of toll gantries

Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE)  1

Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) 1

Central Business District (CBD) 19

Central Expressway (CTE) 7

Dunearn Road (DR) 2

East Coast Parkway (ECP) 4

Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) 12

Orchard Cordon (OC) 12

Others (OTH) 1

Outer Ring Road area (ORR)  6

Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) 8

BACKGROUND: Singapore was used by a few hundred Malay fishermen until 1819 when the British East India Company established a trading post on the island, allowing it to develop over the next century into a major world port and trading center. Its population is very mixed. People of Chinese origin are the largest ethnic group but there are substantial communities of Malay, Indian and European extraction also. It was a British colony until 1963. After a brief period as part of Malaysia it split off and became independent.

Described as a city-state it has a population of about 4.9m with one of the highest standards of living in the world ($35k/capita nominal $49k PPP). The island is about 50km east-west (30 miles) and 30km (18 miles) north-south and 707km2 or 270sq miles. It has a comprehensive urban expressway network being added to with substantial undergrounding. All expressways are tolled and a number of major surface arterials. Travel is on the left side of the road, part of the British heritage.

TERMINOLOGY: A 'toll' as we use the term is any charge for the use of a road regardless of its purpose, which of course is open to change and argument, and regardless of what the toll agency calls it. A transponder, sometimes called a tag or known by a brandname like E-ZPass or FasTrak is short for transmitter-responder and automatically receives signals or messages from a roadside reader antenna and responds by transmitting data back - usually an account number, vehicle class, often place of entry. In Singapore tolls are called road pricing or ERP, and the transponder is known as an IU for In-vehicle Unit.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-11-05

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