Singapore`s Traffic Jam Control Abstract

Singapore is one of the largest cities in South Asia. Though the growth of the city is commendable by all possible means, it has been experiencing traffic jams for a long period of time. The expansion of roads has not been considered as a viable option due to limited space. The leaders of the city therefore opted to look come up with policies that would limit the number of vehicles coming into the city. Some policies were implemented in the past but on the table for consideration is the “pay as you drive” policy which is a good option for traffic jam reduction. This exposition focuses on decision making on the adoption of the policy basing on relatively ambiguous data. Its recommendation is that the policy should be adopted though proper planning and the engagement of other parties will be necessary. These steps will ensure that the adopted policy is sustainable in the long term.
Singapore`s Traffic Jam Control
South East Asia prides in Singapore because of the level of development it showcases and the extent to which it has attracted investors. The city has been on a steady growth over the past decades and the number of people who can afford cars has increased tremendously. Mahtani (2013) noted that Singapore is home to some of the words greatest billionaires and millionaires and that a large percentage of people who live within the city have high disposable incomes. “Saverni Eduardo is said to have relented his U.S. citizenship to live in Singapore, Tinkler Nathan a renowned Australian miner also moved to Singapore and so did Modi Kumar a telcom tycoon from India” (Mahtani, 2013). Besides the relocation of such tycoons, Singapore is also host to 188,000 households with millionaires and these make up over 17% of its population (Mahtani, 2013). These statistics mean that about one sixth of the total number of homes have disposable income that amounts to over $1 million (Mahtani, 2013). These statistics are important because they show that in Singapore, the number of people who can afford to drive cars is very high.
The statistics above only represent the people who are extremely wealthy but there are also middle income families who may not have expensive cars but who can afford averagely costly cars and low cost cars. Khamid (2013) noted that if all families are put together, at least 4 “out of every 10 families own one car” or more in Singapore. With a steady growth in the number of wealthy people in the city, the number of vehicles on the road has been increasing steadily over the last one and a half decades or so. The National Library of Singapore (2011) noted that the number of vehicles on the road has been increasing by 3% every year since 1990 and this led the city`s management to come up with stringent measures that would reduce this percentage on the road or even take some of the private cars off the road. To be specific, about 25,000 cars were introduced to the read each subsequent year from 1990 (National Library of Singapore, 2011).
Some policies were discussed and were later on implemented in Singapore and these include “registration taxes, the vehicle quota system and the electronic road pricing system” (Der & Yan, 2009). The policies led to a drop from 3% to 1.5% but this number is still high. This means that though the increase in the number of vehicles on the road was slowed down, there was still an inflow that surpassed what the infrastructure could handle adequately. This is demonstrated by the fact that between 1999 and 2009, the number of vehicles increased from about 144,308 to 244,006. This shows that the number almost doubled. The steady increase in this number has led policy makers to look for means through which more policies can reduce the percentage from 1.5% to a much lower level in the near future. The steady increase in the number of vehicles on the road is said to be caused by people`s need to use their cars so as to get maximum value for the high costs they currently pay first to own them and then to use them (Khamid, 2013 Der & Yan, 2013). Khamid (2013) noted that one of the latest suggestions to ease traffic in Singapore is the “pay as you drive policy”. This research addresses the issues related to the feasibility of the option after which a recommendation for its adoption is made.
The “pay as you drive policy” has been suggested as a viable option to reduce traffic in Singapore because as noted earlier on, the number of cars on the road has been on a steady increase despite implementation of the three policies mentioned earlier on. Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton & CDC (2011) noted that the policy has been tested at a pilot level only and that the proposal to use it is driven by the notion that people will use their cars only when they really need them considering the fact that they will get value for the money they pay to use their vehicles. The policy will target reducing the number of miles travelled because car owners would want to minimize the amount of money they spend through the “pay as you drive policy” (Khamid, 2013).
Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton & CDC (2011) noted that vehicles account for the highest number of miles travelled. In Singapore, each vehicle is side to cover at least 20,000 KM annually which means that people use their cars extensively. The policy will therefore target shifting this dynamic by reducing the number of mileage covered and in turn the traffic jams in Singapore (Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton & CDC, 2011).
The logic of this policy according to Khamid (2013) is that people will not necessarily have to apply for certificate of entitlement but they will need to purchase the number of kilometers they need to drive as a form of car tax. The amount of kilometers bought can then be increased according to the needs of an individual. This policy is believed to be a good option for a number of reasons.
First, the “pay as you drive policy” could make the costs of motor vehicle operation more objective. This means that the challenge which has been faced in the past with regard to car overuse as a way to get maximum benefits for the costs incurred would be done away with. For instance, as opposed to increasing the use of their cars, people will reduce their use by limiting the number of miles travelled. People will only use their cars when they really need to and not because they feel they have to (Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton & CDC, 2011). This is directly related to the issue at hand which is traffic jam control. Traffic jams are caused by overuse of vehicles and the need to limit the amount of costs incurred would reduce car use and in turn traffic jams. Apart from easing traffic jams, the reduction of vehicles on the road though limitations in the number of miles covered will have other secondary benefits which are as discussed below.
The policy is a highly feasible option with regard to revenue collection (Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton & CDC, 2011). The fees paid by people are similar to car tax and therefore there are high chances of collecting revenue from the same. The levels of revenue collected would be highly dependent on the tariffs selected and the level of efficiency in managing the system. The policy will also serve as a way to reduce environmental pollution through exhaust fume production. A lower number miles covered and the reduced number of vehicles on the road to translate to lower carbon emissions (Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton & CDC, 2011).
The aspects above cover the technical aspects of the policy, it is however a highly political aspect. Singapore is one of the cities whose political sphere has immense interest in controlling the automobile industry (Tan, 2013). Tan (2013) noted that in Singapore started implementing many of the policies noted earlier on a long time ago and that other nations have failed to adopt them because of politics. Politics is important because the local government must agree to the adoption of the policy and its implementation (Tan, 2013). The concept of persuasive politics comes in because the main stakeholders at the local government must agree with the policy bearing in mind its benefits to the city in the form of traffic jam reduction and revenue collection. This means that though the method has several advantages, these have to be analyzed vis a vis other policies that are existent. For instance, the local government may want to look at the amount of money gathered through the certificate of entitlement (COE) and compare the same with the revenue gathered through the “pay as you drive” system. Whichever way, the local government has immense opportunities to leverage of revenue collection.
The local government however seems more interested in the reduction of traffic jams. This is why it has been steadily striving to reduce car purchases and driving. If the main reason for the system`s introduction actually reduces the use of private vehicles and increases the use of public transportation, it is likely that the local government will agree to it. Tan (2013) noted that the local government has been steadily investing on the public transportation system and that there is a rail project worth $50 billion whose completion is dated 2020. Its main aim is to reduce traffic jams. Political debates in this sense will be based on the outcome of the policy in terms of this particular benefit. This outcome is favorable and therefore the policy may easily pass that test.
Politics may also shift from the outcomes of the policy to the feasibility of its adoption within the given context. Major stakeholders may move to ask what the policy would mean in terms of investment. For instance, they might have to debate on the amount of vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) tax on the basis of the types of cars that are driven and the newness and oldness of automobiles (Congressional Budget Office, 2011). The Congressional Budget Office (2011) noted that in case VMT tax is adopted, families that have lower incomes and older and less fuel efficient vehicles may have to be accorded less VMT taxes compared to richer families with newer vehicles. This means that there has to be a system through which all these details can be collected for use.
Arguments arising from this would revolve around the costs of investment, the efficiency of the system and its impact on the traffic jams. The Congressional Budget office (2011) noted that the move would mean striking a balance between making the costs of purchasing miles affordable and reducing traffic jams. For instance, high VMT taxes on middle income families would mean that they do not get to drive their vehicles at all. Low VMT taxes on the people who are very rich would mean that they can still afford to take their cars on the road without a second thought. Families also weigh their expenditure of vehicles against what they could use on public transport. Some arguments may therefore lead to disparities as to what is thought of as the most appropriate charges for certain groups of people.
The arguments arising from the issues outlined above would target highlighting the uncertainty with which the system comes. There is uncertainty with regard to the metering equipment that needs to be used, the origin of the equipment, the installation of the equipment, the taxes that will be charged and the high susceptibility to tampering (Congressional Budget Office, 2011). Though these aspects are unclear, the question that comes to mind is whether these challenged can be overcome. In this case, it is clear that the presented milestones can be overcome with proper planning just as the case been in Singapore for the previous policies that are in use currently. The above aspects can be resolved objectively alongside the establishment of ways through which maximization of benefits can be accomplished. For instance, the differences in charges basing on place, time, road in use and other specifics have to be established and tested prior to implementation.
Another issue that has been in the limelight is privacy (Congressional Budget Office, 2011). The contention in this case has been that the VMT tax calls for the provision of vital of personal information to the government. Going by this, Singaporean citizens may feel that too much of their information is given to the government especially when it comes to where and when they visit different places. There has to be a way to deal with this problem because it may seem as though the government is infringing on people`s right to privacy. This concern has led to other suggestions that may help to counter it.
First, it has been suggested that the methods should be optional so that people are not forced to enroll when they do not want to (Congressional Budget Office, 2011). In this case, freewill shall be observed and therefore people will feel less violated when their movements to different parts of the city are tracked. Though this option is feasible, without its extensive adoption, the main objective which is to reduce traffic may not be achieved eventually. People may opt to stay with the old systems which have been quite effective but which have not completely succeeded in reducing traffic jams in Singapore. This means that there have to be structures that would lure people to the plan if it is to be successfully adopted. This may mean making other options unfavorable and the latest prescription seem better to them.
The VMT tax is believed to be a good option but its applicability is limited. For instance, it cannot be used on all roads and all places. It may have to target only the roads that are extremely congested and those that lead to them (Congressional Budget Office, 2011). This may however mean that traffic jams will be diverted to less congested roads. The Singaporean government would therefore need to look at the consequences of VMT on certain roads and the overall impacts of the tax. This challenge does not render the methods useless because with proper planning, the effects will be desirable. The introduction of VMT tax is therefore highly political. The politics revolve around the concepts discussed above and the issues raised are only manageable through strategic planning.
Though some of the issues above may be debated by different parties, they are also included at other levels. Some of them are business owners and private firms. The automobile industry has ramifications on other sectors because if people do not use their vehicles it means they do not purchase fuel, car accessories or promote other businesses that depend on car use. There are also tycoons that may not necessarily be linked to the automobile industry but whose say is important. These people may oppose the proposal to adopt the policy and their views may be easily shared by other parties who look up to them. Another segment with high stakes in the proposal is the general public and most especially people who own vehicles. The policy must be acceptable to them otherwise it will not work. Unions may also oppose the project basing on its demerits to the people.
Sprins (2009) noted that long-term policy is a great challenge to industrialized countries because while some policies may seem good at the present time, they may cause challenges in future. Policies that are meant to last at least a generation have many uncertainties and their exasperation may be aggravated by the passage of time (Sprins, 2009). The policies may also engender public goods.
The first area that concerns long-range policy feasibility is the possible adverse effects of the system (Sprins, 2009). In this case, the system may affect the level of revenue collection for the local government and yet according to Nellen & Liles (2007) tax is the main way through the government collects revenue. The impact of the policy could therefore be that people opt to abandon their private cars to an extent that is greater than that which is desired thereby reducing income to a great extent. For instance, the current infrastructure is maintained by a certain amount of money from varied taxes imposed by some of the policies mentioned earlier on. An extreme reduction in the same may mean that infrastructure use does not generate enough money for maintenance even though they may continue to degenerate with time.
The second area of concern was briefly highlighted earlier on and it touches on the uncertainties that come with the adoption of the policy. Sprins (2009) noted that “a situation where the system model and the input parameters to the system model are not known or widely agreed on by stakeholders to the decision” could lead to uncertainty. In this case, it is clear that though the uncertainties may be resolved, the process will take a very long time. For instance, some of the technology will need to be mounted on vehicles and it is unclear who will mount them (manufactures of other parties contracted by the government).
Third, benefits of the policy must be felt by them presently and in future. The policy should not inconvenience the lives of people at the present time for the benefit of others in future or vice versa (Sprins, 2009). Benefits to all involved generations and parties should be considered (Sprins, 2009). In the case of VMT tax, it is viewed as a sustainable solution for the current and future generations because both will benefit from reduced traffic and other secondary benefits that were discussed earlier on in this exposition. In spite of all the challenges that may be faced with the new system, Boos & Moruza (2008) acknowledges that it is a feasible option for easing traffic in metropolitan areas during peak hours.
The data presented above clearly shows that there is a relative ambiguity on the matter because while on one hand it is perceived and presented as a feasible option for adoption it seems like a farfetched risk on the other. The risks almost balance off the purported benefits at the surface level. Despite this ambiguity, I would suggest that the transportation commissioner adopts the policy and supports its further development prior to implementation.
The relative ambiguity should be addressed by looking at the possibility of eliminating the negative aspects and challenged linked to VMT tax outlined earlier on and seeking support from all the parties involved. Some of the ways to counter the challenges have been outlined while others call for deeper analysis. It may take time but there must be intense lobbying for the project before it is enacted. The commissioner must sit down with the others members of the transport commission and articulate all the benefits linked to the project after which the same should be presented to the involved parties for approval.
Each party would benefit because the public and business men would have less problems with traffic jams, there will be less pollution and not all roads will have the tax therefore the use of vehicles would not be extinct thus businesses dependent on the industry will continue to thrive. As noted earlier on, the policy would have to apply differently from place to place and to people from different classes as part of enacting equity. The decision to have the policy developed further is also motivated by the secondary benefits including environmental conservation through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Through proper planning, the decision would lead to sustainable revenue collection and this would sustain infrastructural development and maintenance. This is because vehicles on the rods will reduce to optimal levels rather than to low or high levels. The economy may not be heavily affected because people will still be able to commute to and from the CBD through others means of transport that support engagement in economic activities and in turn economic growth.
References
Boos, M. & Moruza, A. (2008). Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) Tax: An Alternative to the Gas for Generating Highway Revenue. Charlottesville: Virginia Department of Transportation. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://vtrc.virginiadot.org/rsb/RSB19.pdf
Congressional Budget Office. (2011). Alternative Approaches to Funding Highways. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://www.cbo.gov/publication/22059
Der, L. & Yan, L. (2009). Managing Congestion in Singapore – A Behavioral Economics Perspective. Retrieved May 1. 2013, from http://ltaacademy.lta.gov.sg/doc/IS02- p15%20Behavioural%20Economics.pdf
Khanid, H. (2013). “Pay as you Drive” Scheme to Ease Singapore`s Traffic Congestion. Media Corp Press. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/pay- you-drive-scheme-suggested-ease-singapores-traffic-congestion
Mahtani, S. (2013). Wealth over the Edge: Singapore. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324662404578334330162556670.html
National Library Singapore. (2011). Singapore Land Transport System. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://libguides.nl.sg/content.php?pid=93596&sid=698350
Nellen, A. & Miles, M. (2007). Taxes and Sustainability. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://www.newamerica.net/files/nafmigration/Taxes_and_Sustainability.pdf
Partnership for Prevention, Hamilton, B. and CDC. (2011). Transportation and Health: Policy interventions for safer healthier people and communities. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://www.prevent.org/Additional-Pages/Transportation-and-Health.aspx
Sprins, D. (2009). Long-term Policy: Definition, Origin and Responses. Potsdam: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Tan, C. (2013). Singapore`s Transportation Secrets. Citiscope. Retrieved May 1, 2013, from http://citiscope.org/2010/singapores-transportation-secrets

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