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Transport policy: Singapore’s race for mobility solutions

Singapore is at the forefront of innovation in terms of land transport. In a new master plan it sets out a vision for land transport for the next 20 years in response to a growing population and land constraints, and greater expectations and demand for mobility.

by Glenn van Zutphen

Singapore is becoming a magnet for research into the handling of mobility issues through collaborations between the public and private sectors. Good examples are the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), and TUM CREATE – a joint electromobility research project between Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and Technische Universität Möźnchen (TUM).

Perfect test bed for innovation

Singapore’s advanced technological infrastructure and willingness to innovate in a geographically small area make it the perfect place to look for genuine solutions to a growing population. The government is integrating high-tech mobility solutions into the island’s urban plan to help manage the challenges, such as procuring and building additional Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines and extending existing ones. Siemens Mobility and Yunex Traffic are involved as suppliers of signaling systems and a medium-voltage traction power supply system for a driverless metro, as well as project management, installation, testing, and commissioning services.

Intelligent roads

Roads take up 12 percent of the land space in Singapore. Because there is so little land, the growth of the island’s vehicle population must be closely managed. The city has introduced one of the world’s first electronic road pricing (ERP) systems – tolls that vary according to traffic flows and work as a congestion charge deducted from smart cards inserted in vehicles.

Other intelligent elements include an expressway monitoring and advisory system (EMAS) that alerts motorists to accidents on major roads, and a GPS system installed in taxis, which monitors and reports on traffic conditions around the city.

All information from the systems feeds into the intelligent transport system’s operations control center, which consolidates the data and provides real-time traffic information to the public. Due in part to these measures, Singapore is one of the least congested major cities in the world.

Smart cars

Innovation is also being fostered in the field of individual mobility. EVA, for instance, was designed by the TUM CREATE team as the first electric taxi tailored to the needs of tropical megacities. The idea of using electric cars as taxis has so far been held back by the long downtime periods for recharging. EVA’s super-fast charging requires only 15 minutes to replenish its battery for 200 kilometers of travel – based on typical Singaporean driving patterns with air conditioning switched on. Taxi drivers can now quickly recharge for the next part of their shifts during a break. Here, too, Siemens is involved as a supplier of smart grid applications that maximize the benefit of electromobility.

While taxis, buses, and trains are part of the solution, there’s still the problem of travel time from the starting location to the start of the transportation network (e.g., the MRT station) and traveling time from the end of the transportation network to the final destination. A collaborative project between SMART and the National University of Singapore is developing driverless cars that aim to resolve this “first and last mile problem”.

Singapore leads the way

Compared with other Southeast Asian cities, Singapore has taken a clear lead in the race to research and develop traffic solutions. These not only serve as models and sources of urban planning and technology development expertise to other cities in the region; they have also been critical in securing local political support and are possible exports to other Asian countries.

It’s imperative to address the mobility issues of cities across Southeast Asia. For now, Singapore is at the forefront of research and test bedding innovative solutions.

Glenn van Zutphen