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Speech by Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary at the Ministry of Transport's Committee of Supply Debate 2019 on Bringing Singapore Together

07 Mar 2019 Speeches

BRINGING SINGAPORE TOGETHER

Co-Creating with Singaporeans, Bringing Singapore Together

1. Mr Chairman, our land transport network connects millions of Singaporeans every day to homes, jobs and schools. It is an economic enabler and a social leveller. As Minister Vivian has noted, it is a maturing network thanks to the efforts of leaders, planners and transport workers who made this happen for us. 

2. However, this maturing system brings with it a different set of challenges. Through our work on the Land Transport Master Plan 2040 (LTMP 2040), it is clear that trade-offs between competing priorities are becoming more difficult to balance as we run up against tighter land, manpower and fiscal constraints. For example, we have heard that Singaporeans value convenience and faster journeys. However, how do we provide this without compromising on safety and accessibility, especially for those with more diverse needs such as the disabled? Given our space constraints, how do we prioritise one mode of transport over another, knowing that this could result in slower speeds for some? 

3. These are the realities we have to address for the next phase of development of our land transport system, and there are no easy answers. We must hold a long-term, clear-eyed view in managing these issues, and continue to enhance our land transport network to meet Singapore and Singaporeans’ growing needs, changing demographics and evolving aspirations. We embarked on an extensive public consultation process to reach out to Singaporeans from all walks of life. 14 members from the public, private and people sectors joined the LTMP Advisory Panel to study the feedback received and to recommend the visions, targets and strategies for LTMP 2040.

4. Through this public consultation process, the Panel considered 7,405 responses received over six months from commuters, transport workers, academia, industry partners, unions, students and interest groups. Their ideas shaped the strategies and targets identified to improve our land transport system. We learned what Singaporeans value and want from our land transport system, and we have set ourselves bold targets for 2040.

5. The Panel made three key recommendations.

20-Minute Towns and a 45-Minute City

6. First, 20-Minute Towns and a 45-Minute City. By 2040, Singaporeans can look forward to “20-Minute Towns” where almost all journeys to the nearest neighbourhood centre on public, active and shared transport modes can be completed within 20 minutes. Singaporeans will also be able to enjoy a “45-Minute City” where 9 in 10 peak hour journeys on public, active and shared transport can be completed within 45 minutes.

7. Public, active and shared transport is the only sustainable way forward with our land constraints. Let me explain. "Public" refers to, of course, our public transport system, our buses and our trains. "Active" referring to Active Mobility – walking, cycling, personal mobility devices. "Shared" can refer to the other two as well – public transport is also shared; many active mobility services can also be shared – but specifically, we also want to include shared transport through taxis, private hire cars and shared vehicles. 

8. Some have asked whether this means they won’t benefit if their journey today already takes less than 20 or 45 minutes. Our efforts to achieve 20-minute towns and a 45-minute city will benefit all Singaporeans, and it will have an impact on traffic flow, an impact on congestion, an impact on how we move around our city easily, regardless of how long their journey times are today. These improvements in public, active and shared transport will save the average weekday commuter 15 minutes every day by 2040. 

9. LTA is now studying the specific initiatives to achieve these targets, and will announce them in a few months’ time. Even as they do so, it remains clear that a convenient, resilient and efficient public transport network will be central to us achieving this “20-minute towns and a 45-minute city” vision.

10. To achieve 20-minute towns, we will have to continue to improve connectivity within towns. Apart from enhancing infrastructure to facilitate active mobility options for shorter, intra-town commutes, we are also conducting trials of on-demand public buses (ODPBs). Mr Melvin Yong asked for an update on the ongoing ODPB trial. While the technology is still evolving, the initial results are encouraging. Operated mileage has been reduced in some areas by more than 25%, one quarter, while allowing most ODPB commuters to enjoy journey times comparable to regular bus services. So 25% reduction in operated mileage, same journey times. Ridership has also been increasing. We will continue to explore ways to improve the service by adapting these trial parameters and refining the ODPB algorithm. We will also monitor commuter feedback to assess how and if the trial can be expanded to include peak hours and weekends. This will help us to identify the key success factors for the ODPB concept, including adjustments to the way we roster our bus captains to ensure that they have sufficient rest. In time to come, we can also explore virtual bus stops but this will require us to strike a careful balance between safety and convenience. We also will study the extent to which ODPBs can improve first- and last-mile connectivity to allow even more Singaporeans to benefit, regardless of their proximity to an MRT station. Such dynamically routed bus services have the potential to reduce travelling and waiting times for intra-town journeys and to allow commuters to enjoy more seamless commutes. 

11. To achieve a 45-minute city, I agree with Mr Ang Wei Neng that rail must continue to be the backbone of our public transport network. Even as we pursue our ambitions, I am happy to report that we are on track to achieve the targets set in our last LTMP. The announcement of the Jurong Region Line (JRL) in 2018 and the first phase of the Cross Island Line (CRL) earlier this year puts us yet another step closer to having 8 in 10 households within a 10-minute walk from a train station. This was the previous LTMP target to achieve in 2030, 10 years before the outcomes that we are hoping for LTMP 2040. 

12. We will continue to review and expand our rail network where there is sufficient ridership. Mayor Low Yen Ling and her residents will be delighted, I hope, to know that we have plans to fully fit out and open Hume Station on Downtown Line 2 (DTL2) by 2025. Hume was originally designed as a shell station on DTL2 as the pace of developments and ridership growth in the area did not warrant it opening with the other DTL2 stations. Mayor Low Yen Ling has worked hard on behalf of her residents, and worked with our public sector agencies. She has highlighted and advocated for the potential of the area and the needs of her residents. We have worked closely with her and her community leaders to see how we can improve the commuting experience for residents in the new estates. Since then, these new development plans have been made, partly because of the advocacy and the engagement by Mayor Low and her community leaders – the redevelopment of the Rail Corridor and the transformation of the nearby Bukit Timah Fire Station into a Gateway Node for the surrounding nature and heritage attractions, and other developments. With all these, there will be sufficient ridership to justify opening Hume Station. Likewise, further addition of new bus services in Bukit Gombak will depend on the pace of development and ridership growth in the area. We are also studying other rail projects beyond 2030 that will bring us closer to the “45-minute City”. These will be announced when the LTMP is launched in a few months. 

13. As Mr Sitoh Yih Pin has pointed out, it is important that we continue to exercise financial prudence as we develop our land transport network. In deciding which areas to extend our rail network to, we will have to balance between managing costs and benefitting the most number of Singaporeans possible, taking into account the characteristics of each area. 

14. As an example, I’d like to address the suggestion by Mr Arasu Duraisamy that we study the feasibility of a new MRT line to Tuas South and Jurong Island. For Tuas South, the area is still in the initial stages of development, and there is not enough ridership in the near to medium term to support an MRT line. Nevertheless, we have taken steps to improve bus connectivity to the Tuas South area. With the opening of Tuas West Extension in June 2017, LTA launched two new public bus services in the Tuas South area, Services 247 and 248. When the Jurong Region Line and the Cross Island Line are completed, workers in Tuas South will also benefit. 

15. As for Jurong Island, there are no plans to extend the MRT onto the island itself, however, workers will benefit from the future Jurong Pier Station, which is located only a short distance away from Jurong Island Checkpoint. Once the JRL is completed in 2028, they can travel on the JRL to the Checkpoint, before transferring to a shuttle bus or company transport, taking them through security and onwards to the various industries around the island. For example, if we were to put a station on Jurong Island itself, it is unlikely to create any added convenience or time savings because the workers would still need to go through the Checkpoint security, and transfer to an onward last-mile shuttle to their final destination given how spread out the developments are on the island. So we have to balance the effectiveness of such a solution and the cost. 

16. Mr Chairman, we cannot achieve our vision of 20-minute towns and a 45-minute city through infrastructure developments alone. Our public transport system is built to support peak tidal travel demand during the short two-hour window on weekday mornings and evenings, as many Singaporeans living all over the island commute to jobs in the city centre. We need to optimise the distribution of jobs and housing across the island. This will reduce travel times as more people live closer to their workplace. This is in fact another way of redistributing the peak travel demand, and make better use of transport infrastructure, as noted by Dr Walter Theseira.
  
17. Today, there are already regional centres in Tampines, Woodlands and Jurong East that are well connected to nearby amenities and jobs. We, in MOT and LTA, are collaborating with other agencies on upcoming key developments, including the Jurong Lake District, Jurong Innovation District, Woodlands North Coast, and the Punggol Digital District. These will be well connected by Transit Priority Corridors. We don’t have any of these yet, but we’re going to build some. These will have features such as dedicated turns and lanes for public and private buses, as well as other types of connectivity apart from the Transit Priority Corridors to link these new developments, such as the new rail projects which we have already announced – the Thomson East Coast Line, the North East Line extension. Taken together, the redistribution, these Transit Priority Corridors, the work that we are already doing on the MRT lines will shorten daily commutes to work and play, and take us closer to our vision of 20-minute towns and a 45-minute city.

Transport for All

18. The second key recommendation by the Advisory Panel is to build a more Inclusive Transport System. Through the LTMP public consultation process, Singaporeans have expressed the desire for a land transport system which is inclusive and welcoming to all Singaporeans. This means a culture where commuters look out for one another, especially those who are more in need. Singaporeans acknowledged that achieving this gracious commuting culture is a shared responsibility between Government, transport operators, transport workers and commuters. I am heartened that Singaporeans are willing to play their part, and my colleague SPS Baey Yam Keng will later elaborate on strategies to make our land transport system a more inclusive and friendly space for all Singaporeans. 

Healthy Lives, Safer Journeys

19. These planned infrastructural enhancements and the inclusion strategies will complement efforts towards the Panel’s third key recommendation on Healthy Lives and Safer Journeys. 

20. A comprehensive suite of public, active and shared transport options will reduce our reliance on privately owned vehicles and contribute towards a healthier environment. This will complement ongoing initiatives by different Ministries to improve the health of Singapore and Singaporeans, including through the reduction of vehicle emissions. For example, we work with the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) on the Vehicular Emissions Scheme and the Early Turnover Scheme to encourage owners to use cleaner vehicles. The electric car-sharing programme jointly supported by LTA and the Economic Development Board (EDB) is another example. Under this, BlueSG will roll out a total of 500 charging stations equipped with 2,000 charging points nationwide. To date, BlueSG has installed 687 charging points.

21. The Government will also take the lead in building a cleaner transport system. By 2040, we will upgrade all our public buses to cleaner energy sources. I am pleased to announce that key industry players in the point-to-point sector are also following the Government’s lead. All the taxi companies and some of the private hire car booking providers and car rental companies have committed to making their entire fleet run on cleaner energy by 2040. This is the first time that we have an industry-led target for LTMP.

22. Apart from a healthier environment, we will continue to encourage active mobility as a way to meet Singaporeans’ aspirations for healthier lives. Supporting this will require us to change the way we plan towns, to make active modes of transport more convenient. SMS Lam Pin Min will elaborate further on some of the initiatives planned to encourage more commuters to incorporate healthier modes of transport into their daily routines.

23. While we plan to improve speeds and convenience, I agree with Ms Cheng Li Hui that safety cannot be compromised. Our bus safety record has improved over the past year. Our public buses had an accident rate of 0.11 accidents per 100,000 bus service kilometres in 2018, a third lower than 0.15 in 2017. But every life lost on our roads or paths is one too many. We must work towards reducing land transport related fatalities. To do this, first, we will introduce more pedestrian friendly features such as Silver Zones to reduce vehicular speeds. Second, we will introduce signalised right turns at all traffic junctions where it is feasible. Third, we are exploring enhanced safety management systems, such as anti-fatigue, collision warning and blindspot warning systems to aid our bus captains. These will provide audio cues or vibrations to keep the driver alert, and are already standard requirements for our new public buses. 

Cultivating Innovation and Technology as an Enabler

24. Mr Chairman, many of our LTMP 2040 strategies rely on technology. Technological innovations in recent years have increased mobility options for commuters. There are also better journey-planning applications, including LTA’s MyTransport.SG mobile app, to help commuters plan multi-modal journeys. This in turn has improved the accessibility and utilisation of public transport. 

25. We have also used technology to make our commutes easier, such as through Account-based Ticketing (ABT). Since March 2017, LTA has partnered MasterCard to test the use of contactless bankcards on public transport under the ABT initiative. The pilot was successful and LTA is now working with MasterCard and Visa on the full launch of ABT under the branding of “SimplyGo”. Starting April 2019, all MasterCard users with compatible contactless cards or mobile phones can use these on our buses and trains. We plan for Visa to be used on public transport later this year. With SimplyGo, commuters will have the option of carrying one less card for transport, or maybe no cards if they are using their mobile phones, and not have to do card top-ups. 

26. Autonomous Vehicles or AVs is another area which can allow us to potentially reinvent how land transport is provided, such as dynamically routed services. AVs will also help us to create new job opportunities in the transport sector. ST Engineering Land Systems is conducting a trial of autonomous buses and partnering with SBS Transit to deploy a few of its best bus captains as safety operators. While the widespread deployment of AVs is still years away, such trials give us an early sense of the requirements for the new job roles that will be created. 

27. I agree with Dr Walter Theseira that our regulatory frameworks must also be flexible enough to guide the flow of technology without constricting it. We must strike a balance between protecting public interest, achieving our broader transport policy objectives, allowing innovations to thrive, meeting the needs of commuters, and creating jobs for transport workers. We need to be clear about what, why and how we want to regulate. How we have evolved our planned regulatory framework for the point-to-point (P2P) sector is a good example.

28. The rapid growth of ride-hailing applications has disrupted the P2P sector in many cities, leading to strikes, driver unhappiness and commuter inconvenience around the world. Here in Singapore, we have been fortunate. Commuter satisfaction with P2P services continues to remain high. More than 99% of commuters surveyed by the Public Transport Council were satisfied with taxi and PHC services in 2018. Such a positive outcome is only possible with responsible operators, sensible commuters, safe drivers and sound policy. In particular, the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) have played important roles in helping our drivers adjust to the technological transformation in the P2P space. 

29. PHCs or Private Hire Cars are now an important part of our land transport system, accounting for about 45% of all P2P journeys. In 2018, there were more than 120 million trips completed on PHCs alone. We are in the process of reviewing our regulatory approach for the P2P sector, to ensure that commuters can continue to benefit from a robust and safe P2P space. Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Ang Wei Neng spoke about the ongoing P2P review. Let me take this opportunity to give you the broad principles of the revised regulatory framework. 

30. We intend to introduce a new licensing process for all P2P operators focusing on three key areas. First, we will prohibit operators from tying down drivers through exclusivity arrangements, except for those operators that employ drivers. The majority of our P2P drivers will then be free to choose which operators to drive for, thus ensuring that the P2P industry continues to be a viable and sustainable sector to make a living in. Second, we will focus on commuter safety, where all P2P operators will have to play their part to keep commuters and drivers safe. Third, we will minimise business and regulatory costs for operators and drivers. Part of this involves streamlining, where appropriate, the regulatory differences between street-hail and ride-hail services, such as the taxi availability requirements that Mr Ang Wei Neng has raised. More details will be made available later this year. 

31. These principles will lay the ground for a safe, open and contestable P2P sector. New players and different business models will be able to enter and start providing P2P solutions for our commuters. Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Ang Hin Kee made suggestions about market size and P2P fares. We will study their feedback. However, our intention is not to regulate every single aspect of the P2P market, but to allow market forces to shape some of these more efficiently, and to let competition drive innovation. Ultimately, commuters and drivers will be able to benefit from better services and this will help achieve our 20-minute towns, and a 45-minute city vision. 

32. As Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Ang Wei Neng are aware, our review of the regulatory approach for the P2P sector has been happening in consultation with the industry, as well as the Labour Movement, represented by NTA and NPHVA. As we enter the final stages of our review, we will continue to work closely with our tripartite stakeholders to manage disruptions and consider feedback received, to keep in mind the need to protect commuter interests and also take into account suggestions such as Mr Ang Hin Kee’s to protect driver interests. We will do so while streamlining regulations and managing business costs where possible. Mr Ang Hin Kee will be pleased to hear that LTA will be establishing a PHC Tripartite Committee, to complement the existing Taxi Tripartite Committee. Together, these will provide platforms for LTA, drivers, and operators to discuss strategic issues concerning the P2P sector.

33. We recently completed our public consultation exercise on 21 February. Members of the public have expressed strong support for the policies we intend to roll out as part of the new regulatory framework. We agree with and will respond to the call for a more inclusive P2P sector; and will work closely with the industry on this. More details will be provided in the coming months. 

Creating Opportunities for All

34. Mr Chairman, our land transport sector will continue to create opportunities for Singaporean workers and businesses. 

35. Mr Melvin Yong asked about efforts to support public transport workers in meeting future challenges in the land transport sector, including the development and deployment of AVs in future. We will continue to work with unions and industry partners to help workers respond to these emerging technologies. In February 2018, we launched the Land Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM). Under this ITM, the Government is working closely with the unions and operators to upskill our workers, and to equip them with the capabilities to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. This is being done through our institutes of higher learning, as well as through the Singapore Bus Academy and Singapore Rail Academy. We have also established the ITM Tripartite Steering Committee co-chaired by NTWU and LTA to identify interventions to help workers respond to these emerging technologies. I would like to congratulate our local operators, SBST and SMRT, on signing Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the National Transport Workers’ Union to raise the competencies of their train and bus workers. This cooperation between company management and unions is critical to developing a future-ready workforce. 

36. Our businesses will also benefit. I agree with Mr Ang Wei Neng that developing local capabilities is vital to ensuring industry resilience. However, offset conditions such as the transfer of technology, which are prohibited under our international obligations, are not the only way to achieve this. Many of our local companies are already partnering LTA on civil construction projects. Hock Lian Seng and Lum Chang Building Contractors are two such companies which initially partnered other international contractors and made use of these opportunities to grow their experience and capabilities. Today, they take on complex rail and road infrastructure projects on their own. Our procurement process must continue to be open and fair, so that more such opportunities are afforded to our local contractors. 

37. Our local companies gain from contracts with LTA. This gives them the experience they need to go beyond our shores and secure overseas work. ST Electronics is one such example. They started growing their rail capabilities by performing works for the North-South and East-West Lines in the 1980s. Now, they have gone on to secure contracts overseas, and are a major supplier of Passenger Information Systems for railways in several countries. 

38. Looking ahead, there will be more such opportunities and we look forward to their continued involvement of local businesses. 

Conclusion

39. Mr Chairman, we are committed to building a world-class land transport system for Singapore. LTMP 2040 is yet another step in this journey together with Singaporeans to build the kind of land transport system that we want for ourselves and for our future. It is not just about the shared space or being a social leveller, or simply about building roads or buying buses or trains, or building new types of land transport systems. It is about bringing Singapore together. Thank you.