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Speech by Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, on Enabling Active Mobility, at the Committee Of Supply Debate 2015 on 11 March 2015

11 Mar 2015 In Parliament

1.     Madam Chairperson, I appreciate Members’ thoughtful questions and views on our transport policies.

2.     In the 2013 Land Transport Master Plan, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) set out an ambitious goal that 80% of households in Singapore will be within a 10 minute walk from the nearest MRT station. We will achieve this when our rail network is expanded to eight lines and connected by about 280 train stations in 2030.

3.     In this regard, the walk to and from the stations, often termed “the first- and last-mile connection”, is a key determinant of the commuter’s overall experience. For some of us, it is an important consideration in choosing between taking public transport, or driving the car. Madam Chairperson, if I may have your permission to show some slides. 

Improving Walkability for Everyone

200 km of Sheltered Walkways by 2019

4.     A common feedback is that the Singapore weather makes walking to public transport uncomfortable and inconvenient. It is either too hot, or it rains. That is why LTA has implemented the Walk2Ride programme, which will provide some 200 kilometres of sheltered walkways between MRT stations, bus interchanges and popular amenities all over Singapore. 200 kilometres is a very substantial length of covered walkway, about four times the distance from Tuas to Changi. Construction will begin later this year and will be completed in four years. I thank Ms Low Yen Ling for her interest in the Walk2Ride programme, and we will study the suggestions further.

Improving Mobility for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities

5.     Sheltered walkways will make the walking journey more pleasant for the average commuter. Mr Cedric Foo will be happy to note that over the last year, as part of our Ministry’s shift towards a more commuter-centric approach, we have also started investing resources to understand and address the diverse needs of different commuter groups. I would like to share with you some of our current and upcoming efforts. For instance, we are planning to make our transport system more senior-friendly as our population ages. 

6.     We recently met with a number of seniors and accompanied them on their public transport journeys to better understand their mobility needs and challenges. Some seniors shared where we could make walking routes less slippery and hazardous, and we became more conscious that sudden changes in gradient, such as at some pedestrian crossing junctions, are actually quite difficult for them to navigate. Others suggested installing seats along walking routes to provide resting points. All these are very good suggestions and we will study them to see what we can do. 

7.     One key area to work on is pedestrian overhead bridges. Pedestrian overhead bridges are generally built where there is heavy or fast vehicle traffic, as this gives pedestrians an exclusive, and therefore the safest means of crossing the road at their own time. However, these bridges can be very challenging for seniors and persons with disabilities to use. It was in response to this feedback that LTA started a programme in 2011 to retrofit lifts at six pedestrian overhead bridges. We subsequently expanded the programme to an additional 41 bridges. I appreciate Mr Lim Biow Chuan’s support for this programme, and many of my residents, especially the elderly, welcome it too. Hence, we are looking to expand the programme further, and the number of elderly residents is definitely one of the factors that we will consider when prioritising which bridges to retrofit. However, we seek Mr Lim’s understanding that given the time and resources needed to retrofit each bridge, we should work towards ensuring that as many bridges as possible have some form of barrier-free access. This means that for bridges that are already equipped with ramps, we will likely consider retrofitting them with lifts only at a later date.

8.     Another area we have been working on is to make the whole transport network wheelchair accessible; Mr Gerald Giam asked about this. Today, this is already largely so. Since 2011, all zebra crossings and signalised pedestrian crossings have been barrier-free. All MRT stations and bus interchanges, as well as 97% of all bus shelters, support barrier-free access. Our latest figure shows that four out of every five of our approximately 4,800 public buses are already wheelchair-accessible, and we target for the rest to be wheelchair accessible by 2020. Members might also be pleased to know that LTA will be piloting a Priority Queue Initiative at the new Yishun Temporary Bus Interchange which will open this Saturday. It will feature a dedicated area for seniors and persons with disabilities to sit while they queue for their buses. If well received, we will extend this feature to other interchanges.

9.     Today, 94% of all taxi stands registered with LTA are also barrier-free, and we are working with our stakeholders to close the remaining gaps. Unfortunately, the picture is less positive for non-registered taxi stands in private developments such as office buildings and shopping malls. Modifying taxi stands to be barrier-free requires only a small effort, but can make a big difference to the lives of the less mobile. I hope private development owners will respond positively when LTA calls on them.

10.     We have also been making our transport system more accessible to the visually-impaired. Tactile guides are installed at the edges of road kerbs and overhead bridges, and on the floor in all MRT stations and bus interchanges. As Mr Gerald Giam mentioned, LTA has also worked with the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped to install audible pedestrian signals at over 800 signalised pedestrian crossings. I thank Mr Giam for his suggestion to install tactile signals at pedestrian crossings, and we will engage our stakeholders to explore this further. Other ideas such as equipping bus stops with audible or tactile announcements of buses require extensive system upgrades, and we will consider them for the future. 

Improving Road Safety

11.     Another key concern amongst the elderly is road crossings. As part of my duties at the Ministry, I chair the Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Committee. Members of the House would remember that I spoke extensively about the concept of Silver Zones last year, which are areas where we implement additional traffic calming measures such as lower speed limits and ramp-downs, to improve road safety for elderly residents. We have launched Silver Zones in Bukit Merah and Jurong West, with three more in Bedok, Marine Parade and Yishun in the works. The feedback on this has been immensely positive, and motorists are supportive too. We will therefore expand and improve upon the Silver Zone programme. If all goes well, we should be able to bring the total number of Silver Zones across Singapore to 35 by 2020.  

12.     Similarly, given the positive feedback, we will double the number of pedestrian crossings with Green Man Plus to 1,000 by 2018. Green Man Plus allows seniors and persons with disabilities to tap their transport concession cards at traffic lights to get more time to cross the road.

13.     Another road safety initiative that we have been working on since 2000 is School Zones. This time last year, I introduced a toolkit of safety initiatives for primary schools to complement the existing School Zones, one of which is to reduce the speed limit along roads fronting these schools to 40 kilometres per hour during school hours. We also helped schools implement a series of road safety initiatives, tailored to each school. So far, 10 primary schools have implemented the new School Zone safety initiatives. They have worked well, and we will roll them out across 200 more in the next three years.

14.     Mr Png Eng Huat would be glad to know that LTA and the Traffic Police have implemented additional measures to make our traffic junctions safer for all. For instance, LTA has installed blinking studs along pedestrian crossing lines to remind motorists turning right to give way to pedestrians crossing the road. The Traffic Police has also leveraged technology by installing digital cameras to deter and detect motorists running red lights. Our efforts are bearing fruit. Our road safety record has generally been improving over the years. The rate of fatal and injury accidents per 10,000 vehicles has decreased by about 4% from 2012 to 2014. The number of fatal and injury accidents at traffic junctions has decreased by about 17% in the same period.

Supporting the Use of Bicycles and Personal Mobility Devices

15.     Let me now shift gear to talk about a faster form of active mobility – cycling and the use of personal mobility devices (PMDs). We believe that cycling and the use of PMDs can complement our public transport strategy and move us closer to a car-lite nation. To this end, we have extensive plans to expand the National Cycling Plan to support cycling as a mode of transport, particularly for first- and last-mile trips and for short trips within towns. 

16.     Last year, I shared that we would provide every HDB town with a cycling path network, and these will come together to form an island-wide off-road cycling path network reaching over 700 kilometres in length by 2030.

17.     We have made good progress. Last month, we completed the third cycling path network in Pasir Ris. We will complete similar networks in Yishun, Changi-Simei and Taman Jurong this year. These intra-town networks have been very well received because they provide a safe, separate path for cyclists of all ages and competencies. Where possible, we would like to accelerate the completion of these cycling path networks in all other towns. We are also embarking on building inter-town cycling routes, starting with the link between Alexandra Canal Linear Park and Ulu Pandan Park Connector to provide a connection from the west to the city for cyclists.

18.     In addition, we will experiment with fitting Ang Mo Kio with even better cycling infrastructure, such as weather-protected cycling paths and elevated paths for a smoother, faster, and more comfortable ride that bypasses road traffic. The pilot will provide useful insights and help us decide if more trials are needed on the alternatives. 

19.     Besides cycling paths, there must also be sufficient bicycle parking to encourage people to cycle to transport nodes and other amenities. This is why LTA has built some 12,000 bicycle parking lots across all MRT stations in Singapore, and plans to add another 11,000 lots at new stations on the Downtown, East-West and Thomson-East Coast Lines. LTA also plans to introduce new standards for bicycle parking provision in private developments. We will release more details in the coming months.

20.     While some of us enjoy owning bicycles, many also appreciate the convenience of making one-way trips on bicycles, or cycling for only a portion of their journeys. Last year, I shared our plans to introduce a bicycle-sharing pilot in Jurong Lake District and the Marina Bay city centre. I am happy to update that we will be extending the pilot to Tampines and Pasir Ris, subject to interest from potential service providers.

21.     Building cycling infrastructure is only one half of the equation. The other half, and what I think should be the more immediate half, is to develop clear and consistent rules and norms to instill safe and responsible conduct amongst all road users. Many MPs, like Mr Cedric Foo, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Gan Thiam Poh, have spoken passionately in the House today about the need to make it safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists when using shared space. I agree that the main issue is that these road users may behave in ways that cause inconvenience and danger to others and themselves, sometimes without being conscious of it. 

22.     To be sure, there are existing rules in the Road Traffic Act, NParks’ regulations and some Town Councils’ by-laws. Over the past five years, the Traffic Police issued around 3,500 summonses for cycling on footpaths for both conventional and motorised bicycles. In the same period, NParks issued 220 summonses against the use of motorised bicycles in parks and park connectors. However, despite these enforcement efforts, the rules may not be clear to the man on the street and may not be consistently applied today.

23.     As Dr Janil Puthucheary pointed out, the rules are most unclear for PMDs. Examples of such devices include the electric scooters that Dr Puthucheary spoke about, or the motorised bicycles that Mr Gan and Mr Ang highlighted. Since the law is silent, a strict interpretation of the rules could suggest that they should not be allowed on both footpaths and shared paths. However, this is clearly not a sensible policy, since they are a convenient way to get around the neighbourhood and are increasingly common. Already, there are around 11,600 authorised motorised bicycles in Singapore.

24.     Hence, we should establish and actively promote a clear and consistent set of rules and norms on the use of bicycles and PMDs. The challenge is, and Members will agree, there are wide differences in views on what these rules and norms should be. Hence, in the coming months, LTA will consult all stakeholders, to try to strike an appropriate balance between the different needs and views. One area of consultation could be on how cycling and the use of PMDs should be regulated to encourage the right behavior, a concern that Mr Ang and Mr Gan have raised.

25.     It may well be that we will have a set of rules and norms that govern cycling and PMD-use generally across Singapore, and a slightly different set for towns that are ready to embrace more progressive rules and norms, for example in allowing cyclists and users of non-motorised PMDs to also use footpaths. We need not have a one-size-fits-all solution. Tampines is one example. Guided by a set of clearly defined rules and norms, and with education efforts supported by passionate grassroots leaders, residents in Tampines have been able to use footpaths for both walking and cycling in a safe manner.

26.     Finally, we also need to better coordinate cycling initiatives across the whole of Government. Today, cycling is supported by a whole host of Government agencies such as LTA, the Traffic Police, NParks and URA. We have decided that LTA will henceforth be the lead agency for both walking- and cycling-related policies and programmes. LTA will be the central planner for walking and cycling routes, and ensure that our education efforts and the enforcement of cycling rules and norms, are coherent and coordinated. To do this, LTA is setting up a new Active Mobility Unit.

27.     Madam, I hope that I have given Members of this House a better idea of how we will be encouraging and improving the walking and cycling experience in Singapore to encourage active mobility, and to complement the public transport-centric transportation system towards which we are working. If more people take up walking and cycling, our environment will become more livable and sustainable, and we will all be healthier. As Health is my other portfolio, this solves two problems at the same time for me. 

28.     Thank you.

Infographics: Encouraging Walking and Cycling