Channel NewsAsia - Monday, June 30
Some six years ago, former Speaker of Parliament Tan Soo Khoon took a peek into the future when he spoke on the hot topic of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) during a budget debate.
He said then: "Sir, the Government’s policy has been that the cost of ownership of cars would be reduced over the long run, but the cost of usage will increase. Hence, we have increases in ERP charges. We have ERP almost everywhere, or soon—to—be everywhere, (and) we are going to have ERP day and night. I think very soon, ERP will mean ’every road pay’.
"Sir, the day will be quite soon when the only safe place to leave your vehicle is at home, if you are lucky enough to own a landed property. You can well imagine that, one day, if I drive out of my house, the first thing I hear would be this ’beep’ sound coming from the little device on my dashboard, and everywhere you go, you will be hearing ’beep, beep, beep’, instead of car horns."
Mr Tan’s sagacity is well—known.
While Mr Tan’s worst—case scenario has yet to emerge, from July 7, motorists will have to face higher ERP charges and even more gantries in operation as the traffic authorities respond to growing congestion on our roads. Their argument: If ERP charges do not go up, the growing traffic congestion will have an adverse impact on the economy.
From July 7, family life in Singapore should improve, at least for those who pass through traffic gantries. Businesses, too, will become more competitive as the cost of crossing these gantries goes up, leading to faster travel times, which should then lead to lower transport costs overall.
So said Land Transport Authority chief executive Yam Ah Mee in a recent media interview: "Faster travel times lead to overall lower transport costs and ultimately, help businesses to remain competitive. Congestion also adversely impacts family life, as people spend more time on the roads."
The LTA claims that traffic speed along major routes like North Bridge Road, South Bridge Road, Stamford Road and Bras Basah Road have fallen by 22 per cent in the evenings, compared to two years ago.
Few would deny that the ERP system has helped in smoothening traffic flow, especially in the Central Business District. The main quarrel with the timing of the new round of increases is that it comes in the wake of higher petrol prices and insurance costs. Many would argue that traffic congestion here is still tolerable compared with the traffic jams in Bangkok, Jakarta and even Kuala Lumpur.
In fact, some contend that traffic in Singapore could be even smoother but for the ubiquitous road works, tree pruning and numerous traffic lights. The LTA itself has admitted that in calculating traffic speed, it included the waiting time at traffic lights, and as everyone knows, Singapore probably has more traffic lights per kilometre of road than anywhere else in the world.
And, as for business benefiting from a lower volume of traffic, why, then, is it that businesses were the first to voice their opposition to the increases? Just ask the merchants on Orchard Road and elsewhere in the CBD whether they prefer to have the car parks in their malls full, or empty. It was only when the authorities decided to introduce a "window period" in the mornings between 9.30am and noon that business at the malls in the Orchard Road area improved.
Perhaps a survey on whether motorists prefer to pay more for a smoother ride or put up with crawling traffic would have helped.
In any case, why raise costs when inflation is already raging at record levels?
And if the authorities want you to switch to public transport, why do buses and taxis also have to pay ERP charges?
Last year, SBS Transit had to pay $2.9 million (same as the previous year) in ERP charges, $5.8 million in road taxes ($5.4 million previously) and absorbed almost $37 million in output GST (up from $28.5 million). Figures for ERP charges paid by taxis were unavailable. After all, the LTA claims that the ERP system is not a revenue—raising exercise.
The present solution to smoother traffic flow also smacks of elitism, and will only serve to widen the gap between the haves and the have—nots.
And why is the preferential additional registration fee (Parf) on cars, for which the owner claims the benefit when the vehicle is de—registered, still paid with a voucher to be redeemed with the purchase of another car?
If the authorities want to see fewer cars on the road, surely a cash rebate, which may not end up with another car purchase, makes more sense.
Mr Tan should be a fortune-teller.
The public transport policy and transport tax policy seems handled by two diff ministries with diff objectives and policies. Could we have a inter-ministerial committee then? It would not be too many to form another one more inter-ministrial committee.