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Speech By Mr Raymond Lim At The LTA Workplan Seminar on 27 April 2007

27 Apr 2007 Speeches

Good afternoon to all of you.

1.     I am very pleased to be here this afternoon and to participate with you in the LTA Work plan Seminar. Yours is a very important organisation in our country as land transport is a critical enabler of our economic growth and affects in very direct ways the well-being of our people. Every day, more than 8 million trips are made on our roads and rails. The fact that most of these trips are problem free; so much so that when something goes wrong, there is an outcry as people are used to the high standards of our land transport system, is testimony to the excellent work that LTA has done and continues to do.

2.     A good example of this was the recent field visit that I made to the Boon Lay extension of the East-West MRT line. LTA project officers had ensured not only that the project is on schedule but had gone the extra mile to minimise inconvenience to the residents during construction.

3.     But you and I know that what is important is to continue to improve our land transport system as our country does not stand still. We need to change and respond to a growing and more div.erse population and see through the eyes of the travelling public. Expectations are rising and people expect their journeys to be more reliable, comfortable and convenient.

4.     So we have embarked on a review of our land transport system. We have three main strategic thrusts here making public transport a choice mode; managing road usage and meeting diverse needs. But this afternoon, I would like to talk about what I believe must always underpin our policy making, not just in this present review but on an on-going basis. There are four aspects of policy making that I believe we should make part of our MOT culture.

5.     First, we must always remember that policy does not take place in a vacuum. We need first and foremost to understand the realities of our situation. The defining reality is that we are a tiny city-state that is very densely populated. This spatial limitation informs the inevitable trade-offs that we have to make in land transport policy. This is also why it is critical that we work towards making public transport a choice mode as this is the most space-efficient way to transport large numbers of people in a compact city.

6.     Second, we should always do what would benefit Singaporeans as a whole rather than what is politically expedient. In other words, we must do the right thing rather than the popular thing. For instance, a public transport fare increase is never a popular thing as it impacts on a large number of people on a daily basis. But if we succumb to political pressure and intervene to override the Public Transport Council when it approves say a bus fare increase, then we will not be serving the long-term interest of the general public. This is because in the short-term the effect of holding fares down might not be obvious but over time it will result in an ageing bus fleet and underinvestment in fleet renewal. The end result as we have seen in many countries that have a politicized process of fare setting is that commuters end up with an unreliable bus service and terrible over-crowding. The government, then under pressure from the public to improve the awful bus service, finally bites the bullet and decides to raise fares sharply but finds that it is unable to do so as it is riding into a political firestorm because the public now asks why it should be paying more for such poor service!

7.     Third, we need to take a long-term view. Land transport infrastructure takes a very long time to implement, and when built, will have to serve not just our immediate needs but well into the future. Hence forward planning is critical. Take our MRT system as an example. Even though the first train started running in 1987, the planning for it started 20 years before that, in 1967, when the Government commissioned a State and City Planning study. Today, 20 years later, it is still serving the needs of a Singapore vastly different from that of the 80s.

8.     Given our limited land resources, transport planning for the future needs of Singapore takes on an even more critical dimension. As transport planners, LTA must develop a land transport system that will continue to meet our needs well into the future. The Singapore of 2050 will look very different from what it is today. The planning recommendations and decisions that you make have long-lasting, and in some instances, irreversible consequences.

9.     One key reference is the Concept Plan which sets strategic directions for our land use and transport development for the next 40 to 50 years. In the recent Mid-Term Concept Plan Review, the long-term population scenario has been adjusted upwards from 5.5 to 6.5 million. Imagine our roads and rail systems carrying twice the number of people as they do today. How do we design our future transport system and policies to achieve this, without compromising our quality of life? It is crucial that we try to answer such questions today, since new transport infrastructure and policies take time to plan and implement.

10.   Over the next 10 to 15 years, we will significantly increase the density of our rail network, given its ability to carry large numbers of people quickly, reliably and efficiently. When the Circle Line opens from 2010 onwards, it will add another 33.3 km to our rail network. I am also pleased to announce that the LTA has also completed its feasibility studies on the proposed Downtown Line (DTL) and that the Government has given its approval to proceed with the construction of the DTL. The DTL will be the next major rail development project for Singapore. It is 40km long and will cost the Government some $12 billion. However, this is money well-spent as it is an investment for our future, extending our rail network to new areas and in particular, supporting the many exciting developments taking place in the Marina Bay.

11.   The DTL will be built in three stages, with the entire line targeted for completion by 2018. The first stage, or DTL 1, incorporates the Downtown Extension. This 4.3km-long DTL 1 will have 6 stations, namely, Chinatown, Cross Street, Landmark, Bayfront, Promenade and Bugis. We target to complete DTL 1 by 2013 to serve the new developments in the Marina Bay, such as the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort and the new Marina Bay Financial Centre.

12.   The second stage or DTL 2 extends north-west from Bugis along the Bukit Timah corridor to Bukit Panjang. We aim to complete this by about 2015. The last stage DTL 3 extends eastwards from Chinatown, through Macpherson, Bedok Reservoir and Tampines to the Singapore Expo.

13.   When up and running, the DTL will enhance connectivity and shorten journey times. A trip from Bukit Panjang to the city centre that now takes 60 minutes will be shortened by one-third.

14.   Finally, we must recognise that we cannot build a first-rate land transport system single-handedly. Transport stakeholders such as public transport companies, bus and taxi drivers, public transport commuters and motorists all play an integral role in contributing to an effective transport system for today and the future.

15.   Hence, early this month, as part of our ongoing land transport review, we launched a series of focus group discussions to get suggestions and feedback from our transport stakeholders and members of the public, on some of the key issues and long-term challenges for our land transport policies. At the same time, we want to better understand their concerns and priorities, because land transport is a matter that affects everyone. Two focus group discussions have been held so far and we have received valuable feedback which we would incorporate into our ongoing review.

16.   LTA is also engaging the public through other channels such as the Internet. I am happy to note that LTA is launching The Great Transport Challenge 2020 If I were the Transport Minister, a game where players get a chance to do my job at least for the day. I am open to anyone who may wish to do it on a permanent basis. The game highlights some of the choices and trade-offs we will face going ahead. For example, should we build more roads at the expense of the environment? Should we allocate more resources to promoting public transport instead? How do we strike a balance between allowing for vehicle growth and managing congestion through ERP? How can we ensure that our transport system is able to meet the needs of an ageing population? I encourage everyone to try the game and share your thoughts on how we can achieve an accessible, sustainable and people-centred transport system.

17.   The challenge of building a first-class land transport system for all Singaporeans is an exciting and fulfilling endeavour. The LTA has a proud tradition that it can draw upon, and I am confident that LTA officers will continue to give of their best in building a