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Monday, February 4, 2008

New Transport Plan Jan 31 2008

Jan 31, 2008
ERP network widened, charges going up
16 new gantries and other changes are aimed at ensuring that 85% of motorists enjoy a smooth ride

By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent
THE bitter medicine aimed at easing road congestion was spooned out yesterday.
Motorists will have to pay more to use the roads, said Transport Minister Raymond Lim, as he unveiled the third and final instalment of the Land Transport Review.

Congestion levels have gone up by about a quarter since 1999, he noted. To arrest this, 16 new gantries will go up between April and November, making 71 in all.

On top of this, a new price structure will be introduced gradually from July: From then, passing each gantry will cost motorists at least $2, up from $1 now; and subsequent jumps in the road pricing fee will be $1, instead of 50 cents.

'Instead of resorting to so many small adjustments, it would be more effective to make larger rate increments,' Mr Lim said.

The Government will change the criteria for deciding which roads will be priced under the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. It will also change the 'trigger point' for increasing the ERP rates along roads already priced.

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More gantries
Now, as long as average speeds on expressways and arterial roads fall in the 45kmh to 60kmh and 20kmh to 30kmh ranges respectively, all is well.

Soon, 85 per cent of road users must be able to move at these speeds to stave off ERP or a rise in the ERP fee.

Bitter as the medicine is, the Government is also offering some sugar to go with it.

Road tax, cut just last September by 8 per cent, will be cut by another 15 per cent - which will more than offset motorists' ERP expenses. This tax cut will cost the national coffers $110 million a year.

Mr Lim stressed that ERP was never meant to be a Government revenue earner, and that the long-term policy was to shift vehicle taxes from ownership to usage.

And by beefing up public transport - changes to the bus and rail systems have been announced over the last two weeks - the Government also hopes to coax car owners onto buses and trains.

Two other sweeteners were unveiled yesterday for motorists: a cut to the additional registration fee (ARF) and new road projects.

The ARF, now at 110 per cent of the vehicle's open-market value, will be cut by 10 percentage points from March and cost the Government $200 million a year. The change will apply to cars bought with certificates of entitlement secured from the March tender on.

As for road projects, $14 billion will be spent on building roads over the next 12 years, a leap from the $3.4 billion spent in the last decade.

One of them is the 21km North-South Expressway to link Woodlands to the East Coast Parkway. Ready by 2020, it will cut commutes from the north-east by 30 per cent.

The Marina Coastal Expressway linking the Kallang Expressway to the Ayer Rayah Expressway will be ready in 2013; the Tampines Expressway and the Central Expressway will be widened.

Going forward, fewer roads will be built, said Mr Lim. This is because 12 per cent of Singapore's land space is already taken by roads, nearly as much as the 15 per cent now sitting under housing.

Besides, he said, building more roads 'is like telling a person who's suffering from obesity that the solution...is to buy bigger trousers'.

To give motorists an attractive alternative to driving, the frequency of bus services along corridors affected by the ERP expansion will be upped to one every 12 minutes by June, from one every 15 now.

And for the first time since mass transit started here two decades ago, bus services will be allowed to duplicate sections of mature MRT lines.

The land transport masterplan, the result of a year-long review, aims to get 70 per cent of morning peak-hour trips made on public transport, from 63 per cent now.

The medicine may already be working, at least with marketing executive Loh Ye Ling.

The 23-year-old is revising her year-old plan to buy car. She realises now that if she drives daily from her Hougang home to her Bugis office, she would spend far more than if she were to take a bus.

She said: 'I can't afford to spend so much on ERP, though road tax will be cut.'

Mr Cedric Foo, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said: 'I don't think it's easy, once you get a car, to move to public transport. But as we narrow the gap between private transport and public transport standards, motorists would, over time give up their cars.'

christan@sph.com.sg

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