Easing traffic congestion, cutting carbon emission | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 27, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 27, 2010

Easing traffic congestion, cutting carbon emission

Singapore experience

Mass rapid transport (MRT).

Couple of months ago I got the opportunity of participating in a training programme in Singapore. The main focus of the programme was on climate change and sustainable energy. One of the topics was the transport system in Singapore and how it was helping to reduce the traffic congestion as well as Green House Gas(GHG) emissions there.
Singapore is an island country having no natural resources. Total land area is only 710 sq. km. accommodating a population of about 5.0 million. Total road network covers 3,300 km, Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) 119 km and Light Rail Transit (LRT) 29 km. Passengers daily travelling by MRT and LRT number 1.8 million, by bus 3.0 million and by taxi 0.9 million. According to 2004 statistics, public transport is 63? and private 37?.
The motor vehicle emission in Singapore has increased over the years with greater urbanization and a rising standard of living. It is estimated that motor vehicles have been a major source of air pollution in Singapore, emitting pollutants such as SO2, lead, and Particulate Matter (PM) into the ambient environment.
In Singapore motor vehicle is administered by Land Transport Authority (LTA), a statutory body of the Ministry of Transport. The three key strategies of LTA are to manage road traffic, make public transport a choice mode, and meet diverse needs. To accomplish the strategies of LTA it adopted different measures in different times. One of the measures adopted is congestion charging. It is first introduced in 1973 under the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS). This was implemented as part of an overall package of road pricing measures and public transportation improvement based on public feedback. Motorists entering a restricted zone area such as Central District Zone or Orchard Road had to purchase and display licence on the car windshield or on the handle bars of motorcycle during peak hours. Overhead gantries were set up along the boundaries of this restricted zone for auxiliary police officers to carry out visual checks.
In such way ALS also helped to reduce air pollution in the restricted zones. The World Health Organization (WHO) worked with the Singapore Anti-Pollution Unit (APU) to monitor carbon monoxide levels in the restricted zones before and after implementation of the ALS found that carbon monoxide levels had been reduced by 60 percent.
After ten years of planning and testing, the ALS was replaced by the current Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in September 1998. Charges are automatically deducted from a pre-paid card as a vehicle crossed the gantry. This levy can be varied according to the congestion levels on each road and at different times of the day. LTA reviews the traffic conditions on the expressways and roads where the ERP system is in operation on a quarterly basis. After the review, the ERP rates would be adjusted where necessary to minimize congestion on the road. ERP has been effective in maintaining an optional speed range of 45 km/h (higher prices) to 65 km/h (lower prices) for expressways, and 20 km/h (higher prices) to 30 km/h (lower prices) for city and other roads. After introducing the ERP it reduced the unnecessary movement of vehicles on the ERP designated roads and at the same time reduced the number of slow drive cars.
In maintaining best possible traffic flow, the LTA has also implemented the Vehicle Quota System since 1 May 1990 to control manage the growth of vehicle population. The number of new vehicles allowed (that is, the quota) is pre-determined every year, taking into account the prevailing traffic condition and the number of vehicles taken off the roads permanently. The quota for a given year is administered through the monthly release of Certificates of Entitlement (COE). An aspiring vehicle owner would need to bid for and acquire a COE before he can buy a vehicle. This system has capped the growth rate of the vehicle population at 3 percent per annum, compared with an average of 6.8 percent prior to its implementation.
Public transport was also improved to encourage commuters to use public instead of private transport. With limited road space available, the heavy traffic during the morning and evening peak hours led to longer waiting and travel times for passengers on public buses, especially as public buses needed to make stops to pick up and drop passengers.
In order to meet the transport needs of commuters better and to offer an attractive alternative to cars, bus lanes were instituted to give scheduled public buses a dedicated right of way during the morning and evening peak hours. Full-day bus lanes have also been instituted on selected roads in the central business area to further improve the commuting times for bus passengers.
The Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system routes were also progressively extended to improve its accessibility. The MRT system, which has reduced reliance on cars and buses, efficiently transports large number of commuters to various parts of the island each day.
Enhancement of non-motorized transport facility also helped to reduce the congestion. Started with hanging safety signs for the cycling routes in 2008, in 2009 the authorities introduced better bicycle parking facilities at MRT and bus stations, foldable bicycles were allowed on board trains and buses during off-peak hours.
In Singapore, transport planning is very closely integrated with land use planning. The planning and development of a high density and compacted city, as well as the strategy of providing jobs close to homes and community amenities in each residential town, has reduced the need for commuting, thereby reducing vehicular emissions, especially during peak hours. It's lesser congestion lesser pollution almost everywhere, providing the city dwellers an opportunity to enjoy a better environment.

Md. Billal Hossain is Director (Law), Department of Environment.

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