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Speech by Minister for Transport, S Iswaran at Land Transport Industry Day

03 Sep 2021 Speeches

Our partners from industry and unions, 

Colleagues from ESG, LTA, and MOT, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

1.     Good morning. I am pleased to join you today for the second edition of the Land Transport Industry Day. This is one of the larger physical gatherings since we emerged from P2HA, and I would like to also extend a warm welcome to the more than 600 participants joining us virtually.

2.     This is an important event bringing together public, private and people sector leaders across the land transport industry. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past year but also exchange views on the road ahead.

3.     Over the past 18 months, our industry has acutely felt the impact of COVID-19, and the immense disruption it has wrought on business operations. Rail and bus commuter levels remain at just over 60% of pre-COVID levels, while taxi and PHC trips are at around 75%.

Supporting our Workers for a Resilient and Reliable Transport System

4.     Against this backdrop, I would first and foremost like to thank all our transport workers who have been at the forefront of our battle against the pandemic. To borrow LTA’s motto, our transport workers have “kept our world moving” through the darkest days of the pandemic.

a.     Many have selflessly gone beyond the call of duty. Mr Yong Kian Leong, a senior bus captain with SBS Transit, volunteered with COMET1 – an initiative supported by Temasek Foundation to provide dedicated transport for COVID-19 patients using retrofitted vehicles.

b.     Our transport workers have also been resolute in their commitment to service excellence, despite the burden of additional frontline duties. Mr Muliady bin Abdul Latiff, an SMRT station manager for Woodlands on the Thomson-East Coast Line, helped reassure a female commuter who was visibly shaken by a potential stalker, by accommodating her in the First Aid room while checking to ensure that she was not in danger.

c.     Others have persevered on the frontline at great personal sacrifice. Ms Lee Yee Ching, a senior bus captain with SBS Transit, has not seen her children in Malaysia since the border closure in March 2020. She is one of our steadfast service heroes who helped a lost autistic child at a bus stop reunite with her parents.

5.     Many have contributed in their own ways - from our taxi and private hire car (PHC) drivers, who continued serving Singaporeans through the restrictions, to our private chartered bus drivers who took on daily risks by ferrying travellers from our checkpoints to our quarantine facilities. LTA staff have also been working very hard with our industry partners throughout this crisis. To all of you, let me once again say a big Thank You – you have our deepest gratitude.

6.     Our transport workers are the backbone of a resilient and reliable transport system. And supporting and protecting our workers has always been a top priority for the tripartite partners – the unions, transportation companies and the Government.

a.     To tide our workers over the tough times, the Government and LTA introduced initiatives like the COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund. I was very heartened that our taxi and PHC operators stepped up to do their part through waivers and incentive schemes.

b.     Vaccination and regular testing is another priority for us. As of 1 September, 95% or more of our PT frontline workers as well as active taxi and PHC drivers have been fully vaccinated. And this is very important because it gives us that baseline level of protection. Building on this, as we move towards a COVID-19 Resilient Nation, the “Vaccination or Regular Testing” or VoRT regime will be extended to public transport frontline staff, and taxi and PHC drivers. The recent incidents at bus interchanges are an important reminder that we must remain vigilant; the VoRT regime will help us detect infections early, and is key to keeping our community safe.

Building a Future-Ready Transport System through Partnerships and Innovation

7.     Even as we seek to overcome the immediate challenges and navigate our way to a new normal, we must also look to the future – to emerge stronger by building a future-ready transport system. This means anticipating tomorrow’s challenges and developing novel solutions, as we forge our path forward.

8.     Public-private partnerships and Innovation are the twin engines that will propel us towards a future-ready transport system.

a.     We need a nimble partnership between Government and industry that combines the public sector’s resources and regulatory capacity, with the private sector’s industry knowledge and capabilities. Each and every one of you, whether an SME or LLE, a local company or a foreign enterprise, can contribute to this endeavour.

b.     Innovation is the other thrust. Investing in R&D is one aspect. But it is also about skills and mindsets; an openness to new ideas; and novel approaches to regulations and standards, to catalyse the adoption of new technology.

Let me cite some examples of how this is already working in practice.

EV Charging

9.     First, we have laid out a sustainability vision in the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Land transport is a major pillar – it accounts for around 15% of our domestic carbon emissions, and more than 90% of this comes from our vehicle population. That is why the adoption of electric vehicles, or EVs, is an important component of, and complement to, our Walk-Cycle-Ride message for a sustainable transport system.

10.    One key component of our EV strategy is building up our national EV charging network. We took the first step in November 2020, when URA and LTA launched a pilot tender for over 600 smart EV charging points in 200 public carparks. URA and LTA will announce the award of the contract for this pilot tender today. The target is to deploy the first chargers by the end of this year. We would like to thank our industry partners for your close collaboration and feedback, which has helped to shape this pilot tender.

11.    Beyond this pilot, we continue to work and stay on track towards our Green Plan target of 40,000 EV charging points in public carparks by 2030. MOT and LTA have been working on the design of the market structure for EV charging in public residential carparks, as well as the necessary upgrades to the electrical infrastructure. To gather industry feedback for this effort, LTA conducted a Request-for-Information (RFI) exercise earlier this year.

The RFI exercise has been a valuable opportunity for LTA to engage industry players on the emerging EV charging sector, eliciting strong interest and useful feedback from 27 respondents.

12.    I would like to thank all our EV industry partners for your valuable perspectives on the risks associated with the upfront investment in infrastructure upgrades, the potential effects on market competitiveness, as well as consumer welfare. MOT and LTA will give careful consideration to your inputs and study them in detail, before formulating the policy for the deployment of EV charging infrastructure. We will be able to share more in due course.

Solar Photovoltaic Systems

13.    To further ‘green’ our existing land transport infrastructure, LTA, together with the public transport operators, plan to deploy even more solar photovoltaic systems in our public transport infrastructure, most likely via a leasing model. LTA will launch an open tender for this soon.

14.    A notable feature of the tender is that it will seek creative technologies and installation methods to optimise yield at less conventional areas, such as covered linkways and pedestrian overhead bridges, in addition to conventional locations like rail and bus depots and interchanges. This will not only help us reduce emissions, but also lessen energy costs.

Standards for Autonomous Vehicles

15.    Beyond investment in emerging technologies, we also need innovation in our regulations and standards to ease the path for businesses to develop novel solutions that are ready for market. This has been our approach for autonomous vehicles, or AVs. In 2019, Singapore launched a set of provisional national standards called Technical Reference (TR) 68, covering areas such as basic AV behaviour on roads, cybersecurity principles and safety guidelines.

16.    LTA has been working closely with industry partners and academic experts to update TR68 to keep up with recent progress in global AV technology. I am pleased to announce that LTA and the Singapore Standards Council, which is overseen by Enterprise Singapore, will jointly launch the revised TR68 today, covering enhancements to critical areas such as operational safety in software design, machine learning, and cybersecurity. This update to our standards will benefit the local AV ecosystem. I am happy to note that TR68 is also referenced in the international standard development of ISO 37181 on “Smart community infrastructures – smart transportation by autonomous vehicles on public roads”. This shows how, through TR68 and other measures, Singapore is also contributing to the setting of global standards for AV technology deployment, because we do need to be plugged into the global innovation system as part of our own innovation efforts.

Joint Innovation Call: XCite

17.    While AVs are high technology for the longer term, there are many challenges on the ground today that require innovative operational solutions, which can make a real difference. To address this, I am pleased to share with all of you a call for innovation by LTA and Enterprise Singapore, called “Accelerating Co-Innovation for Transformation and Export”, or “XCite” in short. Xcite is a continuation of the first innovation call named Gov- PACT, which was announced at the inaugural Land Transport Industry Day in 2019. That call saw eight innovation projects being developed and trialed; three of those have since been selected for showcase at this conference.

18.    Today, LTA is launching six new problem statements under XCite, under three themes: Lean Maintenance, Safe Assets, and Productivity. To illustrate, one interesting problem statement is the need to develop a digital platform to manage traffic control plans, or TCPs. These plans are frequently revised to support construction activities on our roads – LTA receives more than 400 TCPs every month! If the proposed platform can simplify the revision of TCPs, we can achieve significant productivity gains and benefit more than 100 companies in this line of work, both SMEs and MNCs, as well as the LTA teams themselves. LTA will share more on XCite later today.

Upskilling Workers for Innovation

19.    Finally, Government will continue working with the industry to improve the capabilities of our workers. One recent initiative is an MOU signed between LTA’s Singapore Rail Academy, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), SBS Transit and SMRT to develop a new Post Graduate Certification on Urban Railway Technology. I think this is an important development given the scale at which we are building up our rail infrastructure in Singapore, and the complexity of our system. This programme will tap on the Rail Academy’s expertise and experience, as well as SIT’s applied learning approach, to deepen the skills of our local rail engineering professionals.

20.    Our transport system can only be as future-ready as our workforce. Training and developing our workers is a shared tripartite priority and responsibility. We want to make sure we are able to pull together on this important effort, complementing the larger scale efforts on technology itself.

Conclusion

21.    If I may conclude, our land transport sector faces many immediate challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are working together with all our partners to deal with the challenges, not just from an emotional perspective but also from a public health perspective. Because ultimately, the safety of our frontline workers and our commuters is our highest priority, even as we seek to keep our services running. But even as we engage in this very important task, we should also focus on the longer term, because there are interesting opportunities not least because of challenges like sustainability. These can be seen as long- term challenges, but they also create new possibilities, and therefore opportunities for all of us. Ultimately, our goal is to harness innovation and energy in public-private partnerships to deliver a reliable, resilient and future-ready transport system that will benefit of all Singaporeans. We at MOT and LTA look forward to working closely with all of you – physically, virtually and beyond – so that we can, together with the public, private and people sectors, work towards that vision, to the benefit of all Singaporeans. I wish all of you a very productive conference today. Thank you for inviting me.

 

1COMET stands for COVID-19 Multi-Passenger Enhanced Transport.