Wednesday 9 October 2013

Land Transport Masterplan 2013

First stage of Downtown Line to open on Dec 22
Lui Tuck Yew spells out three strategies to improve public transport
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2013 

THE first part of the 34-station Downtown Line will open on Dec 22 this year, marking one step towards a plan that will have eight in 10 households within a 10-minute walk from an MRT station by 2030.

Test runs are under way at the six stations - Chinatown, Telok Ayer, Downtown, Bayfront, Promenade and Bugis. Operator SBS Transit has hired 400 new staff for the first stage of this new line.

"We are intensifying our efforts and significantly investing more resources to improve the quality of public transport in Singapore," said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew when he launched the Land Transport Masterplan 2013 yesterday.

The 55-page blueprint maps out Singapore's plans to enhance the public transport system from now till 2030.

It acknowledges that commuters have had to deal with overcrowding on trains and buses with the population boom.

Mr Lui yesterday promised to improve the public transport system, and spelt out three key strategies to do so.
- First, commuters will have more transport connections, especially when the rail network doubles to 360km in the next 17 years.
This will include the 42km Downtown Line, and future lines such as the Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line.

About 40 new bus routes will be added under the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), while 200km of sheltered walkways will be built by 2018 to encourage walking.
- Second, commuters will get better service, with more trains and an upgraded signalling system on the way, to reduce waiting times and overcrowding on the MRT.
There will also be stricter standards to ensure that more taxis are on the road through the day.
- Third, cyclists and the elderly will also be taken care of. Apart from supporting alternative transport modes like cycling, there will be more lifts built at pedestrian overhead bridges to cater to a rapidly ageing population.
The latest Household Interview Travel Survey showed that more people are turning to public transport, although they are also spending more time travelling.

Last year, 63 per cent of trips during the peak periods were made on public transport, up from 59 per cent in 2008.

Overall, trips made on public transport rose by 14 per cent in the last five years.

But the survey also found that the number of public transport journeys within 20km that are completed within an hour fell from 79 per cent to 76 per cent.

The Land Transport Authority attributed this to slower bus speeds, while Mr Lui noted that the first and last mile take up a "disproportionately large amount of time for the entire journey".

To tackle this, buses will be given more priority on the roads and the cycling network expanded, he said.

The authorities will also continue to improve the reliability of the MRT, which has suffered major disruptions in recent years.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chair Cedric Foo said public transport must be made more attractive relative to private transport.

For this to happen, new rail lines must be implemented without delays. More can also be done to stagger the flow of commuters during peak periods and reduce crowding, he said.

"This requires staggered work hours and differentiated pricing to spread out the loads."

More than 700km of cycling paths by 2030
All HDB towns will have a network of dedicated paths to ride to MRT stations
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2013

BY 2030, cyclists could possibly ride from their homes in the suburbs to work in the city via a comprehensive, islandwide cycling-path network that stretches more than 700km.

The Government revealed its plans to further expand off-road cycling paths and support cycling as an alternative mode of transport in the newly launched Land Transport Masterplan 2013 yesterday.

The aim is to provide "a seamless cycling experience," said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew when he unveiled the masterplan, which maps out Singapore's future land transport landscape. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will connect cycling paths between adjacent towns "where there is sufficient demand" over the next 15 years.

It will also work with other agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board to explore providing inter-town cycling routes for cyclists to commute to the Central Business District (CBD).

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, a long-time champion of cycling, said this masterplan reflects a change in the Government's mindset from one of viewing cycling as a means to connect commuters to transport nodes, to recognising it as a mode of commuting.

Calling it "real progress", he noted that cycling is a sustainable and convenient mode of transport that brings health benefits and could also ease congestion on the roads.

The off-road cycling path network now spans about 12.1km within towns such as Tampines, Sembawang and Yishun.

This will go up to about 190km by 2020. Eventually, all 26 Housing Board towns will have a network of dedicated cycling paths for residents to ride to MRT stations and neighbourhood centres.

The LTA will also integrate these intra-town paths with park connectors to form a 700km network by 2030. The current park connector network spans about 250km and will be extended.

More bicycle racks will also be built at MRT stations, HDB blocks, amenities, schools and other places when there is demand. The LTA will also look into enhancing security for bicycles, through better design of parking facilities and public education campaigns.

Mr Francis Chu, 53, co-founder of cycling group LoveCyclingSg, noted that if more people could cycle to the city, that could help relieve congestion on the road and overcrowding in public transport.

But there is also a need to make the CBD safe for cyclists, he said. "There's heavy traffic, and no provision of space for cyclists. That makes it intimidating for a regular commuter."

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said it is "refreshing" that the LTA is now open to providing links for commuters to cycle to the city.

However, she expressed disappointment that the focus is still solely on off-road cycling. While a safer option for cyclists, she noted that such paths cannot be built everywhere due to space constraints.

Cyclists will still have to ride on footpaths and roads at some point in their journey, so the challenge is in creating a seamless cycling network, she said.

"Does LTA recognise that cyclists have a right to be on the road? If it does, how to make it safer for them to ride on roads? How to reduce the dangers of heavy vehicles? This is absent in the master- plan," she said.

Ms Ng also highlighted the issue of cyclists riding on footpaths. It is illegal to do so now in all towns except Tampines.

"Improving cycling infrastructure is important, but this has to be accompanied by a regulatory framework for cycling as a mode of transport."

Need to enhance safety among cyclists
It should go hand in hand with govt plan to make cycling more viable
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2013

ENHANCING safety among cyclists should go hand in hand with the Government's plans to make cycling a viable choice for more commuters, observers said.
Plans to expand the islandwide cycling network to 700km by 2030 were revealed on Monday as part of the latest Land Transport Masterplan.

But despite the longer stretch of off-road cycling paths, cyclists will still have to use the road or pedestrian footpath at some point of their journey, noted observers. And with the number of those choosing to cycle expected to rise, observers have come up with suggestions from safety courses to bicycle licences for cyclists.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said she would like to see cyclists who want to travel on the road undergo compulsory training first. The course should teach cyclists how to react to traffic conditions and pedestrians, she explained.

"We are likely to see a lot more cyclists next time, and those who cycle on the road are more vulnerable. I'm also worried about the safety of pedestrians," she said.

"I've received a lot of feedback from elderly residents and children who said they were nearly knocked down by bicycles."

Dr Mendel King, a traffic consultant with decades of experience in road safety, advocates setting up a cycling proficiency test which people have to pass before being allowed to buy a bicycle. This would make sure cyclists learn the necessary safety precautions, he said.

However, bicycle licensing is something that Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng is against. "It will be an administrative nightmare and be very hard to implement," she said, noting that nowhere else in the world is such a system in use.

Instead, she is keen to see a sustainable education programme for all cyclists, similar to the Bikeability cycling proficiency programme run by the United Kingdom Department of Transport. The programme teaches cycling skills ranging from balance and control to planning and making a journey on busy roads.

"We should have a centralised programme that is benchmarked to the best in the world."

Ms Ng added that a safe cycling programme for all 22 schools in Tampines, which is funded by the Northeast Community Development Council, is being rolled out soon.

Safe Cycling Task Force president Steven Lim believes the key lies in using education to change mindsets. "At the end of the day, the important thing is the user," he said. He suggested that schools include cycling safety in their syllabus, making use of facilities such as the Road Safety Park. Driving schools could also devote some lesson time to how drivers should react to cyclists, he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Alexander Erath, a transport researcher at Future Cities Laboratory, said off-road cycling paths will help get more people on bicycles. But to use cycling to alleviate congestion, on-road cycling lanes will be needed. This will allow people to use the bicycle for more than just getting to an MRT station from home, but also to get to school, shopping malls or work.

"You can add a cycling lane on a three-lane road by narrowing each lane," he said.

To increase safety, Dr King said on-road cycling lanes could be separated from cars with road studs. This will help make sure that cyclists and other vehicles do not get in each other's way.

More major roads may be subject to ERP
Transport Minister warns of ‘major consequences’ of a transport model that is overly reliant on cars
By Sumita D/O Sreedharan, TODAY, 8 Oct 2013

Major thoroughfares such as Alexandra Road and Holland Road may be subject to Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) if traffic speeds fall below the optimal range of 20 and 30km/h, according to the refreshed Land Transport Master Plan that was released yesterday.

Other than the two roads, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it is also keeping an eye on Jalan Bukit Merah, Commonwealth Avenue, Telok Blangah Road and Depot Road.

These roads are currently within the optimal speed range, but the LTA added, “should these roads become congested, we will implement ERP there as well”.

These roads are near the Ayer-Rajah Expressway, where traffic congestion around the Clementi area has been deteriorating. From the middle of next year, motorists will have to pay ERP as three gantries will be installed to help improve the flow of eastbound traffic towards the city during the morning and evening peak hours.

As he launched the new master plan, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew yesterday cautioned about the “major consequences” of a transport model that is overly reliant on cars.

First, the environmental impact would be “significant”. While measures to reduce such impact can only mitigate, they will fundamentally not solve the problem, Mr Lui said. “Fuel efficiency and technology alone will not be sufficient to bring down transport emissions, without a reduction in demand,” he added.

Second, building a new road or widening an existing one in land scarce Singapore may mean that roads are built closer to homes and the living environment becomes noisier and less comfortable, Mr Lui said.

Despite strict policies on car ownership, Singapore’s car population grew 11 per cent between 2008 and last year, while resident population only grew 5 per cent in the same period.

“The car is not a basic necessity in Singapore given our easy access to public transport,” the new master plan said. “Going forward, we will build new roads primarily to serve new residential centres and economic activities. Expansion and improvements to existing roads will mainly be to support the movement of buses so as to bring about a better public transport experience.”

The LTA is currently studying how an underground road system could serve the new waterfront city area that will extend from Marina Bay to Pasir Panjang, via Telok Blangah. The underground road system was first mooted in the 1980s as two concentric rings of underground tunnels, each about 15 kilometres long, which would encircle the city area.

Transport plan needs more than just hardware
Masterplan must get to the crux of what commuters want - service quality
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2013

EVEN though most of the infrastructure plans outlined in the latest Land Transport Masterplan were announced in the run-up to the Punggol by-election in January, the document is admirable for the way it maps out methodically what Singapore needs to do to keep its population moving up to 2030.

But a masterplan requires more than just hardware. It needs to spell out more qualitative targets, rather than focus on quantitative ones such as the length of rail network and number of buses. It needs to get to the crux of what leaves commuters satisfied: service quality.

While the plan spells out issues such as service frequency and reliability, as well as walking distance to and from a train station or bus stop, the proof of the pudding goes beyond that.

There is a need to look at how crowded it can get, the quality of air-conditioning, train speed (which has been patchy of late), station dwell time, dependability of services such as lifts and escalators, and even noise level on trains.

The plan needs to deliver that lofty promise touted famously by a leading airline - "making sure you arrive in the best possible shape" - if public transport is to have any chance at all competing against the car.

Here, the goal is to make public transport a choice mode, rather than a mode of no choice.

To do that, there needs to be a slight shift away from an engineering-centric way of meeting an objective and measuring how successful we have been doing so.

But that does not mean diminishing the importance of engineering. In that respect, the quality of infrastructure needs to be nailed down, since this will eventually determine its reliability and longevity.

In light of recent rail breakdowns, it appears that there are still struggles with water leakage in tunnels - an issue faced by builders since the Central Expressway opened more than 20 years ago, despite improvements in construction material and technology.

These leaks appear to be the root cause of many MRT incidents, including at least two tunnel fires and tracks that corroded barely three years after a new line was opened.

If leaks are indeed unavoidable - as claimed by the Land Transport Authority - then it must be made sure that water is channelled safely away from all operating parts such as rails and cables.

And if such parts cannot be placed out of the path of water, then at least ensure that they are water-resistant.

There is little point stating that Singapore's infrastructure specifications meet international standards - each geographical region poses its own set of challenges.

So engineers here should specify standards that are suitable for local conditions - just as car makers "tropicalise" models meant for hot and humid markets.

It is true that it is the responsibility of operators to ensure operating assets are well-maintained and flaws are fixed quickly.

But that responsibility becomes much more onerous if an infrastructure is prone to one form of failure or another in the first place.

Singapore pays top dollar for its infrastructure. So it is reasonable to expect a high level of robustness.

Another area that needs overhauling is a transport framework that suffers from the tension arising from profit-oriented operators providing a public service.

It is now clear that publicly listed operators face opposing values of satisfying shareholders and commuters.

While it is in their commercial interest to keep operating assets in good running order, they may be tempted to delay repairs and upgrades for as long as possible. Or do the barest minimum.

"Softer" measures of service quality, such as crowdedness or efficiency of air-conditioning, matter even less.

So Singapore needs to move swiftly to a regime where the Government takes ownership of all operating and fixed assets, and, preferably, assumes revenue risk.

The operator would then be tasked with focusing solely on meeting a clearly laid out set of service standards - without worrying about the bottom line, because their profit margins would already have been fixed. An effective carrot-and-stick regulatory system will then ensure that the welfare of commuters is prioritised.

Any masterplan also needs to be stuck to.

One way to ensure this is to have longer stints for ministers and permanent secretaries.

Former transport ministers Mah Bow Tan and Yeo Cheow Tong outlined ambitious rail projects during their terms. Mr Yeo told Parliament in 2000 that Singapore would have 540km of rail lines by 2030.

But only now are some of these projects being built; and we will have only 360km of rail by 2030.

A plan in 1997 to upgrade the signalling system of the North-South and East-West MRT lines - which would have allowed trains to run at closer intervals - will be completed only in 2018.

If those original plans were adhered to, our transport infrastructure would have kept pace with the population boom.

As it is, the rail expansion programme listed in the Land Transport Masterplan 2013 may be merely playing catch-up, as Singapore continues to grow.

It does not help that some of the new lines are three- or four-car systems - unlike the six-car models in the country's older lines, and eight-car or scalable systems found in some cities.

Finally, this may be time to re-examine two even more fundamental assumptions about transport - that public transport is good and private transport is bad; and there is a need to keep increasing supply to meet demand.

To start, we can stop demonising cars, which play a crucial role in any land transport landscape.

With fast-emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, they might even become more efficient than public transport.

With an average occupancy of 20 per cent today, a bus may not be more efficient than a car during off-peak hours. Especially when a bus consumes far more fuel and far more road space.

The second assumption of building more and more to meet demand is fallacious too.

Consider how Singapore's population has grown 110 per cent since 1981 but the number of trips (excluding cycling and walking) has spiked by more than 360 per cent to 12.5 million a day. Since people commute primarily because they have to, and not so much because they want to, this exponential growth in trips is a tad worrying.

If the trend continues at the same pace, it may not be sustainable - economically or environmentally - to keep building more infrastructure to cater to demand.

We need to find a better way. And that may require urban and transport planners sitting down together to improve accessibility, and not just mobility.

The way we live, work and play on this little red dot also needs tweaking if Singapore wants to avoid the maladies of a mega- city. And that will involve more mixed-use developments, flexi- hours, tele-commuting, walking and cycling.

Service quality is key feature

CONTRARY to senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan's commentary ("Transport plan needs more than just hardware"; Tuesday), improving service quality is a key feature of the refreshed land transport masterplan. And in this regard, new hardware and infrastructure are necessary.

By adding more than 100 trains to the rail network to boost capacity, we will reduce commuter crowding. We are also upgrading the MRT signalling system so that trains can run more frequently and commuters will have a shorter wait.

In addition, the masterplan aims to further raise operating performance standards for rail operators to, among other things, ensure good standards for air-conditioning on trains and MRT stations, and reduce off-peak waiting times to not more than five minutes.

The Land Transport Authority has also been working with the rail operators to focus on preventive maintenance, including minimising water seepage.

As a result, train service reliability is improving. Train delays of more than five minutes have fallen, from 1.75 incidents per 100,000km of trains run in 2011, to 1.24 incidents this year.

Likewise, bus service levels will improve with the bulk of the Bus Service Enhancement Programme rolled out by the end of next year.

Almost half of the 550 buses promised are now on the road. Fourteen new bus services have been introduced and 111 existing bus services improved.

Commuters are seeing shorter waiting times and about a 40 per cent reduction in the number of bus services that experience persistent crowding.

Under the masterplan, bus operators will be incentivised to make en route interventions to improve bus regularity through a new Quality Incentive Framework.

We will implement more bus lanes and extend the Mandatory Give-Way to Buses Scheme so that commuters will enjoy faster and more reliable bus journeys.

Similar to major cities like New York, London and Paris, Singapore will have to continually raise the quality of public transport to shift commuters away from private transport and improve the overall quality of life.

A larger car population and more roads mean more air and noise pollution, and less land for other needs such as housing and green space.

Already, 12 per cent of our limited land is used for roads. We cannot afford to have continued, unbridled growth in the amount of land we use for transport infrastructure.

A high-quality public transport system, which is more space-efficient and sustainable than a car-centric model, is therefore central to our land transport strategy.

The masterplan sets out how we intend to achieve this quality public transport system, with an extended network, increased capacity and higher service standards. When the key pieces of the masterplan are in place, we are confident that we will be able to meet the service expectations of commuters.

Helen Lim (Ms)
Director, Media Relations
Land Transport Authority
ST Forum, 12 Oct 2013

Create another CBD in the east

TUESDAY'S commentary ("Transport plan needs more than just hardware") said that had the original public transport plans made a decade ago been adhered to, our transport infrastructure would have kept pace with the population boom.

It also pointed out the 360 per cent increase in commuter trips, compared with the 110 per cent growth in population since 1981, and commented that the new masterplan may merely be playing catch-up.

These observations suggest that a thorough, long-term review of our transport plan is needed, as meeting future demand for public transport takes decades to plan and execute. We should pay more attention to the cost-effectiveness of our public transport, as much of the infrastructure and equipment costs are not fully reflected in passenger fares but are subsidised by taxpayers' money.

Considering increases in construction and operational costs in the future, how cost-effective would the different forms of transport be then? These numbers are useful for transport planning and for us to know the true costs of our public transport.

Ideally, we should also do a thorough review of our urban planning and re-examine some old planning concepts inherited from the past when our population was much smaller.

A case in point is whether we should forever stick to having one Central Business District (CBD) or whether it would be better to have another one in the future.

From the cost-effectiveness angle, it makes sense to have another CBD - in the east, for example. Building transport infrastructure leading to the new CBD would be much cheaper than that to the existing one.

We should not incessantly add traffic to the congested southern tip of our island year after year. With another CBD on the other side of the island, we would create more traffic in the opposite direction during peak hours.

Let us explore this now as it would be very costly for future Singaporeans to reverse the plans.

Ng Ya Ken
ST Forum, 10 Oct 2013

Transport, land use planning to even out demand

WE THANK Mr Ng Ya Ken for his views ("Create another CBD in the east"; Oct 10).

In the current Land Transport Master Plan, we will double the rail network to about 360km by 2030 from 178km today. The new public transport connections such as the Cross Island Line and Jurong Region Line will improve connectivity throughout the island, effectively enabling eight in 10 households to be served by rail within 10 minutes' walk.

To reduce commuter crowding and waiting times, more than 100 trains will be added to increase the rail capacity, and the MRT signalling system will be upgraded so trains can run more frequently.

With an expanded rail network and other nearer-term improvements such as the injection of 800 more buses and 40 new bus services to our transport network, we will be able to achieve a high-quality, space-efficient public transport system to meet commuter needs.

Apart from transport infrastructure, land use planning can also help to even out travel demand across the island. Thus, we have progressively opened up commercial clusters such as Tampines Regional Centre, Novena Fringe Centre, one-north in Buona Vista and Changi Business Park.

More of such employment centres are taking shape in Jurong Lake District and Paya Lebar Central. We are also kick-starting the development of Woodlands Regional Centre with the sale of a commercial site in December.

Individually, these centres are planned to be fairly sizeable. For example, once fully built up, Woodlands Regional Centre can provide approximately 100,000 new jobs as well as a good mix of retail and food and beverage uses to residents living in the north.

Locating these commercial centres in convenient locations outside the city centre and closer to homes will help reduce travel to the city and facilitate more efficient utilisation of our transport system. In future, residents can find good job opportunities close to home in the northern, southern, eastern and western parts of Singapore.

Even as we build up more employment centres outside the city centre, there will still be growing demand for core financial and business services activities in our Central Business District (CBD) due to its prestigious location, good connectivity and potential synergies with other businesses.

Hence, to strengthen Singapore's status as a global hub for financial and business services, we will continue to provide sufficient high-quality commercial space within our CBD and Marina Bay area.

Concurrently, we have also planned to introduce more housing in and around the city centre, so that more people will enjoy the benefits of living near where they work in the city.

Helen Lim (Ms)
Director (Media Relations)
Land Transport Authority

Richard Hoo
Group Director (Strategic Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority
ST Forum, 23 Oct 2013

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