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Speech by Minister for Transport, Mr Ong Ye Kung, at the Land Transport Authority’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

23 Apr 2021 Speeches

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean

Former Ministers

Colleagues, past and present

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen 

1.     25 years ago, four Government outfits – the Registry of Vehicles, the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation, Roads and Transportation Division of the Public Works Department, and then the policy of Land Transport Division of the Ministry of Communications – merged to form the Land Transport Authority (LTA).  

2.     The idea behind LTA’s formation is a powerful and far-sighted one – which is as Singapore became more developed, we should have a single agency to holistically plan, develop and operate our land transport system.  

3.     Hence, the mandate of LTA was designed to span across all modes – private vehicles, buses, MRT and LRT, taxis; cover the entire value chain, plan, design, develop, operate; cover supply but as well as the demand side of the house, demand meaning Certificate of Entitlement (COE) and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). 

Tribute to LTA Pioneers

4.     To all our guests today, thank you for joining us on this important occasion, as we mark the Silver Jubilee of the formation of LTA.  

5.     This event was postponed from last year, but I am glad that we can hold it this year. We cannot have a big crowd due to safe distancing measures, but we do not need one. The organisers have carefully curated a group of guests, each of whom played an important role in the conception and the growth of LTA over these 25 years. 

6.     So today I am standing here not just because I am the host and I am the Transport Minister, for the next three weeks, but also because I am an alumnus of LTA. For those who do not know, as a young civil servant, the then-Ministry of Communications was my first posting, and I was one of the staff officers working on the establishment of LTA.  

a.     Mr Mah Bow Tan was then my Minister and led the charge;

b.     SM Teo was our MOS, and I remember vividly SM wrote the PreCab paper on the set up of LTA, very clearly articulating the rationale for LTA. So to all my staff that noticed, sometimes I write my own precab paper, you know where I learnt it from; 

c.     The late Mr Tjong Yik Min was my Permanent Secretary, and Mr Liew Heng San, my Chief Executive. Both of them oversaw the various aspects of the merger’s execution, including ensuring that LTA functioned as intended; 

d.     The staffers at that time including Mrs Maria Choy – my director and first boss. Mr Tong Ming Shen, Mr Loh Khum Yean and Ms Eng Sok Yong were my fellow policy officers. I remember Maria used to tell me when we were working on this, she said “Do all the things properly, you will never know, one day, you might come back as Permanent Secretary.”  

7.     There were many other senior officials who made the establishment of LTA possible, such as Mr Low Tien Sio from MRTC then; Mr Gopinath Menon, Mr Joseph Yee and the late Dr Tan Swan Beng from PWD(Roads); and Ms Lim Soo Hoon who was then Registrar of Vehicles.  

8.     Mr Fock Siew Wah became the first Chairman of LTA, presiding over a Board with members with diverse and deep expertise. This included Mr Michael Lim, who went on to chair LTA for another 14 years.  

9.     LTA was also fortunate to benefit from the service of a series of solid CEs – Mr Han Eng Juan, Mr Ho Meng Kit, Mr Yam Ah Mee, Mr Chew Hock Yong, Mr Chew Men Leong and then Mr Ngien Hoon Ping. 

10.    Each of them left an indelible mark in the organization – whether it is overseeing significant rail or road projects, forging community partnerships, improving bus and rail reliability and service, laying the foundation for active mobility, or grow LTA into a commuter-centric organisation.

11.    Along the way, successive Ministers for Transport guided the organisation with their steady hands, and helped to bring the public along as LTA carried out their tasks.  Some of these tasks are challenging, even not so popular, but the ministers carried them through. They are Mr Yeo Cheow Tong, Mr Raymond Lim, Mr Lui Tuck Yew and Mr Khaw Boon Wan. 

12.    I am sorry I won’t be able to name everyone who played an important role in the formation of LTA. But, because of all of them, today we have a statutory board with very deep capabilities, which has transformed the land transport sector in Singapore.  

13.    I am very glad that I see many of you here today. And on behalf of all LTA staff, let us put our hands together to give a big thank you.    

LTA’s Achievements

14.    Over the past 25 years, LTA carried out the work that it was set up to do, and the baby has now grown into a 6,800 person-strong organisation. Let me give a snapshot of a few significant achievements:

a.     First, the road network. It has grown from under 8,000 lane-km to more than 9,000 lane-km. So, not a big increase, but they include very significant additions, such as the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway in 2008 and the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) in 2013, and Lornie Highway in 2019. 

b.     Total vehicle population has grown from about 650,000 in 1995 to just under one million today. In 2018, we became the first country in the world to impose zero vehicle growth, through the COE system.

c.     We successfully implemented the ERP system in 1998. Beyond the Central Business District (CBD), we installed automated gantries at key choke points along expressways and arterial roads, to keep traffic smooth flowing. 

d.     Bus services have grown by about 50% since 1995, to 355 services today.  We launched the Bus Service Enhancement Programme in 2012 to improve the level of service. We adopted a Bus Contracting Model, so now there is more competition and the whole industry is a lot more responsive to ridership and commuter needs. 

e.     Taxis have changed totally, with the advent of private hire cars.  It is now a much more competitive and responsive market.  

f.     But I think finally, the biggest change is the rail network. Since 1995, we have added the North East Line, Circle Line, extended the North-South Line through the Woodlands line, introduced the Changi Airport and Tuas West Extensions and then added the Downtown Line. In 1995, we had 67km of MRT, 42 stations and 2 lines: North-South East-West, we called it the Compass Line then. Today, the network has grown to 230km, 183 stations and 9 MRT/LRT lines. 

15.    LTA’s journey was not entirely smooth sailing. It suffered several significant setbacks and challenges over the years.  

16.    The Nicoll Highway collapse, train collision at Joo Koon station, flooding at Bishan station and a series of signifiant train disruptions after 2011, and these were lessons that have been etched deeply into the memories of the institution. These were the challenges that LTA had to overcome, which spurred the organisation to do better, and served as constant reminders against complacency; against the thinking that life can go on business-as-usual or on autopilot. 

An Evolving Vision 

17.    The formation of LTA was not the only significant change to the land transport landscape in 1995. There was a complementary effort to chart out a road map for the future and to envision the future.

18.    Three months after LTA was formed, a White Paper titled ‘A World Class Land Transport System’ was presented to Parliament, as Command Paper Number One, by Mr Mah Bow Tan. 

19.    The White Paper set out four key thrusts to achieve LTA’s mission. I used to be able to recite them in my sleep. First, integrating land use, town and transport planning; second, developing a comprehensive road network; third, managing demand for vehicle ownership and usage; and fourth, improving public transport.

20.    Since then, we have further developed our blueprint, into the Land Transport Masterplan (LTMP) 2040, where we aspire to have 20-minute towns and a 45-minute city, a transport system that is inclusive, safe and convenient, and bring about healthier and more vibrant communities.  

21.    The Masterplan actually still relies on the underlying four thrusts articulated in the 1996 White Paper – except the way we interpret and we implement them has qualitatively changed and evolved. Because circumstances are different; our hopes and dreams as Singaporeans have also changed. So let me explain.  

Integrated Planning will be Four-Dimensional 

22.    Take the first thrust – integration of land use, town and transport planning. Today, such integrated planning has become the norm in our urban transformation, and URA, HDB, LTA, NParks, JTC; they are working much closer together.  

23.    Hence, today, we see the emergence of regional centres such as Tampines and Jurong Lake District, which provide greater accessibility to jobs, amenities and transport nodes, significantly altering traffic patterns throughout the island. 

24.    Very interestingly, post-circuit breaker, it is actually these regional centres, and not the CBD, that saw higher levels of activities, supporting Singaporeans’ needs as many continued to work from home and generating commuter traffic. 

25.    We have new town concepts, such as Tengah, where amenities and residences are close by, with a car-free town centre served by underground roads. 

26.    There are ten integrated transport hubs today – fully air-conditioned bus interchanges linked to MRT stations and commercial developments.

27.    Integrated planning has thus far been three-dimensional, i.e. smarter and more efficient use of physical space, co-locating facilities together. In the post COVID-19 future, integrated planning will have to go beyond three-dimensions. 

28.    We must take into account the fourth dimension, which is time. Because COVID-19 has changed the way we work, commute and go about our lives. Working from home will be a new norm and, those who go to work, they will use staggered hours, flexible hours. As it is, we noticed a structural shift now in our morning peak hours. No longer so pronounced over one and a half hours, but more spread out. 

29.    We must also take into account purpose. Instead of clearly defined “work” and “live” neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods are more likely to bustle with different activities throughout the day. A premise for work can also be used for leisure or commercial purposes, support services like food and beverage and childcare, or even living. 

30.    All these have profound implications on planning. This could change the way we size our transport infrastructure, the way we design our living and working environments, down to the ergonomic details.  

From Road to Mobility Network

31.    The second thrust is to develop a comprehensive road network. In land-scarce Singapore, our intake for land for roads is about 12%.  

32.    But today a road is more than just concrete, asphalt and traffic lights. There are smart traffic management systems to optimise traffic flow. It may also have a policy overlay, making them Silver Zones or School Zones to improve safety for the more vulnerable road users.    

33.    But I think the biggest change is that now LTA is not just developing a road network, but something broader – a mobility network. It accommodates alternate transport, namely, bicycles, personal mobility devices where they are allowed, running, walking. It supports Singaporeans’ desire for more active lifestyles, better last-mile connections, and a greener environment. 

34.    So on top of the road network, we have a parallel network of cycling paths and park connectors. The network today is 460km long today but it will expand to 1,300 km by 2030. I recently realised that I can cycle from home to work along the rail corridor, then across the Southern Ridges, go on to Alexandra Road a little bit, take the footpath and I will reach my office. It should be under 30 minutes. I will try it soon. 

35.    On the rail corridor, park connectors or cycling paths, you will get a glimpse of a completely different perspective of Singapore, even as you are traveling through the same places as you are driving or taking the bus. It is a Singapore that is lush and green, where you truly feel this is a City in Nature.  

36.    If you take the train, you get yet another perspective. So we are now living in a transport multi-verse that is ever improving. Of course, when the multi-verse intersects, you will get conflicts, such as that between motorists and cyclists.  

37.    SMS Chee Hong Tat is handling this issue ably. But such conflicts are inevitable when transport options increase, and we will have to deal with it by consulting widely, putting in place new rules, education and enforcement. 

Beyond Demand to Emission Management

38.    I now turn to the third key idea, and that is to manage demand for both vehicle ownership and usage. This policy has prevented traffic gridlock over the years. Traffic gridlock, we know, it has plagued many cities around the world. But we have prevented it. 

39.    At its core, demand management of private vehicles has been about sustainable development, because this city is all we have. As a result, difficult policies, such as COE, ERP, Additional Registration Fee, had to be implemented. Such is the nature of policies related to sustainable development – they involve challenging trade-offs. 

40.    Today, with the launch of the Singapore Green Plan, sustainable development has been further thrust to the fore, and has become a whole-of-nation imperative. So beyond managing the demand to own and use private vehicles to control congestion, we are now also actively managing carbon emissions.  

41.    Hence, we have embarked on an ambitious exercise to substantively transform our vehicle population to run on cleaner energy by 2040. This will include our entire bus fleet. Operators are also transforming their taxi fleets and SMRT has just announced their plan. 

42.    Last month, I announced several measures to accelerate our push for electric vehicles (EVs), including tax incentives and plans to accelerate charger deployment. The first batch of 600 charging points will be installed at over 200 public car parks sometime next year. I hope at that point, it marks the start of an accelerated deployment programme. 

From Developing to Deepening Capabilities in Public Transport 

43.    But the biggest impact on carbon emission is a shift towards the use of public transport, the fourth prong of our land transport strategy. It remains the backbone of our transport system. 

44.    Daily public transport ridership has risen from 3.7million trips in 1995 to 7.7million trips in 2019. The modal share for mass public transport has been rising.  Today, during peak hours it is 64%, and we are aiming to raise it to 75% by 2030.  

45.    I think this is achievable, quite achievable, because we are developing new lines – Thomson-East Coast Line, Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line in the coming years.  

46.    In the initial years of LTA’s establishment, the focus is to physically expand the public transport system, especially the rail network. But today, it is also about a very conscious effort to deepen capabilities, as we operate an increasingly comprehensive and complex system. 

47.    Let me cite some of the major capability-building efforts – some completed, some on-going. After 25 years, I come back and look at LTA, this is where I find the biggest change has taken place.

48.    We upgraded the signalling and power systems of the train network.  In the process, we have built a simulation facility for each MRT line to rigorously test our signalling software and rectify any faults. 

49.    In procurement, we have put in place long-term service support contracts to anchor original equipment manufacturers in Singapore so that they can respond to our needs faster and better. 

50.    We are doing the same now for rail engineering capabilities, through the Integrated Train Testing Centre which broke ground recently. The Centre is the only one in Southeast Asia and the second one in Asia. It is a very good platform for planners, infrastructure developers, original equipment manufacturers and operators to locate themselves in Singapore, learn from each other and work closely together.  

51.    We are also seeing greater resilience to the system. There is now a back-up Operation Control Centre for each MRT line, in case any of the main centres fail. And while we will do what we can to prevent train disruptions, when they inevitably happen, there are now options to divert commuter traffic over the network. I was just chatting with SBST this morning, they have been doing replacement of their insulators for their catenary system, which has led to two significant disruptions in recent months. They are rushing to finish it, and we do early closure of train service to facilitate that. In a couple of weeks’ time, they will complete it. And what was good is that, while North East Line had to do early closure, commuter traffic now can be diverted through the Circle Line.

52.    Most importantly, our talent pool is deepening, and our people are gaining valuable experience. In 2017, we launched the Singapore Rail Academy to upgrade the skills of rail workers. Tertiary institutions are running specialised courses in urban mobility, which are popular among young students. SMRT was telling me this morning, since 2011 till now, number of full engineers have increased by four times. Now, over 400 engineers in SMRT.  

53.    There is also now institutionalised and regular exchange of talent between LTA and the public transport operators. A very welcome development is the rising number of female engineers. They are now 25% of our engineering recruitment every year, and we hope the percentage will increase further. 

Conclusion

54.    I count myself very lucky, to be able to return to MOT after so many years, to mark the Silver Jubilee of LTA, and to meet all our former colleagues again. 

55.    But today’s event is more than that. It serves two objectives. The first is to thank everyone for walking this 25-year journey. LTA’s achievements are possible only because of our people. 

56.    Generations of planners, designers, engineers nurtured the growth of the land transport system over the years; researchers constantly making breakthroughs.

57.    Transport workers working round the clock; Rosmani is here, representing NTWU, and so is Mr Fang Chin Poh. They are working round the clock to keep Singapore moving; unions collaborated closely with operators and Government. Enforcement officers constantly keeping bad behaviours in check, and they are getting busier and busier. Even artists – Mr Ong Kim Seng painted beautiful scenes of land transport and thank you for lending us your paintings to display today. 

58.    Singaporeans gave us valuable feedback, put up with noise and inconvenience as we improved the system, and demonstrated patience and understanding when we had to correct our shortfalls.  

59.    In the coming years, I foresee Singaporeans playing a bigger role in the improvement of our land transport system. Central planning of roads, bus services, and safety features is always necessary. But at the same time, it is also through your lived experiences, that we get valuable feedback to optimise operations and make important ground improvements.   

60.    Second objective of today’s event is to remind ourselves that much work remains to be done, and we can improve further. The next 25 years must be about ensuring that our system remains sustainable, environmentally and financially, and enduring for generations to come. We will have to keep striving forward, to set our land transport system firmly on course for a better, greener and more sustainable future.

61.    Personally, it has been a short homecoming for me, but a very meaningful one, and I thank everyone for your guidance and for your friendship. I look forward to the next chapter of LTA’s journey. Thank you.