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Speech by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information at The Ministry of Transport’s Committee of Supply Debate 2020 on Towards A Future-Ready Land Transport System

05 Mar 2020 Speeches

1.     Mr Chairman, several members have asked questions or provided suggestions that I will address in my response: Mr Ang Wei Neng, Ms Sun Xueling, Mr Melvin Yong, and Ms Cheng Li Hui have brought up issues such as COVID-19, taxi and PHC drivers, the transition to the Bus Contracting Model, the push for Electric Vehicles, and the necessary incentives and infrastructure. They have also asked about our plans for autonomous vehicles and the future professional development of our transport workforce. I hope to address their questions.

2.     COVID-19 has affected the public transport and point-to-point sectors. Compared to about a month ago, ridership on our MRT, public buses and point-to-point transport sector has fallen by around 20%. 

3.     Taxi and PHC drivers’ livelihoods have been badly affected and they need help, so that they can continue to provide sustainable services for Singaporean commuters. Together with the operators and the driver associations, we launched a $77 million Point-to-Point Support Package last month. This will help to partially defray business costs incurred by about 40,000 eligible drivers. Taxi operators such as ComfortDelGro, SMRT, TransCab and Premier have committed to further help and will lean forward to provide additional rental rebates to their drivers, on top of matching Government’s contributions to the package. This brings the total support committed by Government and operators to over $90 million over 3 months. Eligible drivers have started receiving rental rebates or cash grants of up to $36.50 per day. Drivers who do not meet the eligibility criteria can seek help via the Government-NTUC Driver Care Fund. We hope that this will help the drivers through this difficult period.

4.     But COVID-19 could have a longer-term impact, so we are working closely with the operators and the driver associations to monitor the situation. If necessary, we will consider further support.

Sustainable Land Transport System

5.     Even as we deal with COVID-19’s immediate impact, we must push on with our plans for a future-ready land transport system. The Land Transport Masterplan 2040, or LTMP 2040, sets out our long-term vision for our land transport system. It was developed in consultation with over 7,000 Singaporeans. Many participants recognised that Singapore is running up against tighter land, manpower, fiscal and environmental constraints. Long-term sustainability has to be a key planning consideration for our transport system.

6.     There are three critical strategies for us to achieve the long-term sustainability of our land transport system.

a.     First, we have to make Walk-Cycle-Ride, or WCR, the preferred modes of transport here in Singapore. Walking – connecting us to transport nodes, to the MRT and buses, and also to amenities. Cycling – for those who can, is a very efficient and healthy way of getting around town. Riding – whether it is the MRT, the bus or shared vehicles, in preference to private car ownership.
 
b.     The second key strategy is to move comprehensively to cleaner and greener vehicles, dealing with emissions, resource utilisation, and the issues around carbon.

c.     Third, we have to optimise our land transport system for the future. Every little bit of marginal gain, whether it is safety, efficiency or cost, whether it is the experience of commuters, is important. The best way to do so is to appropriately and correctly use technology to optimise our land transport system.

Strategy 1 - Making WCR the Preferred Modes of Transport 

7.     Our first strategy is making Walk-Cycle-Ride the preferred modes of transport. It is sustainable, and Minister Khaw spoke about our ambitions for a world-class public transport network and our investments over the next decade to renew and expand the rail network. SMS Lam Pin Min spoke about how cycling and active mobility can play an appropriate role in this landscape. Buses will also play an important role. Today, they already connect millions of Singaporeans to their homes, schools and their offices daily. 

8.     The Public Transport Council’s annual Public Transport Commuter Satisfaction Survey shows that commuter satisfaction in our public bus services continues to be high. The Bus Contracting Model, or BCM, played an important part in achieving this. We have injected additional capacity through the BCM for more than 100 bus services. We have also built, replaced, or upgraded 16 bus interchanges island-wide to keep pace with the larger bus fleet. Peak-hour bus waiting times for trunk services have come down from 20 minutes or less in 2016, to 15 minutes or less today. These improvements would not have been possible without the hard work, the dedication and the commitment of our bus captains.

9.     The BCM was a major change for our bus industry, and tripartite partners worked closely together to ensure a smooth transition. In particular, the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) played a key role in the development of tripartite guidelines to protect the welfare of bus sector employees and our bus captains. Bus operators competing for contracts under the BCM have to abide by these guidelines, which ensure that bus employees will be treated fairly and will be no worse off when a new operator takes on a contract. Through this close partnership with NTWU, we have seen improvements to the working conditions for bus captains, such as upgraded staff canteens and more rest areas. The starting monthly pay for new local bus captains has also increased by over 25% since 2014, higher than the national wage growth of 18% over the same period. All of this would not have been possible without the NTWU’s leadership and active participation and we very much appreciate their contribution to this effort. 

Strategy 2 - Encouraging Cleaner and Greener Vehicles 

10.    Our second strategy is to encourage cleaner and greener vehicles. It appears self-evident. It has been discussed at great length in other parts of this Committee of Supply and also in the debate on the Budget. It is important and vital as we continue to grow our land transport system. As mentioned in DPM Heng Swee Keat’s Budget Speech, all vehicles will run on cleaner energy by 2040. This means that after 2030, we should see no new purchases of internal combustion engine vehicles, or ICE vehicles. Today, we have close to 900,000 ICE vehicles, and this will require an extensive transformation of the fleet, significant changes in commuting and consumer behaviour, and the development of the necessary supporting infrastructure to achieve this vision.

11.    Today, Electric Vehicles are the most promising cleaner vehicle technology. Car manufacturers are developing new models that are energy efficient and increasingly cost-effective. Other technologies such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could be viable in the future, but today they are currently less suited for mainstream use. Singapore lacks a supply of green hydrogen to power such hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. So if we choose that path, there will be a higher cost associated with the technology, infrastructure and refuelling. Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor developments and move in a way towards this vision of 2040 that will allow us to adapt to other technologies in the future.

12.    It is an ambitious undertaking. And there are serious challenges that we will need to overcome. The Government will make four moves to achieve this vision.

13.    First, we will ensure that there is enough charging infrastructure accessible to EV owners. It will not be easy but it is very important, because if you are considering purchasing an EV over an ICE vehicle, you have to be convinced that you have access to a charger which is as convenient as access to a petrol station. 

14.    As a first step, we will prioritise the charging provision at carparks, starting with public carparks. We will also work with the private sector to improve charging provisions at private carparks. We encourage charging providers to partner private developers and building owners, as many of them are keen to increase the availability of EV charging on their premises. 

15.    Greater EV adoption will result in an increase in electricity demand and we will be able to manage this, because we will build new power generation capacity and reinforce our grid network. We will also incorporate innovations such as smart charging and energy storage solutions that store energy from the grid during off-peak periods. We are conducting studies to better understand the different factors that affect the demand for charging, and we will also study potential solutions. This will guide our planned rollout of the infrastructure needed. 

16.    The second move that we will make is to incentivise demand for EVs. Today, the upfront cost of EVs is about 78% higher than equivalent ICE vehicles. It is a large cost gap for a prospective EV owner. EV sales accounted for less than 0.1% of all new private car sales over the last 5 years. Today, we have about 1,000 EV cars.

17.    This is why DPM announced the EV Early Adoption Incentive at Budget this year. With this, the upfront cost difference between an EV and an equivalent ICE vehicle will be narrowed by up to $20,000. With further adoption and new models, this cost gap will close further. We expect EVs to reach cost parity with ICE vehicles by the mid-2020s. In the meantime, we hope that this incentive will serve as an early signal to encourage more prospective car owners to consider EVs. We also hope that car dealers will be encouraged to bring in more EV models, to provide more choice for consumers and cater to the increase in demand. 

18.    Taxi companies will benefit from this incentive. Mass market EV taxi models will only need to pay the minimum Additional Registration Fee of $5,000. As fleets like taxis stand to benefit more from the lower per-mile costs of EVs, we hope this incentivises more taxi companies to expand their electric fleet. I am happy to hear that SMRT Taxis has already indicated their intention to trial more electric taxis in the near term. 

19.    Although existing EV owners are not eligible for the EV Early Adoption Incentive, they will benefit from the technical revision to the variable component of their road tax from 1 Jan 2021 onwards. As a special transitional arrangement, we will exempt them from the additional flat component of the new EV road tax that was introduced at this year’s Budget. This component was introduced to partly account for the loss in fuel excise duties that EVs do not incur. It will be waived for a three-year period from 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2023 for all EVs registered before this period. So in the future, going forward, there will be an incentive for new purchases of EVs. And owners of existing EVs prior to 1 January 2021 will all see a reduction in road tax during this period. 

20.    The third move is that the Government will take the lead to green our fleets. Last year, I shared that all public buses and taxis will run on cleaner energy by 2040. We will go a step further: all new public bus purchases from now on will be cleaner energy buses, including electric or hybrid buses. 

21.    Since last March, we have deployed 50 diesel hybrid buses on the roads. We have also bought 60 fully electric buses and will be deploying them progressively this year. New bus depots will be designed to support electric buses. As we gradually replace our existing diesel buses with cleaner energy ones, Singaporeans will enjoy quieter commutes and cleaner air.   

22.    The fourth move is that we will update our regulations to keep pace with technology. 

a.     As one example, we will allow high-powered e-motorcycles into Singapore from 1 April 2020. This is in addition to the low-powered electric motorcycles which are already allowed today, and will add to the cleaner vehicle options that are available. Motorcyclists can now do their part for the environment by choosing an electric model.  

b.     We will also approve CHAdeMO, a fast charging method for EVs, as an optional EV public charging standard. This means that public charging points in Singapore can include these CHAdeMO chargers from today onwards. Prospective car owners will then be able to choose from a wider range of EV models, including those that use these CHAdeMO chargers. 

23.    We will continue to review and refresh our regulations on EVs to ensure that these keep pace with industry developments.

24.    To recap, 4 moves to drive the strategy of EV adoption in Singapore: build up the charging infrastructure; incentivise the purchase of EV vehicles; Government taking the lead with our fleet; and updating our regulations.

Strategy 3 - Harnessing Technology to Optimise Land Transport for the Future 

25.    Our third strategy is harnessing technology to optimise land transport for the future. We have always relied on new technology to improve our transport system and deliver better transport outcomes. There are examples such as how today, you can plan your journey by looking up bus arrival timings through the MyTransport app. Commuters can sign up for SimplyGo, allowing you to pay for public transport using your contactless bank card, so you no longer have to top-up your stored value cards.

26.    A further use of technology is autonomous vehicles, or AVs. These have the potential to improve connectivity by more efficiently offering dynamically-routed forms of shared transport.
 
27.    Our AV trials have come a long way since one-north was designated as the first site for AV public road testing in 2015. Today, about 30 AVs are authorised for public road trials in a testbed that has expanded to include areas such as the National University of Singapore and Jurong Island. These trials have allowed developers to enhance their technology through real-world applications, and helped LTA learn how to safely introduce AVs to improve our transport network. 

28.    The trials have also created opportunities for the public to interact with AV technology. Around 6,000 visitors tried out the on-demand driverless shuttles in Sentosa last year. The feedback was positive, with most visitors indicating that they enjoyed the ride. Mostly because for them, it was no different from a usual bus ride. 

29.    We aim to progress to the next stage of trials with pilot deployment in the early 2020s. We launched a Call-For-Collaboration last year and there has been keen interest from more than 20 companies. We are currently assessing and looking though their proposals. Safety and public acceptance will continue to be top priorities as we progress to pilot the deployment in other areas.

Manpower Transformation

30.    These are exciting developments. But even as we continue to study and adopt new technologies, we have to ensure that this benefits our people through better jobs. 

31.    AVs will transform the transport sector and create new jobs. Today, some of our public transport operators have already taken steps to familiarise our bus captains with AV bus operations. So these bus captains will then become confident of working with AV technologies in the future. 

32.    To further prepare our bus captains for the deployment of AV buses, LTA will work with stakeholders such as NTWU and PTOs to develop a skills and training roadmap to be launched by the end of this year. This will identify emerging skills and new job roles arising from AV deployment. On-the-job training and courses on AV safety protocol and operations will also be developed. We plan to train about 100 bus captains as a start.

33.    These efforts are part of the Land Transport Industry Transformation Map 2.0. The Government will continue to work closely with the unions and industry to prepare our workers for new job opportunities in the sector.

34.    Another initiative borne out of this close tripartite relationship is the Rail Manpower Development Package, or RMDP. The RMDP aims to expand the rail workforce and accelerate workforce transformation over the next five years. A key component of this is a set of incentives for rail operators to expand and accelerate their training in key technologies and skillsets such as data analytics and condition-based maintenance. We expect the first batch of workers to start training in these areas from the second quarter of this year, with over 3,000 expected to benefit over five years. The RMDP will also attract, retain and raise the profile of rail professionals through the launch of the new SGRail Industry Scholarships and Sponsorships. These will be open to fresh graduates and in-service staff to pursue further studies at Institutes of Higher Learning. By investing in our rail workers, we are also investing in the future of rail reliability.

35.    Beyond bus and rail workers, we will also continue to provide retraining and upskilling opportunities for taxi and PHC drivers, including allowing them to move laterally into adjacent sectors. The taxi and PHC operators have worked closely with the driver associations, with support from SkillsFuture Singapore, to develop training programmes for the drivers. For example, as of the end of 2019, about 4,600 ComfortDelGro taxi drivers have completed the SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace training programme, learning new skills to use e-payment technologies. Earlier this year, Grab and NPHVA also launched a Grab Driver-Partner Training Kit that includes courses on safety and digital skills. Over the next three months, drivers can also benefit from the Self-Employed Persons (SEP) Training Support Scheme, which the Minister for Manpower had announced in this House earlier. 

36.    We will continue to work with operators and unions to equip our land transport workforce with the necessary skills and capabilities for the next phase of developments.

Conclusion

37.    Mr Chairman, we have three major strategies to move towards the land transport system of the future. We emphasise on Walk-Cycle-Ride to deliver on the vision that we have for a 45-minute city and 20-minute towns. We want this system to be clean and green, and for every part of the system to be optimised through the use of technology. And across all these strategies, throughout all our efforts, we have to keep our focus on making sure that there are good jobs, that we look after the workers and that we provide them with the opportunities to retrain and reskill themselves, to take advantage of these new opportunities. There is a lot of work ahead of us to achieve all of this. We invite Singaporeans to partner us on this journey. Together, we can build a sustainable land transport system that brings Singapore together, one which future generations of Singaporeans will enjoy and will feel proud of. Thank you.