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Speech by Senior Minister of State for Transport, Dr Amy Khor, at MOT Committee of Supply Debate 2021

05 Mar 2021 In Parliament

Introduction
 
1.     My speech will touch on how the land transport sector is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. I will share how we are future proofing our land transport workers. Then I will explain how we will partner the community to repurpose stretches of roads for footpaths and cycling paths to enhance connectivity. 
 
Responding to Covid-19 
 
2.     Let me first touch on COVID-19’s impact on the land transport sector. As the COVID-19 situation evolved, we had to implement additional safe management measures, while ensuring that our transport operations continued to run smoothly. Our land transport workers made this possible. On behalf of MOT, I applaud them for their courage, dedication and resilience.  
 
3.     We are also grateful for the strong support by the unions, associations and transport operators. A good example is that of the taxi and private hire car (PHC) sector. Right at the start of the pandemic, the Government worked closely with the National Taxi Association (NTA), the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) and the taxi and PHC operators to introduce the Special Relief Fund (SRF), which provided much needed support to our taxi and PHC drivers amidst a significant decline in ridership. As of February 2021, the Government has disbursed more than $155 million in relief payouts to over 50,000 drivers through the SRF and the COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund (CDRF). Additionally, the Government has disbursed more than $500 million dollars to over 57,000 drivers under the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS). 
 
4.     I would like to assure Mr Ang Wei Neng and Ms Yeo Wan Ling that we will continue to support our taxi and PHC drivers. In fact, we have committed $116 million towards CDRF payouts between March and June 2021. In view of the fluid circumstances, we will continue to monitor the situation closely to assess if further support is necessary. 
 
5.     Mr Ang shared his concerns about young drivers in the taxi and PHC sector and asked if the Government will consider capping the number of PHCs. Firstly, Mr Ang may recall that we raised the minimum age for new Private Hire Car Driver’s Vocational Licence (PDVL) applicants to at least 30 years old last year, to align with the Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence (TDVL). Secondly, Singaporeans below the age of 40 with tertiary education make up less than 10% of all TDVL and PDVL holders. From this group, those below 30 years old make up about 3% of all TDVL and PDVL holders, and they have been grandfathered. Finally, we have no plans to cap the number of PHCs, as the sector is already sensitive to market conditions. For example, we observed a 12% drop in the number of registered PHCs since the start of the pandemic. For drivers who exit the taxi and PHC sectors amidst the pandemic, we appreciate the Labour Movement’s assistance in helping them to upskill and look for alternative jobs.   
 
6.     Last but not least, we have also partnered the NTA, NPHVA and the taxi and PHC operators to commence vaccinations for taxi and PHC drivers last week. This forms part of our efforts to offer vaccinations to our frontline land transport workers and strengthen the resilience of our essential services. Since last week, MOH has issued SMS notifications to all of the more than 50,000 active taxi and PHC drivers. More than 50% of those invited have booked their vaccination appointments. We will work with the associations and operators to encourage more drivers to get vaccinated.  
 
Future Proofing Land Transport Workers
 
7.     The strong tripartite partnerships that have helped us weather the COVID-19 pandemic will also be critical to support the transformation of our workforce to meet longer-term needs. Before COVID-19, we were already looking into trends such as digitalisation and new vehicular technologies. These present many challenges but also create exciting opportunities.
 
8.     As Mr Melvin Yong pointed out, the electrification of the land transport system will create many jobs and opportunities for upskilling. New competencies are required to maintain EVs and charging infrastructure. In December 2020, the Government supported the establishment of the Singapore Motor Workshop Association’s training facility to impart EV-related competencies. We will continue to work closely with companies, training providers and unions, to identify ways to support young graduates and existing workers to acquire such competencies. 
 
9.     Ms Yeo also asked how we are helping taxi and PHC drivers cope with longer-term technology developments, such as digitalisation. LTA is engaging the industry on an updated training curriculum for the Taxi Driver’s and the PHC Driver’s Vocational Licences, which will place greater emphasis on key competencies to help drivers cope with digitalisation, such as mapping and navigational tools. The new curriculum will also allow drivers to be kept up to date with new vehicular technology, such as electric and autonomous vehicles.
 
10.    LTA will also support greater use of technology to train taxi and PHC drivers, by facilitating training centres to offer online TDVL refresher courses so that the drivers can attend the courses at their convenience. A new conversion course will also be introduced to allow drivers to convert their PDVLs to TDVLs to expand the driving options for vocational drivers. LTA will announce more details at a later date.  
 
A sustainable and inclusive land transport system
 
11.    Beyond workforce transformation, we can also emerge stronger by building a more sustainable and inclusive transport system under the Singapore Green Plan 2030. 
 
12.    We will encourage more people to switch from private vehicles to Walk, Cycle and Ride (WCR) modes. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans have embraced cycling and walking. I would like to assure Ms Yeo that we are harnessing this momentum to enhance the safety and ease of using WCR modes. 
 
a.     First, on active mobility (AM) regulations. Over a year has passed since we banned the use of e-scooters on footpaths. 
 
i.     I am pleased to inform Ms Yeo that footpath safety has improved considerably, with accidents involving motorised PMDs on footpaths falling by 79% between 2019 and 2020 to 30 cases. To further enhance safety, we will be rolling out a new import controls regime for personal mobility devices and power-assisted bicycles in the first half of 2021. This is an important measure to prevent the import of non-compliant devices. Meanwhile, we will continue with regular inspections of AM devices to deter illegal modifications.
 
b.     Second, on WCR infrastructure. Mr Lim Biow Chuan will be glad to know that we are pressing on with our plans to expand cycling paths from 460km to 1,300km by 2030. 
 
i.     This will allow more cycling journeys to be completed entirely on the cycling path network, although cyclists may still have to dismount and push at certain locations, such as overhead bridges, for safety reasons. By the end of this year, we will have added 28km of cycling paths, in Bukit Panjang, Sembawang, Taman Jurong and Yishun, as well as mature estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Tampines and Toa Payoh. We will also prioritize construction for towns that do not have cycling paths. SPS Baey will elaborate on how we will develop a culture of gracious usage on paths to complement these efforts.  
 
c.     We will also have transit priority corridors, to enhance the travel experience by public transport. The North-South Corridor (NSC) is one such example. 
 
i.     When completed, it will shave up to 20 minutes for bus commuters travelling from the North to the CBD with its dedicated and continuous bus lanes. The NSC will also serve as a green thoroughfare from the North into the city centre with its cycling trunk routes and pedestrian paths.
 
Remaking our Land Transport Infrastructure
 
13.    Chairman, going forward, as Ms Yeo and Mr Lim have suggested, we will work closely with the community to develop AM infrastructure.  
 
14.    We will repurpose suitable stretches of road into footpaths, cycling paths or bus lanes, and incorporate features that contribute to place making. LTA has identified some 60 possible projects to be implemented and have commenced engagement for five projects.  We will seek views from residents, grassroots volunteers, Town Councils, and local businesses, to identify potential enhancements. These views will shape key project details, such as the length of the stretch being repurposed, or when permanent infrastructure enhancement works will commence or even if the project should proceed at all. 
 
15.    We will start with projects to enhance walkability, starting with areas such as the Civic District as Mr Cheng Hsing Yao has highlighted to benefit the widest spectrum of users. Over the years, we have worked with arts and civic groups and premise owners to realise their aspirations for greater walkability within the Civic District. We have pedestrianised one side of Anderson Bridge and part of St. Andrew’s Road, and restricted vehicle access to stretches of Parliament Place, Old Parliament Lane and Connaught Drive. With this, pedestrians can walk seamlessly from Old Parliament House to Esplanade Park. 
 
16.    More can be done. Many Singaporeans have expressed a desire for more extensive pedestrianisation of the Civic District. Mr Mok Wei Wei, the architect for the upgrading of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, suggested fully pedestrianising Anderson Bridge as a gateway to the District. This would offer unblocked and panoramic views of the District’s architecture. We will consider his suggestion alongside others from visitors, arts and civic groups and premise owners, as we work towards our vision of a more pedestrian-friendly Civic District. 
 
17.    Looking beyond the Civic District, we will also work with the community to gradually reshape the streetscape in areas such as Sembawang, Bishan-Toa Payoh, Tanjong Pagar and Jalan Besar. 
 
18.    We will start with a stretch of Havelock Road. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I display some slides on the LCD screens. This is a mature estate, and we have heard residents and grassroots volunteers share their desire to make the area more walkable. Local business proprietors have also said that they would welcome wider footpaths, so that customers can browse more comfortably in front of their shops. We are studying widening the footpath by paving over some roadside parking lots, thereby creating a more pleasant walking experience for pedestrians. We will implement this with water-filled barriers temporarily for several months and then take in community feedback for further refinements, before permanently widening the footpath. 
 
19.    Aside from walkability, we will also start to convert stretches of roads into cycling paths, beginning in locations such as Ang Mo Kio Street 22, to expand our network of cycling paths. 
 
Conclusion 
 
20.    Chairman, 2020 was a difficult year for the land transport sector. And, pardon the pun, the road ahead remains challenging. But we will step up our efforts to transform our land transport system to become more inclusive and sustainable. We will also partner the community to build a landscape of roads and paths that meets Singaporeans’ aspirations for a liveable and sustainable home. This will enable us to walk, cycle, and ride safely and comfortably while we look to soar in the skies again!